Our youth group recently finished up the Hashtag Youth Video Series, which served as the summer curriculum for our Wednesday night Junior and Senior High Bible Class (we were gone a few Wednesday nights because of special activities, so we ended up getting behind and finishing in September).
Some dedicated youth ministers from Churches of Christ (primarily in Tennessee) put a lot of work into the conception and production of Hashtag, and I thought I would take a few moments to review the series now that we have completed it.
To start with, I should mention that the Hashtag Youth Series was entirely free. Thirteen videos, usually 10-15 minutes in length, and all accompanied by discussion guides and manuscripts, all were available for download free of cost. If you have any experience in finding and ordering Bible class material, you know that it can be very expensive, especially if you’re looking for videos.
Furthermore, Hashtag is incredibly easy to use. Summer can be a crazy time for youth ministers. With students out of school, it seems to be a time for constant activity, ranging from summer camps, to mission trips, to Vacation Bible School, to summer fun trips, and all of that on top of all the regular activities a youth group participates in. In the midst of all the busyness, it’s nice to be able to show a video series where you don’t have to put a ton of time into preparation and basically are able to just focus on leading a group discussion based on the video which was seen. The ease of use is also a huge benefit when it comes to finding substitute teachers—I had to be away a couple of weeks for travel or to speak elsewhere, but it was easy to find someone to take my spot, show the videos, and lead the class in discussion.
Finally, the videos themselves were of high quality. Watching the videos, it didn’t seem like you were using a free product at all. The graphic design and typography was awesome, and the video production was very good too. Nothing about the videos seemed amateurish at all.
Suggestions for Improvement
The videos were basically in the format of a summer series, where each week you have a different speaker focus on a certain topic. What I have generally found to be true with summer series also applied to Hashtag: the speakers were somewhat hit and miss. The video topics included some theologically deep concepts (see the banner at the top of this post for the topics which were covered), and although most (if not all) of the speakers were youth ministers, some did a much better job of communicating the topic at a teenage level than others.* Furthermore, the basic format of the videos was lecture: the speakers sat in a room talking to a camera. Generally, the speakers who provided visual aids or incorporated a narrative style into their lessons were better received by the audience (at least, in our case).
Also, some of the discussion guides were better than others. Some of the guides were great, providing interesting ice-breakers to introduce the videos and excellent questions for discussing them. At other times, I felt like the majority of the questions were unhelpful as discussion starters and I had to basically generate my own questions.
All in all, I think the Hashtag Video Series was a significant accomplishment, and I would definitely recommend it to those who are looking for Bible class curriculum for teens. I’m sure that the work required to coordinate a project involving so many different ministers was extensive, and the developers should be proud of the completed project.
That the series was available free of charge meant that many congregations were able to use it which wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. The ease of use likely helped many youth ministers catch a breath in the middle of busy summers while still providing a quality Bible class (I know that was the case for me). And lastly, the technical quality of the videos went a long way towards keeping the attention of the audience—shoddy videos are easy to immediately write off, but the professional quality of the Hashtag series earned respect and attention.
Even those areas where there is some room for improvement should not be barriers to those who are considering using the videos. While some of the speakers were better than others, none of them were bad, and a few of them really were excellent. And although some of the discussion guides need work, it’s really not hard to flesh out that part of the lesson yourself, especially when you are mindful of the fact that you got all of the material at no cost in the first place.
Overall, I’m thankful that I stumbled upon Hashtag at the beginning of the summer, and am very grateful to those whose diligent work made it happen.
*To be fair, I know from personal experience that communicating at a “teenage level” is incredibly difficult. Middle schoolers who are 12 or 13 operate on a completely different level than juniors or seniors in high school. Something that is on the level of one group may not (and often won’t be) on the level of the other. Our youth group is currently skewed young, and I felt like some of the series speakers were talking over their heads.