I have fond memories of my first opportunity to help produce a professional, video-driven Bible study—now that I’m looking back. During the actual filming of the study, however, I was more than a little intimidated.
It was a great opportunity. Our team was working with David Platt to produce a Bible study complement to his book Follow Me. We had the privilege of working with Dr. Platt over the course of two days in downtown Birmingham, and what I remember most from the experience was the professionalism of everyone involved.
Everything was organized. Every detail had been checked, re-checked, and confirmed. The venue that had been booked as the video set was both intimate and artistic. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative. I can still remember standing behind the control board as the director gave instructions to four separate camera operators through wireless headsets—all while Dr. Platt delivered several powerful messages and taught the Scriptures with authority.
That was an incredible experience. In fact, it’s still the gold standard by which I judge any video Bible study I encounter.
Video-driven Bible studies aren’t new, of course. They’ve been available for quite some time—even back to the days of VCRs and video cassettes. Given recent advances in technology, however, coupled with the increasingly visual nature of modern society, it’s hard to find a curriculum option that doesn’t include a video element of one kind or another. But as I’ve hinted, not all video Bible studies are created equal.
So, how do you know which studies are worthwhile? Here are three factors you can use to determine whether a video Bible study is worth your time—and worth the extra expense.
The first thing you need to check when evaluating a video Bible study is the overall quality of the video itself. This is often referred to as the production value of a video project.
Because video is so popular, several publishers have taken to adding low-quality video elements to their studies simply to increase marketability—often in the form of a brief commentary from the study author, or perhaps a compilation of people describing the benefits of the material. These additions, however, rarely increase the actual effectiveness of the study. After all, YouTube clips may work for an effective icebreaker activity, but they rarely have any connection with transformational Bible studies.
When it comes to video, the old adage typically strikes true: You get what you pay for. Bible studies with a high level of production value will usually include these elements:
- Multiple cameras and camera angles. Staring at a person’s face from a single-camera shot gets old pretty quickly. Multiple cameras provide a much more interesting visual experience.
- Professional sets and lighting. The “where” matters a great deal in a successful video shoot. Look for curriculum options that include interesting locations and professional-looking backgrounds.
- Clear audio. There’s nothing more annoying than attempting to watch a video that you can’t hear very well—or that includes a lot of extra noises, blips, and static. Professional video crews know how to capture audio in a way that’s both clear and pleasant.
- At least 10 minutes per session. If you’re going to pay for a video element in your Bible study, make sure it’s worth the money. A five-minute blurb from the author will rarely be worth your time.
Be sure to check these elements on a publisher’s website before purchasing a video-driven Bible study. (And yes—if the publisher doesn’t provide lengthy samples or marketing previews, that’s probably a bad sign.)
People often assume that video-driven Bible studies will appeal to the visual learners in their small group. This is a common mistake. In reality, a video that only contains a person talking directly into the camera is much more of an auditory experience than a visual one. It’s the same as sitting quietly and listening to a sermon—just through a TV screen.
For this reason, the best video Bible studies include a diverse range of visual elements to increase the overall visual experience of the user. Here are a few examples:
- B-roll footage. Rather than featuring a person’s face for 30 minutes, professional videographers will splice in a variety of different footage to supplement the speaker. This can include audience reactions, close-ups of the speaker’s hands, or even separate clips from a city street or an interesting scene in nature. This additional footage is critical for preventing a video shot from becoming stale.
- Scripture text. It goes without saying that good Bible studies will use the Bible as their foundation; therefore, they should reference a number of Scripture passages. For video studies, these references should be accompanied by the text appearing on screen. This may not seem like a big deal, but providing the actual words for a Bible passage is helpful for people with a reading/writing learning style. It also adds visual diversity to the experience.
- Professional camera work. This is another type of production value, and it’s important for visual experiences. Good camera operators will push the limits of their cameras in order to add extra touches of visual flavor. These touches can include shifting the focus on the lens, panning across the set, zooming in to focus on a specific element of the speaker or the set, and more. Each of these little touches increases the visual engagement of your group members as they watch and listen.
It goes without saying that the most important element of a video-driven Bible study is the video itself, but the video should never be the only element. Nor is it the only element that matters. Why? Because passively watching a video is rarely a transformational experience. And that should be the primary goal of any Bible study—spiritual transformation.
Any video-based Bible study worth its salt should include additional resources to help your group engage the subject matter in a way that opens the door for spiritual growth. Otherwise, your experience watching the video content will be primarily informational, rather than transformational.
There are a number of options for including supporting material. Many studies offer workbooks or personal study guides for each member of the group; many also offer an additional Leader Guide for the person (or people) leading the discussion each week. Some of these books are packed full of content and other “homework” material intended to be explored between group meetings. Other books function more like journals intended to guide users through each group experience. Others land somewhere in the middle.
Again, be sure to sample this material before you purchase any study. You will need to rely on your knowledge of your group members and their personalities when determining which style is best suited for your group.
However, there is one element within the supporting material that should be considered non-negotiable for any small-group experience: quality discussion questions. In fact, I believe that great discussion questions are what separate great studies from mediocre group experiences—whether or not videos are included in the package.
Specifically, look for supporting material with discussion questions that are:
- Open-ended. You don’t want to waste your group’s time with questions that have only one correct answer; they leave no room for discussion.
- Concise. Avoid material that jams three or four discussion questions on top of each other.
- Deep. Good discussion questions will probe the emotions as well as the mind. Look for questions that offer a foothold for the Holy Spirit to work in a person’s heart.
- Relevant. The best video-based Bible studies include discussion questions that help group members engage the content of the videos. Questions should apply to the major themes of each video session, but also help users go beyond what the video discusses and take the conversation to a more meaningful level.
Finally, the best studies will also include a number of visual aids to supplement the material. These are extra items that can serve a number of purposes—all the way from decoration to helping group members engage key themes on a deeper level.
For example, some curriculum packages contain posters that can be placed around a church (or even in public places) to promote the upcoming study. Others contain posters and other materials designed to be displayed around the meeting room as a way of supplementing the major themes under discussion. Many of these visual aids come pre-printed, but others are often available on DVD-ROMs included with the study. These data discs typically have printable versions of posters and other items discussed above. They may also contain PowerPoint backgrounds and professionally designed images that allow you to post notices about the study on your church website.
The best video-based Bible studies offer a broad range of benefits to the members of your group. They’re visual, diverse, and help users engage the power of God’s Word with the goal of spiritual transformation. When you find that combination in any video-based study, you’ll be sure to get your money’s worth.
—Sam O'Neal is an editor at LifeWay and an editorial advisor for SmallGroups.com; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.