Instagram in Middle School Ministry: The WHY

Posted: September 22, 2013 in creativity, fun, junior high ministry, middle school ministry

instagram picOne of the best tools ever created for middle school ministry is Instagram. I realize that apps like Instagram can be cool for a couple years and then be sent off to grandma’s farm in the country where they can run and be free of all pain from their old-ness. But for right now in the present reality of middle school ministry, I believe it is the best app available. If you have even 5 students in your group who have Instagram, you should have an account specifically for your ministry. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Middle schoolers love Instagram. I don’t think I need to explain this one, but with the explosion of the digital age, everything is in picture form. I once heard a youth pastor say that they were trying to be counter-cultural and fight against the popularity of Instagram… To which I replied, “Huh??” This isn’t a sin issue. This is a cultural engagement opportunity. I love posting pictures of our students worshipping or verses we talked about in the sermon or students simply having fun at church. When students are rushing down their photo feed, they are bombarded with negativity and judgmentalism. Then they see that one picture from the middle school ministry, and they are reminded in the middle of the day about who they are. As the church let’s offer redeeming images for students to see and celebrate.
  • Students love to see themselves in pictures. It makes me laugh everytime when we post a picture to our ministry account of nearly 300 students, and that one student will make a point to comment and say, “I see me!” I mean, honestly, we all love to see ourselves… But throw in the insecurities of the middle school age, and they love it even more. It helps give them an objective look at who they are when they’re not talking selfies.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of the screen-shot/re-post. Okay this one is simple. Remember how we used to hand out physical pieces of paper and tell students to invite their friends to an event? Now, it’s as easy as posting a graphic of an upcoming event on Instagram. Tell students – heck, even make them do it in the middle of your program – to “screen-shot” the picture of the event, then re-post it under their own account. In the span of under 5 minutes, your students just invited hundreds of their friends to your event… And more importantly, they didn’t leave any of those paper fliers crumpled up in the hallway that you’ll have to clean up later. We just did this with our big outreach event called the BASH, and over 500 students came. (We had 400 last year when we didn’t use Instagram… 25% growth is a big deal, people!)
  • Building the hype & anticipation before an event is just as important as the execution of the event. I borrowed this idea from Michael Hyatt in his book “Platform.” Instagram allows you to take sneak-peek pictures (or videos!) of something from your programming hours or even days ahead. When you do that, you begin the epic experience for the student in advance. By the time they arrive at church, they are already sold on whatever you have planned. Last year I posted a picture of Honey Boo Boo on our Instagram account and said, “What does Honey Boo Boo have to do with LIFT tomorrow? You’ll have to be here to find out.” (It was for a silly game we played). One of our students got so excited about it that he brought two friends with him. They told me that they had always thought church was just boring. Hmm…
  • It creates memories. We don’t allow our middle schoolers to bring their phones or iPods to overnight trips. But we unleash our leaders to take plenty of Instagram pictures. I love the 5 hours immediately following the end of our event when our middle schoolers rush to Instagram to like and comment on every picture we took. Many of them re-post those pictures to tell their friends about their experience as well. Creating memories is a vital piece of faith formation. Instagram just helps out a bit. (Side note: When we take pictures at overnight trips and post them to Instagram, this also creates a great opportunity for parents to feel involved and informed about what’s happening. The introduction of Instagram Video was a huge win with our parents as they got to see their kids worshipping!)

I could go on and on about the reasons I believe Instagram is a vital app for all middle school ministries. But I’ve decided to make this a multiple-part post. Stay tuned for more thoughts later this week. In the mean-time, what did I miss? Why else should a middle school youth worker use Instagram?

P.S. Want to see more ways that I use Instagram for our middle school ministry? Check out http://instagram.com/LIFTHR.

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Comments
  1. Kim says:

    How do you handle the age requirement for Instagram use? Our middle school youth group is for 6th – 8th grade, so many of our kids would be excluded because they are not yet 13 years old. I had read one of your previous posts regarding the use of Instagram, but haven’t yet started using it for our group because I know a number of parents who do not let their under-13 age children have an account.

    • Hey Kim,

      Great question. My general philosophy is that I need to let the parents do the parenting, while I lead the ministry. Ultimately I can’t police what students are on Instagram and who shouldn’t be. Obviously there are some families that enforce the 13-year-old rule and some who don’t. But ultimately it falls on the parents’ shoulders on whether they want their kids on there or not. I do make it a point, however, that whenever I announce something about Instagram from stage, I ALWAYS include a caveat that nobody should feel guilty about not having Instagram. I even go so far as to praise them for resisting Instagram and time-wasting.

      I’ll say it another way… Even if every student followed the 13 year old rule, and only 13- and 14-year-olds had Instagram in my ministry, I would still have the account. Even though that accounts for only half of my ministry (6th-8th graders), I think it’s worth it. As I mentioned in the blog post, if 5 students are posting something about your ministry on Instagram because you have an account, that publicizes your ministry to hundreds and hundreds of other students. In the digital age, 1 student with an active Instagram account can reach more people in one post than we can with hundreds of fliers.

      Hope that makes sense. It does get sticky with the 13 year old rule, but I don’t think my ministry having an account will affect whether a student chooses to break that rule or not.

      • Jake Nelson says:

        I’m so glad you addressed this! I’m a rookie to Middle School Ministry (1 week on the job! 🙂 ) My wife and I were just discussing how much effort and resource we should throw at social media knowing the age limit is 13 on pretty much everything.

        I like your thought process

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