Youth culture trends change faster than actors rushing from scene-to-scene in a play. The whims of “cool” have landed on a simple smart-phone-only photo sharing app called Instagram.
What is Instagram?
Instagram is a photo sharing app for smart phones. Users take a picture, apply a filter, add a description, and post it online. Users can follow other users to see what they’re posting. Users can also add hashtags to describe the photo, such as “#clouds,” and users can click on the hashtag to see other photos posted with the same descriptor. Users can “like” other photos (similar to Facebook’s Like function).
Instagram has been in the news a lot lately. The app, which launched in 2010, grew quickly in popularity. Many celebrities use Instagram and allow fans to follow them. For a measly $1 billion price tag, Facebook acquired Instagram. The most recent controversy dealt with the privacy and ownership of photos.
I know more of my kids use Instagram than Facebook. (I don’t even use Facebook to communicate with kids anymore; I use Instagram and Twitter.) It’s a great way to connect with kids during the week directly on their phones.
Are there any dangers to using Instagram?
As with any online social media app, dangers arise when kids use apps in an unwise manner. I could spend a lot of time talking about Internet safety, but here are a few quick tips specifically for Instagram.
- Some Instagram “users” are spam bots who use photos of scantily-clad women. Tip: You can report these users for spam and block them.
- Assume that anything you post online is public. Even if you set the privacy settings to private, it doesn’t mean that one of your followers won’t repost that image themselves.
- Assume that anything you post online will be stuck there. Forever.
- You can make your account private so that you can approve who follows you.
- Like with any social media app, not everything that is posted is appropriate.
How can I use Instagram for ministry?
Instagram is a great tool for youth ministry because kids are very visual. Pictures are worth a thousand words and Instagram requires you to post photos. You cannot post text, videos, or anything else.
There is something “raw” about the photos on Instagram, especially the celebrities, because they are not professionally taken and photoshopped. They may have filters, but they are very candid photos, for the most part.
With that in mind, here are a couple great ways to use Instagram for your ministry:
1. Instagram for Communicating
What do you think is more eye-catching, a Facebook text-only status update that says, “I’m at the mall,” or a photo of that person at the mall?
The same goes for announcements and midweek encouragement. Here is an example of an announcement I posted on our youth ministry’s Instagram account:
I also use Instagram to post collages of photos from youth ministry events, like our Christmas party:
For more ideas: Sean Kahlich posted some great examples of how his ministry uses Instagram for communicating.
2. Instagram for Games
Instagram is also ripe for use in youth ministry games. Here are some ideas for incorporating Instagram into your youth program:
- We themed our entire youth ministry gathering around Instagram. We included a photo challenge and centered our lesson around the concept of image (connecting it with the photo sharing app). In groups of 4-5, students had 20 minutes to complete 10 photo challenges.
- Josh Griffin posted a great idea for an upfront game called Instagram Hack. Essentially, students give you control of their Instagram account in exchange for prizes. This sounds like a great upfront game and I’ll probably be stealing this idea down the road. Parker Stech has a great post on the how-to for the tech side of putting this game together.
- Do a photo scavenger hunt and have students use hashtags so you can find the photos online. You can do this at a mall or even around your church building.
What About You?
How else can we use Instagram in our ministries? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!