Most small groups use video-based studies at one time or another. How can we use this type of curriculum to lead healthy, life-changing groups? I asked a small-group video producer and some of my small-group ministry friends for their tips on what to do and what not to do as you lead using videos.
1. Select your study carefully. It doesn't really matter how great and popular a study or a speaker is if the topic doesn't address a real need in the lives of your group members. Ask yourself, "What is needed in order to grow in our faith together?" Think as a shepherd-leader. Where do you need to lead your group members?
Also consider the length of the videos. Phil Gioja, a videographer and owner of Heartland Seeds, produces documentary-style video studies and believes the shorter, the better.
"One study I was part of had an hour-long video each night we met, and by the time the video was over, everyone was pretty much brain-dead and ready to go home," he told me. Rather than choosing a video that goes on and on, dumping way too much information on your group members, choose a video that sparks discussion and perhaps even includes a book with some questions to get discussion started.
Steve Yarrow, small-group pastor at NorthRidge Church in Detroit, Michigan, goes a step further and recommends using videos that are 20 minutes or less in length. The exception to this rule is the occasional use of dramatic or even feature-length videos. For instance, City on a Hill Productions creates 20-30 minute videos that are used in multi-session studies, but they also edit some of their videos, such as The Easter Experience and The Christmas Experience, into films 60-90 minutes for groups or families to watch and discuss.
Another consideration is how a video is developed and produced. Many video presentations are nothing more than a talking head, while others are simply sermon outtakes. Those may work fine if they feature a very dynamic speaker, but they may also bore your group to sleep. Gioja's documentary-style videos have the quality of being very "real." One that features real-life stories is always more engaging than simple sermon points.
2. Don't skip the preparation. Gioja suggests, at the minimum, watching the video once and thinking questions ahead of time. "Even if you only take 20or 30 minutes to glance over everything quickly, you'll be a step ahead of the rest of the group and in a better position to lead," he says. He noted that when he feels too busy to prepare ahead of time, it's a lot more difficult to lead effectively. Ideally, you want to be just a step ahead of your group with a few questions already swirling in your mind.
3. Create the right environment. Remember that you're leading a small group, not hosting a movie night. Serve food like you normally would, but leave the popcorn and big boxes of candy for the theaters. Meet in a semicircle with the chairs angled toward the TV rather than in rows if possible. Move your chairs into a circle once you've finished viewing the video and before you jump into discussion. Otherwise you may find that you're just staring at the television screen rather than engaging one another.
4. Take notes. Josh Hunt, author of Good Questions Have Groups Talking, suggests making paper and pens available during the video so group members can write down questions and comments. This will help facilitate better discussion.
5. Lead with the remote in hand. "I'd encourage people to teach with the remote in their hands," says Hunt. "Pause the video a few times in the middle to discuss: 'Do you agree with what he said?' 'Can you think of an example?' If the discussion gets heated, let the discussion take precedence. Don't feel obligated to finish the video."
6. Ask, "What did you think?" Mark Riggins, Community Life Pastor at Bible Fellowship Church in Ventura, California, suggests asking "So what do you think?" right after viewing the video. This opens the floor for discussion, engages everyone, and gives you a better idea of where to head next.
7. Focus on application, not presentation. When the movie critics in your group begin reviewing the film as if it were the latest box-office hit, guide the group back to the message of the study. Ask a question like, "How do you see this playing out in your life?" or say, "Let's move beyond the scope of the video itself and talk about how we can live out this teaching. Here's what I learned … "
8. Stay balanced. Some video studies are content-oriented and will help participants think about a particular topic, while others will draw group members into feeling emotions as they listen to or observe dramatic stories. Effective groups engage the mind and the heart as well as the hands and feet, so you'll need to balance this dynamic. If the video presentation is very content-oriented, ask feeling questions as simple as, "How did you feel about what he said?" On the other hand, if the video tells a story laced with emotion, you might ask some questions to engage people's minds: "What was going through your mind as you witnessed Jesus crawling to the cross?" or "How do you generally respond when someone you love is hurt?"
9. Shepherd group members. A DVD-based study can provide good teaching, tell great stories, and even help you facilitate lively discussion, but it can't care for, love on, support, encourage, and invest in your group members. Yes, you can bring Francis Chan, Margaret Feinberg, Max Lucado, Rick Warren, Kyle Idleman, Beth Moore, Chip Ingram, Donald Miller, and other great teachers to your group, but not one of them can shepherd your group members. That's your job: shepherd the group of people God has placed under your care. Intentionally focus on building authentic community and a missional mindset. Leave time in your meeting to share what's going on in your lives, to pray for one another, or to plan your next step in serving your community. Remember to contact group members during the week to offer encouragement, support, and prayer.
To see all the Video Bible Studies offered on SmallGroups.com, click here.
—Michael C. Mack is a founder of and advisor for SmallGroups.com, author of 14 small-group books and discussion guides, and small-group ministry consultant; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.