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