Instagram. It’s one of the world’s most popular social media platforms, with one billion monthly active users, but can the fun photo-sharing app be used for something important? Its detractors mock the platform as being full of pictures of people’s food, pointless selfies, and influencers selling detox teas that don’t work. As a photographer, I love seeing and sharing beautiful images, but can we do more? Can Instagram be used to share Jesus?
Yes, it can, but most people are doing it wrong. When Christians try to use Instagram to share the hope they have in Jesus, they usually do so by sharing an out-of-context verse or inspirational passage. They might share a Story that is literally just the text of John 3:16. Or they might share a graphic of words of inspiration written in a fancy font, something like “God will never give you more than you can handle” – a phrase that is found nowhere in the Bible.
Recently Dave Adamson joined Indigitous for our Ministry from a Distance webinar to share how to do it right, how to use Instagram to teach the Bible effectively. Dave is the Social Media Pastor – yes, you read that right – for Northpoint Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia (USA).
“Whenever I tell people that I’m a Social Media Pastor and that I use platforms like YouTube and Instagram to teach the Bible, I always get weird looks,” Dave admits. When people think of someone teaching the Bible, they picture a pastor giving a sermon at his pulpit (before COVID, anyways) or teaching a class in seminary school, whereas social media has always been thought of as for entertainment, for things less serious. But Dave thinks that this is short-sighted and that way of thinking reduces our ability to make an impact. “If the current coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that teaching the Bible in person is just one of the tools at our disposal,” he says.
Jesus has called us to bring the Gospel into all of the world. So we go where people are, and where are they? They’re online, on their phones, in platforms like Instagram and YouTube, so as Christians we should bring the Gospel into each of these places. Even before COVID-19 shut church doors, in-person attendance at churches had been on a decline. However, people watching live streams, podcasts, and pre-recorded videos of church services have increased. “Church attendance isn’t decreasing; it’s decentralizing,” Dave says.
But if it’s important to share the Gospel on these platforms, how can we do it effectively? How can we do so in a way that will create engagement, people actually thinking about what’s posted instead of scrolling past the cheesy quotes? During the webinar, Dave shared three tips for anyone trying to teach the Bible on Instagram.
- Context is everything.
- Teaching the Bible is a conversation.
- Provide a practical application.
Context is everything
“In the same way that you wouldn’t stand up in church to give a message and then simply read Bible verse and then close in prayer, you shouldn’t just post a Bible verse graphic to Instagram without providing context,” Dave says. For anything that you share, you should explain the context from which it comes. Who wrote the verse? Who is the audience? What is happening in the greater story of that book?
Teaching the Bible is a conversation
Most audiences aren’t going to engage with a one-way lecture as well as with a two-way conversation. “Question marks are greater than periods,” Dave says. “They help invite others into the conversation.” Whenever Dave shares a Bible verse on Instagram, he ends it by asking a question, inviting his audience to take part in a conversation with him. He then continues the conversation in the comments section. For anyone interested in carrying on a deeper conversation than the comments section allows, you can provide your email address, phone number, WhatsApp, or Facebook profile and move the conversation elsewhere.
Provide a practical application
Providing an application to the verse is so important because it allows your audience to move from simply consuming content to taking an active role in growing in their spiritual journey. “I see a lot of people post a single Bible verse to Instagram and think that they’ve done enough, but if we want people to engage with the Scriptures then we have to encourage them to not just read God’s Word, but to respond and act according to what they read,” Dave says.
As people around the world have been confined to their homes and in-person attendance for most churches has dropped to zero, social media usage has skyrocketed. People are on their phones more than ever before and more people than ever are looking for hope and answers to life’s big questions. If you’ve never tried teaching the Bible on Instagram or other social media platforms, now is the time to start.