It's no wonder that video Bible studies have become so popular in recent years. Barna reported in May that 75 percent of Americans watch TV every day, with 44 percent watching 4 or more hours a day. It's clear that Americans enjoy TV—both for entertainment and education. (After all, many get the majority of their news from TV.) Why should we expect any different when it comes to our Bible studies? And publishers—including Christianity Today—have tapped into this trend, producing and publishing more video Bible studies than ever before.
What's perhaps more shocking than the popularity of video studies is how polarizing they are among small-group leaders. As I began discussing this topic with key small-group ministry leaders, I was surprised how often leaders had a clear opinion—they either completely love video studies, or completely hate them.
In my own experience as a small-group leader, coach, and director, I can see both sides. Using a well-made video Bible study lowers the bar for leadership and allows leaders to focus on facilitating discussion and shepherding group members. On the other hand, even the best video studies can shut down conversation and make facilitation difficult when you take a break from discussion to watch a video in silence. Plus, they implicitly teach group members that only certain people know and can teach the Bible—which can be detrimental to discipleship.
To give you an idea of the polarizing views I've encountered, here are the thoughts of some small-group ministry leaders.
For Video Studies
I’m for it. It gives leaders more flexibility to lead, host, and build into the spiritual health of people and not be consumed with preparing a mini-sermon each week. —Ben Reed, small-group pastor in California
Video-based curriculum has several advantages. First, it makes it easier to recruit leaders. They also make it easy for leaders to invite people (including seekers) into groups because people are less intimidated to discuss a video. They're also a great way to launch several new groups simultaneously, which can build unity and enthusiasm church-wide. —Keri Wyatt Kent, author and writer
Against Video Studies
Nothing beats a group of believers under the direction of the Holy Spirit coming to Scripture to ask, "What does it say?" and "What am I going to do about it?" I strongly encourage groups to use Scripture alone (multiple versions as available) without agenda or preparation. Even the best curricula offer a pre-digested subset of what is there, and teachers cannot help but slant their explanations to fit their own biases (especially after a long time in prep). Radical trust in the Holy Spirit, not "correct" doctrinal training, is what keeps groups from error. —Dave Treat, small-group consultant and author
I am unconvinced of the value of video Bible studies. They contribute to a celebrity mentality, suggesting that only a person with a “name” or a book contract or title of “pastor” can teach the Bible or is worthy of being listened to. They also set up the video teacher as an icon, distant and unknowable, and therefore living a perfect life. Additionally, they discourage local lay leaders from developing their leadership gifts. —Pat Sikora, small-group leader and writer
Somewhere in Between
I use video-driven studies, but I have some concerns. In the early days of video curriculum we mistakenly looked for "the Bible expert" to come into our group. That mindset still prevails and often leads to studies that may be a hit in a specific local congregation but are a miss when the rest of us try to use it in our own context. My problem with many video-driven studies is that the presenter tries to answer all the questions. I want video that leads to vibrant questions and lively discussion. —Jay Daniell, pastor in Nebraska
For those who aren't biblically astute, using video driven studies are the best option for a couple of reasons: 1) There's no chance of accidental teaching that contradicts God's truth, and 2) it's much easier to get group leaders when they simply have to play the video, ask questions pertaining to the video, prepare snacks, and oversee prayer time. But the beauty of using non-video-driven studies is that 1) the greatest learning happens as someone prepares to lead a Bible study, and 2) group members get to learn how to process God's Word in a group, which teaches them to process God's Word when they have their personal study time. —Rick Howerton, small-group consultant and writer
Video Bible studies tend to be less intimate because you bring in an "expert" from outside into the living room to teach. They also tend to be cumbersome—both in distribution of videos and in the flow of discussion. Imagine 12 people huddling around a laptop and then trying to have a good conversation. On the other hand, they can bring a lot of ease and comfort to leading for new leaders by taking the teaching burden off of them. Plus, video Bible studies make it easy to ensure that the material being taught and communicated in groups is consistent in your church. —Brandon Hudson, youth pastor in North Carolina
I believe the best group leaders in the healthiest groups are shepherds who are looking to help their group members grow spiritually. If a video study helps them accomplish that goal for their specific group members, that’s great. But video studies should never replace shepherding of the group. Pushing the "play" button does not make you a leader. So, video studies are a tool, one of many tools, for a leader to shepherd and disciple group members. —Mike Mack, small-group consultant and writer
Where Do You Stand?
In general, I've found that your small-group model plays into how you feel about video studies. For those using a Host Model, video Bible studies are necessary. For those using a High Control Model, though, video Bible studies may take away from the intentional discussions and shepherding. And for those with a Missional Model, sitting down to watch a video simply may not be feasible because they're active in the community or meeting somewhere without a TV.
Plus, video Bible studies have their advantages for new leaders, as many have pointed out, but they may not be the best option for more established groups or mature believers.
And, depending on your role in small-group ministry, you may see video Bible studies differently. While small-group pastors and directors may like the control they get with using video Bible studies, leaders may enjoy a more discussion-based group that doesn't require pausing to watch a video.
Wherever you stand, we have resources to help you make sense of this trend. Get an overview of the video Bible study trend and the different types of studies available, discover the characteristics of good video Bible studies, learn how you can make your own video Bible studies on a budget, read top tips for using a video study, and hear why one leader is bucking the trend altogether.
—Amy Jackson is managing editor of SmallGroups.com; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.
Where do you fall when it comes to video Bible studies? Share with us below. Are you for, against, or somewhere in between on this trend?