As a small-group leader, do you ever feel like you have too much time on your hands? If you're like me, the answer is "definitely not." If anything, we leaders are running too hard and trying to do too much. That's why none of us can afford to have an uneventful group experience—a gathering we look back on and say, "Well, that didn't matter."
At Mariners Church, where I serve as a small-groups pastor, we wrestled with this issue for a long time. Our groups were struggling, and we felt like we had tried everything to fix them. We had given our groups spoon-fed curriculum to make it easy, but people quickly became bored. We tried extensive training, which was great, but our leaders didn't come.
Finally, we decided to try our hand at DVD curriculum. I'll admit it—in our first attempts, we put our pastor on a stool and had him talk into a camera. But I think our groups used those lessons more as a sleeping aide than a productive curriculum. We learned the hard way that just because you watch something on TV doesn't mean it works.
That's when we began experimenting with film, including movie-quality actors and scripts. We wanted to tell stories that would be interesting to group members and helpful to group leaders—something that would provide a spark of energy and excitement. And it worked! Our groups responded overwhelmingly.
As our techniques and budget improved, we began producing 5-episode mini-films that followed a single, interesting storyline. You can view a sample episode here: Mirror Image.
Advantages of Film
As we've watched the Liquid curriculum develop, we've realized that film can revolutionize how people experience a small-group meeting in several areas. Here are a few:
- Film is the great equalizer. Think about the average day of your small-group members. They encounter stress from work, relationship issues, struggles with kids, health concerns, financial pressures, and so on. People actually walk into their group packing all of this either on their shoulders or somewhere in their brains. But film can level the playing field. It helps people to take a second, clear their heads, and move from the stress of the day to the topic at hand. Film gives group members a starting point where they can all gather and be pointed in a common direction toward wherever God wants to take them.
- Film creates energy. A video of a pastor on a stool can provide information, and that's good. Information can certainly be helpful. But pastors on stools rarely provide any kind of spark or energy. Stories do. When you use film in a small-group setting, people get caught up in the storyline. They want to know what will happen next—they're interested. At Mariners, we've found that this is especially beneficial for group leaders because they no longer have to be the sole source of energy and excitement in the group. They have a partner in the film that relieves a lot of the pressure.
- Film creates emotion. When we study Scripture, we often have a difficult time translating an ancient text into our everyday, modern lives. Take the story of the Prodigal Son, for example. We understand the foolishness and greed of the son, but we can have a hard time getting a feel for the extreme depths that he fell to before deciding to turn around. How many of us have ever seen a live pig, let alone experienced feeding a group of them? But when a film translates those ancient practices and customs into a more modern setting, we have a better chance of connecting.
And that's really the key—connecting. When people have an emotional reaction to a passage of Scripture, they have a better chance of understanding the principles inherent in that Scripture and applying them to their own lives. Even better, when people begin to see themselves in the story and actually react to what's going on—"How could he do that?" or "I've been there before"—they will also begin to see themselves in the Scripture that the story is based on. And that's the goal. Because as great as film is, it's the Bible we really want to get people interacting with and discussing.
Jesus Taught with Stories
People have always loved stories. We love to dream and let our minds race—to be creative and listen and connect to something that hits us right between the eyes. We love to be reminded of who we are and to celebrate what God created us to be.
When it comes down to it, we love stories because it's human nature to gravitate toward what we know—to experiences that we've already had, that we expect to have, or that we hope to have. That's why film—modern-day stories—speaks in a language we like and understand. We don't have to be afraid of it.
I think it's interesting that Jesus taught primarily through stories. He used parables and illustrations about shepherding and fishing, servants and farmers—stories that may be hard for us to comprehend, but that the people of his day understood very well.
Jesus spoke in the language of his culture, and by doing so he captivated people; he moved them to action. May we do the same today.
To learn more about the Liquid curriculum series, or to see more video clips, visit ExperienceLiquid.com.
Jeff Pries; copyright © 2007 by the author and BuildingSmallGroups.com.