Oh come, all ye faithful, to — Snapchat? It sounds unlikely, but the messaging app once associated with sexting teenagers is increasingly becoming a place where religious communities connect. Faith leaders are using Snapchat in a variety of ways to reach millennial believers and help them become more invested in their faith.
It’s not hard to see why: The app is the fastest-growing social network among millennial Americans — the same group that is also abandoning religious beliefs more than any previous generation, Pew Research indicates.
“When I talk to young people, they’re primarily on Snapchat,” said Chris Martin, founder of Millennial Evangelical, a blog geared to helping Christian leaders better understand the millennial generation. “So pastors should understand that people in their churches are using the app, and because they’re not going to keep them from using it, they should consider ways to use it constructively.”
Martin, a 25-year-old who is pursuing his master’s of divinity degree, counsels youth pastors around the country who want advice on how safely to incorporate the tool into their ministries. Tom Nash, a youth pastor at Upland Community Church in Upland, Indiana, is one of them.
“When I initially heard about Snapchat, I was really opposed to it. Why would anyone send a picture that they wanted to make sure was gone after 10 seconds? I thought, ‘Oh no, this is terrible,’ ” said Nash. “But Chris’ advice really resonated with me. I want to be where the students are, and Snapchat and Instagram are where they’re hanging out.”
Nash downloaded the app and started sending photo snaps of a Bible verse, followed by a second snap of him expounding with a devotional thought on the verse. He calls them “10-second devos,” and they’ve been a hit with his youth group members, he said.
Darrel Girardier, the director of digital strategy for Brentwood Baptist Church in Tennessee, said this kind of Snapchat usage is crucial for churches if they want to become a part of their young congregants’ daily lives. “To steal a phrase from Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, everybody has a daily digital habit. And we want to become a part of that daily digital habit,” he said.
Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee, whose membership of 7,500 skews around the average age of 28, has been successful in finding creative ways to use Snapchat in the last 18 months. Their snaps run the gamut: a snippet from the church pastor encouraging members with an inspirational thought, a reminder about upcoming events, or shots of the baptism services they hold every month. And they have been very popular with their young members.
“We create a lot of art and content for our services, so we might snap our video shoot teasing that we’re going to have a cool video this weekend. Or share an inspirational nugget. We’re not using the platform to replace what we do on Sundays. We’re using it to connect people and encourage them to come on a Sunday,” said Stephen Brewster, the creative arts pastor at Cross Point.
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