You don't have to have a stage to create a compelling storytelling or large group programming time, but it can certainly help. Stages can focus kids' attention and create a sense of anticipation that something fun is about to happen in this room. They can also be helpful just to get you a step or two above the kids and make it easy to see.
Once you get more than 25 kids in the room, a stage (even a small, simple one) becomes more of an essential than a bell and whistle. A stage does not have to be big, fancy or complicated to work. As you can see by this first picture, it doesn't take much to make a stage.
Granted, there is a plasma TV on the wall and a speaker mounted above it, but even without the tech, this kind of simple staging can at least help you to define your storytelling area. This black stage is a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood on a wooden frame - not much to it. I'm sure there's a handy volunteer in your church who could throw this together in no time (especially if you offer them cookies.)
The tech table is not ideal to have beside it, but it's the only space we had in the room. I'd also recommend to have at least a couple of these 4' x 8' sections together just to give you room to move. But this is not a bad place to start.
With a basic stage like this I'd also get a black area rug on the stage just to muffle your footsteps. A storyteller who's clomping around like a racehorse can be a little distracting.
Tuck It In the Corner
If you're short on space, consider sticking a stage in the corner of your room like this one from our Danville campus' early elementary room.
Again, there are certainly some bells and whistles on this stage - a couple of lighting trees, truss and a plasma - but even without tech, this corner stage would be an effective teaching space. Notice it's a little higher than the one in the first picture, elevating the storyteller even higher above the kids (but not too high above to be disconnected from the audience).
If you didn't have a screen on the stage, I would recommend keeping the wall behind the storyteller neutral and clutter free. This will allow you to create different scenes, props or graphics appropriate to your theme or just keep it bare so that the kids can focus on the storyteller.
Mix It Up A Little
You could also consider creating flexible staging. Several years ago Willow Creek Community Church's Promiseland ministry used several 4' x 4' squares of carpeted staging that they could mix, match, stack and reconfigure to create whatever size and shape of stage they needed that week.
I like this idea because it doesn't lock you in, and allows you to keep your kids guessing. This would be perfect if you want to get creative with your teaching space. For some ideas of how to do this, check out these four posts.
No Substitute For Great Storytelling
Remember that stages (with or without tech) are no substitute for kid-geared, God-focused lessons and a memorized and rehearsed storyteller, but they can help a prepared storyteller be seen and give kids an area of focus that sets your teaching time up to win.
Have you used stages? What simple ideas or configurations have worked for you?