Youth Group, Not Movie Night

I’m preparing for a middle school session next Sunday that I will be out of town for. I’m handing it off to a very capable Core Team member, but I found myself looking for videos to give her to show the kids. After a few videos, I was reminded why I rarely show videos at youth group at all.

Here are a few reasons why videos are a horrible idea for youth group, but how they can be useful in the end.

A video may seem like a good idea. It’s cheaper than bringing in a speaker, and easier if that speaker happens to be internationally known. It’s the next best thing to having a person up there teaching, and you get to take a little break mid-session.

Unfortunately, the cost-benefit doesn’t add up.

I’ll set aside the physiological effects of screen time, even though we know we all get too much of it. Watching even a five-minute video is long enough to make me feel lethargic. Not to mention turning the lights off, getting used to the darkness, and turning them back on is just disorienting.

But that might just be me.

Videos are a bad idea, purely for rhetorical purposes, especially if you are new to your teens or if there is a teen who doesn’t quite know you yet. A video sends the message that you are not an expert in what you’re supposed to be teaching, which may limit the likelihood of the teens asking questions.

When you stop mid-presentation to answer a raised hand, it may throw off your grove, but it shows the teen they are valued, and questions are welcome. Openness to questions helps you gauge their comprehension and take steps back if they need clarification.

I tend to use big words, so my teens had to learn to stop me and ask me to define it. I’m convinced this will help them on their SATs, so I have not stopped.

This is another danger when it comes to videos. You are smarter than your teens. If you’re in professional ministry, you probably know more than your teens and study more often. You may think a video is perfect and just what your kids need. But does the video teach to where they are or where you want them to be?

I’ve found the best way to use a video is for preparation prior to giving the catechesis. Videos are a quick way to get ideas for writing a presentation. Here are questions I ask myself when watching a video for youth group:

  1. What can I learn from them about Christ?
  2. What can I learn from them about preaching Christ?
  3. Do this provide something I can’t? (i.e. personal testimony, experience, or expertise)

Of course, videos are unavoidable and occasionally useful. The only videos I’ve shown this year were:

  1. Cinematic: Well-produced and inspiring, set the tone for the session.
  2. Humor: A little bit of dorkiness is okay sometimes (Looking at you, Life Teen). My high schoolers appreciate it more than the middle school.
  3. Testimony: When other people besides you are talking about giving their life to Christ, it helps the teens visualize doing it themselves. I always default to a Core member’s testimony first.

I’ll let you know if that changes.

Never forget that most books, videos, and pre-packaged content belongs in the “Build” stage. You can only win people to Christ with other people, that’s how it works. Man puts more trust in witnesses than teachers.

Feel free to give a teen a good Fr. Mike Schmitz video if you think that’s what they need, but don’t forget to follow up and discuss it with them. Our job as youth ministers isn’t to spew content, but to form relationships.

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