animate.Faith — Sparking Fresh Christian Conversation

The new adult course animate.Faith is a welcome breath of fresh resource air for Christian pastors, teachers and small group leaders in the contemporary church. Featuring seven of the leading voices of Christianity today (Brian McLaren, Shane Hipps, Nadia Bolz-Weber and Bruce Reyes-Chow to name a few), animate.Faith presents seven conversation “kick-starter” videos, animated with compelling cartoon-like graphics, on the central questions of the faith such as God, Jesus, Salvation, and the Bible.

Produced by the innovative publisher Sparkhouse, a division of Augsburg Fortress Press, the video resource also includes the option of a facilitator guide and illustrated personal journals for small group members. According to Tony Jones, Patheos blogger and senior editor for the series, animate has exceeded the expectations of the team in terms of sales and positive feedback.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how enthusiastically pastors have embraced animate,” says Jones. “I knew it was good, and that it was unique in the market, but you never know how it will be received till you put it out there. I’m really gratified at how much people have liked it.”

Jones talked with us earlier this week about the inspiration for animate, the creative production process and what it was like trying to wrangle seven of the most popular Christian speakers together at one time in one room.

What inspired the animate series? And who’s behind it?

There’s a whole team of us behind it. I’d say that, on a macro scale, what inspired animate is that Augsburg Fortress Publishers, like all mainline, legacy denominational publishers, can see that the climate is changing. Publishing is changing and mainline Christianity is changing. Sparkhouse is an attempt to respond to those changes, and animate is our effort to provide a resource to congregations across the spectrum of American Protestantism.

What does animate offer that sets it apart from other adult learning resources?

Well, we think it combines great theology with great aesthetics. It seems that too often, centrist and progressive Christians have to hold their noses when they use adult resources – either the theology is not to their liking, or the product looks and feels crappy. We knew he had to invest in both a great video treatment and in the top Christian thinkers of our day.

Who were you creating animate for?

Basically for all congregations across the expanse of American Protestantism. If you get two standard deviations out from the center, you’ve got your hardcore liberals and hardcore conservatives – this will probably not appeal to them. But from everyone else, animate has gotten rave reviews.

A central piece of the animate resource is the almost cartoon-like art by Paul Soupiset. The illustrations are exquisite, elegant, whimsical and absolutely engaging, and carry through the videos, the facilitator guide and the personal journal. The whole package becomes a work of art! Why did you decide to incorporate art into the resource, and how did you choose Soupiset?

Two things I knew I didn’t want were 1) a video with a professorish person in front of a bookshelf, and 2) a workbook with fill-in-the-blank answers. I’m friends with Paul, and I’ve worked with him on several products, so I knew that he and his colleagues at Toolbox would provide us with animations on both the videos and the Journal that would make this resource unique.

What was the creation and production process like for animate.Faith? What was gained by your collaborative process and what was a challenge? 

Well, it’s a challenge whenever you’re trying to coordinate the schedules of seven popular Christian speakers. They’re on the road a lot already, but we knew that we wanted to get them all in the same room. That day, in December, 2011, we called our “creative jam,” and each of the presenters read their scripts aloud to the group, and then got feedback from everyone else.

I imagine getting folks like Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Bruce Reyes-Chow and Mark Scandrette in a room together is just a little bit of fun. How did you select your “voices” and what was it like bringing them all together? 

It was fun, for sure, like debating with Lillian Daniel about what she should wear to her video shoot. There were also very serious discussions about the content in each script. It’s daunting to read your script to a group of your peers – people you greatly respect. In fact, it was that opportunity that I used to pitch the concept to each of them.

The 100-page Facilitator Guide is an incredible asset to this series. Why did you feel this resource was so important, and worthy of such detail?

Without the standard fill-in-the-blank workbook, we knew that small group leaders would need a little extra guidance. Our Journal, full of Paul’s sketches, comes very intuitively to some people, but others struggle with how to incorporate their own doodles and thoughts with his. The Facilitator Guide gives leaders some help in getting their people to engage with the Journal.

What has the response been thus far to animate?  What are some of your favorite stories of how it’s been used and to what success?

I’ve heard stories of the standard uses – in many church groups – to some unconventional groups like a Mothers of Teenagers group and a group in prison. For me, the most gratifying aspect is introducing my friends – Nadia, Bruce, Brian, Mark, Lillian, Shane, Lauren – to people who were previously unfamiliar with them.

Do you have a favorite video from this first animate.Faith series?  Or a favorite story from the production process?

That’s like asking about my favorite child! My favorite moments tend to be on the set of the video shoots. By the fifth or sixth time through the script, everyone gets a bit loopy – you can see some of those moments in our bloopers reel.

You’ve just wrapped the second animate series on the Bible. Tell us a bit about who’s involved in that one, and what the conversations are about.  And — what’s next after that?

It’s a great line-up: Phyllis Tickle, José Morales, Rachel Held Evans, Eric Elnes, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jay Bakker, and Will Willimon. To get all of these people in the same room for a day was, as you might guess, electrifying. We’re just wrapping up all of the video edits now, and it’s looking great. Animate.Bible will be available in July. Next, we’re working on a third animate course dealing with the practices of the Christian faith. We’re just now lining up people to appear in that one.

Read an interview with animate illustrator Paul Soupiset here.

For more on animate.Faith, visit the Patheos Book Club here. And here’s a video trailer for the series:  

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About Deborah Arca

Deborah Arca is the Director of Content at Patheos.


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