Nothing says, “Old guy who doesn’t understand me” like using media that was popular when you were a kid. As youth pastors, we are constantly looking for new ways to reach our students. We try to create an atmosphere that students want to be a part of. We play music that students can actually enjoy. We set up an Xbox 360 and play Madden ’08. We use media in our ministry on a daily basis. We even use media in our messages, sometimes creating entire message series off of it.
Media-based messages and series are some of the most effective messages around. However, they are also some of the most easily destroyed messages. A media-based message or series, when poorly done, can really hurt your ministry. Students love to be a part of a series, and media-based series can hit them in a big way, but it has to be done correctly, or they will tune you out.
So what’s the right way to do a media-based series? Well, here are nine tips to steer you in the right direction:
1. Choose something your students can get into.
This is a huge key to the success of this kind of series. There are a lot of things that you’re into that your students could not care any less about. And this is completely different from group to group. Your group of students could be Survivor fanatics, or they could have never watched a single episode. If you’re doing a media-based message series, it needs to be something that your students can enjoy, or your message will be missed by many.
2. Choose something you can get into.
Now, this is one of those “Duh” points, because this is true of any message series you’re going to do. But it’s important to make note of this thought when it comes to a media-based series because, as stated earlier, your students may enjoy different things than you do. Staying with the idea of television shows, if you work with middle school students, they may be into shows like Naruto or Ed, Edd, and Eddy. If you can’t even stand to watch those kinds of shows, then doing a series based off of them will be incredibly difficult. Even if you manage to create a series or a message from these kinds of shows, you have to remember that your students are a lot smarter than most people give them credit for (you, of course, give them full credit for their smarts). Students that you might be able to reach with that kind of series are going to tune you out the second they feel that you’re not into “their” show as much as they are.
3. Stay current!
Nothing says, “Old guy who doesn’t understand me” like using media that was popular when you were a kid. That goes for everyone, whether it’s the 20-year veteran of youth ministry or the 22 year old helping out in the group. The fact is you are a lot older than your students…but you don’t need to show them that! If you’re doing something with media, stay up-to-date. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with doing a game with a “$64,000 Question” theme, but it may not make as much sense to your students as something more current, like Deal or No Deal. If you’re doing a tribute video to your high school group’s seniors, do not ever, ever, ever use Michael W. Smith’s “Friends”! Sure, people loved it twenty years ago, and many people still love it today, but you’re better than that. There is so much music that comes out every year that you should have no problem finding a song that conveys the meaning you want behind your video and hits home with your group of students.
4. You don’t always need to have a clip with a “deep thought” behind it.
Everything we do should be focused on God. It’s a great thought for us to have in our minds, but sometimes we take it too far and limit our creativity too much. It really is okay to use a clip from a movie just because it’s funny. The high school pastor at my church once used the fight scene in Anchorman to intro a message about friends. Did it have some big point that he was trying to get across to the students? Not particularly. But did it show a group of friends? Yeah. And was it funny? Absolutely. Comedy can be an incredible tool in a media-based series. It can grab a student’s attention in a way that other things won’t, and their attention is what you’re aiming for in the first place.
5. It’s okay to keep it simple.
A media-based series does not have to be difficult. In fact, depending on how much you’re relying on the media itself, you can actually do a media-based series very quickly and very simply. You can keep it as simple as basing your entire series off of the title of a song. Just this past year, I did an entire series entitled “Love Addict” based off of the Family Force 5 song of the same name. It took very little effort to pull of, yet it was easily our best series of the year. Sometimes, all you have to do is create an intro video for your series using a clip of that song, and you could be done with the media portion of your series if you wanted to. However, if you want to go farther than that…
6. Be prepared for a lot of work.
Most media-based series require a lot of work on your part. For example, let’s say you want to do a series based off of CBS’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and you decide that you should use some clips from the series. Well, now you’ve got a bit of work ahead of you. First, you have to have your points ready (you can try to just go through the show itself and draw your points from it, but that takes even longer). Next, you need to go through the series and find clips to match. If you have a specific clip in mind, you have to figure out a way to locate it (which means you either need that particular episode on DVD at home already or, if you have a DVD-recorder, you need to watch the repeats and record the correct episode so that you can use it). Once you have the clip, you have to figure out how to best integrate it into your message. There can be a lot of work involved in a media series. And it can become an even more daunting task when you consider that…
7. You need to create your series with a professional quality.
You can really turn your students off to a particular message or an entire series if you do a poor job with your media. If you’re using a song clip and you need to shorten it up a bit, edit it cleanly. It sounds awful when a song jumps from one part of the song to another and there are words that get clipped halfway through or the music sounds choppy because you took the quick way and just estimated a good spot to cut a song. It may be tedious work, and you may be the type of person who hates doing it, but cutting a song together needs to be done just like it would if you were an artist recording in studio. If you don’t get the cut right the first time, go back and do it again and again until you get it perfectly. The same goes for video clips. If you have to edit a clip for some reason (it’s too long, you need to edit out someone swearing, part of the clip just has no meaning out of context of the rest of the episode, etc.), do it professionally. Again, don’t cut a word halfway through. Don’t mess with the flow of the show itself, either. You can’t jump from character to character if the show you’re using doesn’t do that on a regular basis. A choppy video is very hard to watch, and your students won’t be able to figure out what in the world you’re trying to teach them.
8. Don’t stress out!
An entirely media-based series, particularly one that you want to do a lot of stuff with, can seem like something that is going to use all of your energy…don’t let it! Don’t try to put yourself on a deadline with a media-based series. Just let things happen as they happen. If you have to push the series back because you’re not done with it, don’t hesitate to do it. The calmer you are, the easier the ideas will come. If you’re stuck in a rut with a series, use the resources around you: talk to other youth pastors in your area, get online and ask questions, and just take a deep breath. Oftentimes, doing these kinds of things is the way in which you find the things you need to tie your series together. You’re not alone in your struggles, and you can find people who have had success with what you’re struggling with. You can find the help you need if you just look for it a little bit.
9. Integrate media in many different ways.
Hey, no one said that you could only use media in a media-based series! If you’re listening to the radio and you hear an awesome song that would fit well with next week’s message or the next series you’re doing, then use it. If you’re watching a TV show and you see a great clip, go find it and use it. Who cares if you’re not doing a series based off of the show? If your students enjoy it, then it’s worthwhile to use it. There are simple, easy ways to integrate media into your messages all the time, and your students will thank you for it by actually listening to you when you teach them!
With so many different ways to teach God’s Word, a media-based series is one of the best tools at your fingertips if you’re using it right. If you follow these tips, you will be well on your way to creating an incredible message series that you will enjoy teaching and your students will enjoy listening to.