A small group gathers in a living room, study guides on their laps, and discusses the first question in a lesson. A few minutes later, the leader grabs the remote and pushes play.
The group turns their attention to the screen, and watches an eight-minute video sermon. Then the leader turns back to the study guide and reads a question about what was just presented via video. The group digs into the Scripture passage quoted by the teacher, which is printed out in their study guides, discusses the teaching they heard, and responds to questions that help them apply the lesson to their lives.
This scenario is becoming more and more normative as small groups across geographic, denominational, and other lines turn to video curriculum to build small-group ministries.
Video curriculum is gaining popularity. We live in a culture that communicates with photos and videos. It’s part of our everyday lives, whether we're attending a meeting via Skype, watching a how-to video or TED talk, or just giving in to the time wasting indulgence of watching one of those cute cat videos that invade our Facebook feed.
According to the YouTube website statistics, more than 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on the popular site. To make sense of that number, they explain “that’s almost an hour for every person on Earth.”
Christians use this popular medium to communicate as well. LifeChurch.tv, led by Pastor Craig Groeschel, gathers in buildings and also online. Thousands of people attend LifeChurch simply by tuning in.
Hundreds of multi-site churches across the country send live video feed of their services from a central location to satellite churches. People are comfortable not only with video, but with watching sermons via video.
We not only watch videos—we create them. By pushing a few buttons on our smart phones, we can record whatever is in front of us. And we do. And we share it with the world. In fact, 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
People are looking not just for entertainment or cute puppy videos. More and more, people are looking for instructional videos. As the millennial generation begins to have kids of their own, they search for videos with parenting advice in numbers that are growing exponentially. Business leaders, pastors, and other influencers sometimes look to TED talks and other short lecture segments for inspiration and advice. Thousands of sermons are available online. Online learning is a fast-growing segment of higher education, enabling students to earn degrees without ever entering a classroom. As a culture, we are more comfortable with video communication than ever before.
Types of Studies
You can introduce video curriculum to your small-group ministry in a variety of ways. There are plenty of off-the-shelf studies you can buy at a local bookstore or your favorite online retailer. You may also choose to have volunteers or staff at your church create your own study. Or you can hire an outside production company to create a custom study for you.
Pre-fabricated video Bible studies vary widely. For decades, women’s ministry groups have used video studies from teachers like Beth Moore and Kay Arthur. These “off-the-shelf” video studies are popular for many reasons. Because of their long track record, a ministry organizer knows exactly what he or she is getting. They know whether the teaching will align with their church, and they know the quality of the presentation and the professionalism of the product. They can pretty much count on getting what they expect. And some of the more popular teachers have their own fan base. Offer one of these popular studies, and you're guaranteed to have participants.
More and more publishers are including videos with their Bible studies. Rick Warren’s best-selling book, The Daniel Plan, includes several ancillary products including a DVD. The videos feature teaching from Rick Warren and testimonies from people who have improved their health and fitness using The Daniel Plan. Plus, there are videos of health experts showing exercise moves and healthy recipe preparation. The Daniel Plan debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list, which didn’t surprise anyone, but the study guide also hit the New York Times Bestseller list—a very rare occurrence.
Using an off-the-shelf video study is easy. Just purchase as many copies as you need, and start using it. Individual groups can purchase them, or ministries or churches can purchase them for use by groups. Adult Sunday school classes can also use these studies by watching the video together as a larger group and then splitting into smaller discussion groups.
The disadvantage of off-the-shelf studies is that you can't customize the video content. Because of this, it can be difficult to find a study that fits your group or congregation perfectly.
Do It Yourself
If your church has a production person or team putting song lyrics on a screen or video recording the services to put online, you may have a team that could create the video for a study you create yourself.
Rather than Beth Moore or Rick Warren, the teaching is done by your senior pastor or other church leaders. The great part is that you choose the topic and have full control over the content. Some churches turn the videos from a sermon series into a study, which is an excellent way to repurpose content.
Creating your own video studies requires staff or volunteers to write the study, record the videos, and edit the videos post-production. You'll also need to choose someone to do the teaching for your video study.
This option can work well for churches that have a strong creative team, but it takes a lot of staff hours. Your church staff or some talented volunteers will need to shoot the video, do the post-production editing, write and edit the study guide, and do the graphic design. You’ll need to hire a printer for the study guides, and either get DVDs duplicated or distribute the videos in another way.
If your pastor plans sermons in advance, you can prepare a video study that goes with a forthcoming series. Groups can work through the study at the same time the pastor delivers those sermons, creating a lot of synergy.
An advantage of this option is control—you are in control of every aspect of these studies. You can also be really creative. Rather than just a teaching segment on the video, you could also include other elements like man on the street interviews, songs from your church choir or worship team, a skit from your drama team, and more.
The disadvantage is that these projects take a lot of time, which your hardworking staff may or may not have. You may need to pull people off their regular work to do something they may or may not have the skills or experience to do well. And sometimes, you may not be able to find the talent in-house to do graphic design, video editing, or study writing. Depending on the talent at your church, you may not get the professional feel you're looking for.
A third option is to hire an outside contractor to create a video study for you. They’ll typically have a team of professional creative people who will help you develop content, shoot and edit the video, write the study, design the study guides, and take care of all the production details. They’ll handle project management so all your staff will need to do is review and approve what they create. Typically, they deliver print-ready files and a DVD master that you then take to an outside printer and DVD duplicator to create the finished product.
This option gives you a customized, professional product—something with higher quality than most part-time volunteers could create. It can be aligned with a sermon series, a book that your pastor has written, or a topic that you want your congregation to study. Like the do-it-yourself option, you can add testimonies, leader training tips, or other segments to supplement the video teaching.
Typically, because of the cost, this option is used as part of a church-wide campaign, where all the groups in the church take four to six weeks to study the same thing, at the same time. For instance, you may want to do a custom church-wide curriculum on stewardship prior to a capital campaign, or a curriculum on evangelism to raise that value within your congregation.
Often, professional consultants not only help you produce a curriculum, but also offer coaching on how to make the most of your curriculum and get more of your members into small groups.
The biggest downside of this option is cost. Custom video curriculum costs thousands of dollars, though prices vary depending on the services you select. You can, however, offset some of your costs by charging group members for the study guides, or even selling them to other churches. Hiring outside contractors requires a sizable investment, but you do get a professional and completely unique custom product.
—Keri Wyatt Kent has led and coached small groups at Willow Creek Community Church, where she has been a member for 27 years, and has written more than a dozen books and more than 60 custom video-based curricula; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.