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Making Movie Nights Work: Part Three -- The Event

by Marc T. Newman, Ph.D.

You paid attention to your planning, and you (or your team) promoted well. You have a houseful of people ready to watch the movie you have selected and then talk about it. You look around and see a lot of new people - some of whom may have never opened up a Bible in their lives. Many have no clue as to how the ideas they encounter in a film could have any relation to the Scriptures or the kind of worldview they embrace. For some of these folks, curiosity got the best of them. They are waiting to see if this group can deliver something meaningful.

To make the most of your movie Bible study you will need to pray, make sure everything works, greet new people, prep the audience, provide snacks, kick off the discussion, customize your approach, reward group members who bring guests, and then whet your group's appetite for the next meeting.

1. Pray. It is imperative that you pray for the people attending the movie Bible study. Some who come will be believers who have abandoned Bible study and this might be their first time back in a long while. Pray the event reignites their desire to study God's Word. Others know little to nothing about the Bible. Pray that the Holy Spirit will lead, convict, teach, and draw them to Christ. Many attending will be part of your regular group. Pray that God will give them wisdom in what they say, and that they will be able to be a positive influence on their guests. Pray that everyone grows in discernment.

2. Make sure that everything is ready and working ahead of your scheduled time to meet. Nothing kills a movie Bible study faster than a streaming service that is running slow, or a DVD that freezes or skips in the middle. If you can download a film to a playback device, that is ideal, but if you are using a streaming service, make sure it is fast enough. If you are using a rental DVD, preview it to be sure that the playback is smooth. To keep time wasters to a minimum, have the movie already cued up. That way you won't have to wade through advertisements, movie trailers, or scene selection screens and you can just get to the movie.

3. Greet new attenders. Leaders should make a point of introducing themselves to new attenders. Movie Bible studies already have a great social hook built into them. It's easy to ask people what kind of movies they like. And, since just about everybody is a movie critic, it is a good way to get interaction started early.

4. Prep the audience. We are so used to watching films at home or on our computers, that many people have lost the common manners associated with viewing a film in a group. People feel free to talk during films, get up, get a snack, etc. This kind of behavior is not conducive to group watching or plot retention. Ask people to turn off cell phones. Make sure everyone who wants them has snacks (more on snacks below). Encourage group members to take notes during the film, so they can recall key story elements and dialogue. Let people know that if they need to leave for any reason, please do it quietly so they don't disturb other people.

Tell the audience the format for the event. If you intend to interrupt the film to discuss key elements as it unfolds, let people know. Some of you will watch the film one night and discuss it the following week, while others will watch the film straight through, take a short break, and move directly into the study. Knowing what to expect is key to having a successful movie Bible study.

5. Snacks. It is a good idea to have snacks. For many people, snacking while watching helps them to stay awake if you decide to darken the room. One way to distinguish your movie Bible studies is to select your snacks based on a theme. If you wanted to watch a baseball film such as The Rookie, maybe you could hand out Cracker Jack. If you selected The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, you could serve Turkish Delight. Popcorn, soft drinks, and water are always popular.

6. Kicking off the discussion. When the lights come up, feel free to ask some generic questions, such as "What did you like about the film?" or "What characters did you think were portrayed well? Then move into the first section. Movie Bible Study's Leader's Guide has all of the initial questions and notes you will need, but carefully review them on your own long before the discussion begins

7. Know your group. If your group is made up of highly engaged people, you may not be able to get through all five sections of a movie Bible study, so announce that you will cover only some of the study that night (if you are willing to stay after the appointed time to go through more, make that available). If your group tends to be quiet, develop follow up questions - see the blog posts about Asking the Right Questions - Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The Leader's Guide notes are suggestions, not rules. If during your preparation for the study, you find that the Leader's Guide notes aren't a perfect fit for your group, write down your own custom responses. Leader's guides are, by their nature, generic. The answers are likely to hit more often than miss. But no amount of advanced planning on the part of Movie Bible Study is a substitute for your additional preparation. The study will be better if you mold the questions and anticipate answers that are more specific to your group.

8. Find ways to reward people who bring friends. Movie Bible studies are great for outreach, but reaching out isn't always easy for everyone. When group members go out of their way to invite new people, consider ways you can reward them. It could be as simple as recognizing and thanking them. Or you could turn it into a game, where everyone who brings someone gets a raffle entry for each person they bring (perhaps all new people get an automatic entry). Then at the end of the study, or the series of studies, you draw a name out of a hat and that person wins a prize: maybe a snack basket, a pair of movie tickets, or a gift certificate for a local ice cream parlor.

9. Close in prayer and announce the next film. These events should begin and end with prayer. Ask the Lord to help us to learn and apply His Word. Thank Him for all the new people. Ask Him to help us to be discerning of the films we see, the music we hear, and the books we read. Always, before you dismiss everyone, announce the next film in the series, confirm the time and place for the next study, and encourage everyone - even the new people - to bring friends (if your location can handle a bigger crowd).

By planning for your movie Bible study to go smoothly, you'll encourage your students' enthusiasm about the next one. Before long, you'll notice an increased media literacy among the participants in the group. They'll begin to see connections that before were invisible to them, and they'll recognize how God's Word speaks directly to the culture and their lives.

Next week we will discuss the importance of follow-up.


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