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Impressive ‘Xp.’ YouTube Series Seeks to Reach Unchurched Youth

What do you do when you have the opportunity to share the gospel with youth and young adults who have little knowledge or experience of Christianity—perhaps even little interest? The newly released xp. film series is targeted at 13-to-20-year-old non-Christians who are way, way back on the Engel scale. Xp. isn’t primarily for those seriously considering Christianity; it’s for those who aren’t curious about it at all.

This Australian video course (available free on YouTube) is of a world-class standard, fills a niche few evangelistic resources currently serve, and is open to a range of applications.

This Australian video course is of a world-class standard and fills a niche few evangelistic resources currently serve.

James Baker is founding CEO of xp., the ministry that produced the film series, and he wrote the course. He was struggling to share the gospel with the unchurched coming to the youth group he led in Adelaide, South Australia. A federally funded global research fellowship enabled him to spend six months in the United States, where he discovered there was almost nothing available to reach this audience. Baker was looking for something like a “pre–Alpha Youth” course, so he set out to create it himself.

Format of Xp. Episodes

The debut season of xp. comprises nine episodes, each approximately 10 minutes long. Gorgeous retro videogame animation is provided by 8-bit Bible, and a range of inventive skits keep the videos riveting, even for the most skeptical and distractible teenager.

Each episode crisscrosses the Australian continent and features a diverse range of youth and young adults. The questions put to them range from fun (“What’s for lunch?”) to potentially serious (“If you could unsubscribe from something boring in life, what would it be?”) to existential (“What makes it hard to be real?”). My favorite interview subject was the skater kid who confessed, “I also drank deodorant once.” These question segments are designed to get ideas flowing, so the video can be paused and those involved in the course can then discuss the same question with one another.

The main presenters, Sarah and Isaiha, tie each episode together with earnest and reflective commentary. They’re charismatic, conveying a relaxed sincerity in their interactions with one another and while talking to the camera. In God’s providence, Isaiha was one of the unchurched kids in Baker’s youth group, so “he’s talking to himself,” as Baker puts it.

The choice of topics demonstrates a sensitivity to the challenges and interests of youth and young adults in the Western world today. It reveals thoughtful missiological reflection on how to bring the gospel message into this context. Early episodes consider topics like “Anxious?,” “What does real happiness look like?,” and “What happened to wonder?” The concluding episodes ask “Why are we here?” and “Who are we here for?

The joyful simplicity of the course in no way takes away from the richness of the content and the evangelistic strategy that informs it. Baker used to work as an international lawyer and spent time in Manhattan attending Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Redeemer pastor Tim Keller’s fingerprints “are all over” xp., Baker says.

Redeemer pastor Tim Keller’s fingerprints ‘are all over’ xp.

There are plans for a second and third season of the series, drawing those engaging with it closer and closer to the gospel of Christ. I’m eager to see if they can take the next steps forward as artfully as they’ve managed to progress through this first season.

Investing in High-Quality Video

The xp. videos and accompanying material bear the marks of enormous care, artistic craftsmanship, prayerfulness, thoughtfulness—and likely substantial funding. In all of this, they stand out among similar video material, especially those produced by Reformed evangelicals here in Australia (often with slimmer resources).

Many videos in this genre are lo-fi, recorded and edited on a phone. They function as popcorn-style snack content. Baker wanted xp. to be a more substantial, high-production resource that could have a longer shelf life. For example, Baker explains, they recorded 15 hours of man-on-the-street interviews to find the 27 minutes that appear in the finished episodes.

Xp. was years in the making, with scripts vetted for 12 months, casting calls made for a copresenter position, location filming permits secured, suitably qualified animators and puppeteers sought out, and so on. Baker stressed that the team deliberately looked for collaborators best suited to contribute to the project, often being blessed by God providing just the right people. Christians working in the secular TV and film industry found the opportunity to be a part of xp. a “life-giving project,” he said.

Christians working in the secular TV and film industry found the opportunity to be a part of xp. a ‘life-giving project.’

The videos are rich with details that draw in the viewer and even reward repeat viewings: repeated in-jokes and Easter eggs, TV-style thumbnails in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, and thoughtful quotes from historical sources. The name of the series even has a double meaning: Within the 16-bit video game aesthetics, “xp.” refers to “experience points.” But it also refers to the ancient Chi Rho Christogram, referring to the first two Greek letters of Christos (Christ), as hinted at with a Chi Rho prop that features in the videos.

Where Is It Located Theologically?

Pastors, campus evangelists, chaplains, youth leaders, and parents considering the course ought to have questions about its theological commitments. Sadly, these aren’t easily discoverable. Baker has wisely established xp. as a not-for-profit with an impressive governing board to oversee his work—and some guesses could be made at xp.’s theological alignment by looking at those who serve on the board. A recommended resources list—provided to those who sign up (for free) to run the course—also provides hints, although the list is broad and gives little theological comment.

It’s disappointingly common for Christian parachurch ministries to fail to make their confessional statements readily available. In some cases, this is because no confessional statement has been adopted to begin with.

I understand why Alpha is regularly referred to on the xp. website and in the leaders’ manual; it’s one of the most well-known evangelical evangelistic courses in the world today. However, I find its inclusion here somewhat off-putting. Although Alpha’s video material and multiple-meals-and-discussion praxis are excellent, the charismatic theology and spirituality taught in the course, along with a weak doctrine of sin and salvation, make it an unsatisfactory course in my view.

Taken on its own merits, though, the content in season 1 of xp. is sound. I’m eager to recommend it.

Using the Series

For those blessed with access to a group of significantly unchurched youth and young adults, the xp. series could be run in full, as intended. In the context of Chrisitan schools with compulsory religious education but a large proportion of students from non-Christian families, this course would be perfect. I’ve been using it as part of homeschooling my 14-year-old son, and it has been terrific at engaging him and drawing him out.

In many other settings, however, running the course in full would be too great an investment of time for too little educational return. The course starts so far back and nudges participants along so slowly and gently that it might not be worth spending nine weeks going through it. It’s pitched at 13-to-20-year-olds. I’m confident those at the upper end of that age range, if willing to come along to a multiweek course, would be open to more substantial theological input than this one provides. Even in such cases, sections of episodes could be used to add color to youth groups, evangelistic meetings, and courses.

Single episodes could also function well at a one-off pre-evangelistic dinner and discussion event. Videos could be shared on social media or privately with non-Christian friends and acquaintances for them to watch at their leisure. Baker also suggests a youth or young adults group could watch the videos and dissect their missiological approach, as a training exercise of sorts to equip Christian youth for their conversations with unchurched friends.

All in all, xp. is an impressive achievement and a great blessing to youth and young adults ministry. I heartily recommend it and look forward to hearing many stories about its use in Australia and beyond.

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