Instagram-Friendly Churches Offer Photo Booths for Attendees to Mark Special Occasions

Image: Courtesy of Piedmont Chapel

More Americans went to church yesterday, Mother’s Day, than any other day in the past year besides Christmas and Easter. And thanks to church photo booths, more families than ever have the pics to prove it.

In recent years, Instagram-friendly congregations have offered themed photo backdrops for attendees to mark special occasions. For Mother’s Day, Christians across the country posed in their church lobbies beneath floral garlands and colorful bunting, holding signs with messages like “We Heart Mom,” then posted and tagged their snapshots on social media.

These photo setups took off at local churches with the rise of smartphones and selfies over the past five years, according to church social media expert Haley Veturis. She first started using branded photo backdrops—resembling the “step and repeat” banners used on red carpets—at a conference in 2012, then went on to incorporate them into special events at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, one of the biggest megachurches in the country.

While churches pay more attention to branding, aesthetics, and engagement, particularly in contemporary non-denominational and seeker-sensitive contexts, Christians are caught between wanting to capture meaningful moments in stylish church settings and wanting to avoid leveraging their faith for likes.

Like hundreds of other congregations, Piedmont Chapel in High Point, North Carolina, has used photo backdrops for special services since its launch in 2014, inviting attendees to smile beside a Christmas tree, hold signs with its Easter logo, and have their kids pose with costumed characters.

“We’re always looking to provide value to peoples’ lives,” said Kendall Conner, the church’s creative pastor and a graphic designer. “To those who are uneasy about providing a photo op at church… I’d encourage them to look at the togetherness that they can bring. Families that may not take a photo together all year long may get their chance at your church.”

Churches direct attendees to take their own selfies; station a volunteer there to capture a picture for you; or have a professional photographer who will post or print the photos. Signs may suggest tagging the church’s social media handle or using a designated hashtag for the event.

Their marketing and communications staff usually oversee the look of a backdrop for a particular occasion, while the teams tasked with administering “weekend experience” work on the logistics of where to set them up, choosing somewhere that would be convenient and well-lit, explained Veturis, who now serves as director of digital engagement at Bayside Church in Northern California.

For over a decade, American churches have embraced social media as an evangelism tool, as they’ve done with other communication technologies over the years. But unlike earlier formats, social media is personal and in-the-moment, turning each churchgoer into a potential outlet for broadcasting a selfie with the sermon series logo or a clip from the worship set.

“For our churches, social media has given our members a larger platform than ever to share the things that they care about—their faith and their family,” said Conner. “If our church is able to reach more people through members sharing their Sunday experience through Instagram or Facebook, we encourage it. In fact, we have had many new guests attend our church simply because they heard about us on social media.”

But church leaders must also consider the new impulses of the social media age, both in how they use the platforms and how they enable others to do so.

“The photo is part of the celebration, a display of the church’s importance in the life of a believer, and at the same time, it can be a display of our piety, so that we expect to be admired for our religious observance,” said Trevin Wax, author of This is Our Time. “This isn’t an either-or. It’s a both-and, I’m afraid. Who can truly discern all the tangled motivations in our hearts?”

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Source: Christianity Today