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SnapChat Younger Folks Into Your Congregation

Posted by Bart Frost // May 16th 2016 // Guides and Tools, Issues and Trends, young adults, youth // no comments

Using SnapChat to Expand Your Reach To Younger Folks

Recently I shared an image by Benjamin Schwartz that appears in the New Yorker Magazine:


to Facebook adding “Imagine being the one trying to explain why churches and our office should be using it.” In the comments, a number of folks asked how to use it within church contexts lamenting they tried it when it first came out and it just didn’t work.

Why SnapChat?

My story

My Story is what will be most useful for you!

According to SnapChat‘s own numbers, more than 60% of 13-34 year-old smartphone users in the US are Snapchatters. Furthermore, it is a great platform to share things that are happening live and locally. We continue to see more social media platforms geared towards sharing images and videos, a trend that started with memes (lolcats, icanhazcheeseburger, etc) and is reflective of the maxim “show, don’t tell.” SnapChat, as used by companies and institutions as opposed to individuals, provides a relatively easy and fun way to broadcast and engage a younger audience.

The primary reason why SnapChat is a great platform for congregations and churches to share their experience with the world is the “My Story” feature. SnapChat has two primary functions, to share snaps (photos or short videos) privately between friends and to broadcast to the world through the “My Story” function. The former is the reason a lot of adults set firm boundaries when SnapChat first got big, and I agree with having really firm boundaries. The latter is why you and your church need to be on here snapping it up!

Final w geofilter etc

You can draw, write, and even add multiple filters!

How It Works

SnapChat is essentially a photo/video editor. First you take a picture. If you take a look at the picture to the right, it’s pretty simple. Looks a lot like your camera app. Then, after you take a picture you can add text (in different colors), you can draw on it, and you can add a thing called a geofilter (more on that in a bit). You then click the arrow in the bottom right corner and choose where to post it. You can send it to a friend or post it to your story. When you post it to your story, it will be visible for 24 hours and when folks click on your story it will run from the beginning (or where they left off).

What’s it look like in real life? It looks like this:


This is a video compilation from when we were at General Assembly 2016(GA) Youth Caucus pre-site meetings. Because we are typically broadcasting from events, the way we use SnapChat is going to be different than the way you might use it at church. We usually start with an introduction, like “Hey this is Bart, and today I’m in Columbus for GA Youth Caucus pre-site! We’ll be posting all weekend.” You can only have one person logged into an account at a time, so if someone else is going to be using it they would introduce themselves when they first log in (“Hey y’all, this is Jennica! Today it’s all me!”). After that we try and post fun videos and pictures that show what is going on. Again, we use it as a tool to share live from our programs to raise awareness and build rapport.

At church, you could use it in a variety of ways. You could share a photo of the reading for Sunday or the title of the sermon you are working on. You could share video clips from choir practice or a photo of the RE supplies all set for the volunteers. You could share a blessing from the staff meeting! A number of churches use it to show what goes on behind the scenes at church, but be creative! Give the phone to a youth and have them do “Ten Second Takeaways” with various church members. Andrea Briscoe, UU Youth Extraordinaire, says “[the UUAyaya SnapChat account] makes the UUA seem more human and like it is there for us. However, I feel like it wouldn’t have the same effect if individual churches had it because churches already have that personal touch because you see members on a regular basis.”

I’d argue that there’s still a lot that goes on behind the scenes at church (or days that we, uh, miss church…) and this is just one of many ways that we can use to stay in touch with our peoples.

Rules to Remember

These are rules that we use to guide our SnapChat account:

  1. No followbacks. When two people follow each other on SnapChat, they are friends. Friends can send private snaps back and forth. Remember all that fear about sexting? Yeah, that’s how that works. And that’s one reason we don’t do it. The other reason is that we don’t necessarily want to know what youth and young adults are sharing to their stories. While it could be beneficial to see what the youth and young adults are snapping from your event, you can’t share them like you would on facebook. It would be just as easy to ask them to download and email those snaps they want to share to you.
  2. Be authentic. There’s a saying within youth ministry circles that youth can instantaneously tell if you are being real or if you are faking it. “Fake it until you make it.” does not apply to youth and young adult ministry. Be real.
  3. Have fun and be a (wise) fool. Have I faceswapped with a youth? Yes, and I will not post that unholy abomination to the interwebs because I like you people. Tell dad jokes (which are not jokes about dads, but rather bad jokes that people who tend to be dads make) and capture reactions! Laughing together is an excellent way to build community and community is one of the most life-saving aspects of our faith. Pro Tip: Give your phone to a youth you trust and have them use the church’s snapchat to share their experiences. Remember to set boundaries. I’ve done this twice with youth that I trust (after warning friends and family that I gave my phone to a youth) and the stuff they created was 1000x better than what I would normally come up with!
  4. Don’t forget to save it! You can download the entire story as a movie clip. Do it every 24 hours, so you don’t miss anything. Afterwards, you can edit it and post it to the church website or youtube or use it in a year-end retrospective!
  5. Last, but not least, don’t forget to double check your privacy settings! Confession: When we first started our SnapChat, I thought that the setting for who could view our story should be “My Friends” because I misunderstood that friends mutually followed each other. This meant our first week or so, no one saw our snaps because I didn’t change that setting to “Everyone.”

Once you get it…

Once you have mastered Snapchat, you might want to look into getting your church a geofilter. A geofilter is an artistic icon or tag for your snaps that is based on your location. You set a geofence and anyone posting to snapchat within that area can add it to their pictures and videos. In the picture above, you can see a geofilter for the city of Boston.

If your church could be considered a landmark or historical site, you can have a community geofilter. Ask an artistic youth or young adult to design one (maybe even pay them to do it!). If your church isn’t a historical landmark, you can pay to have one. You can also pay to have one for special events.

The benefit of a geofilter is that it is advertising. Say your youth group is doing a lock-in and one of the youth snaps a picture to their story, all of their friends would see your geo-filter. At least one of them might be interested in checking out your church because of it.

You could even create one for extra-church activities like conferences, trainings, and summer camps. These events would definitely cost money, but does the benefits of future/greater engagement outweigh the cost? For what its worth, the youth I reached out to for help in writing this article think this is a great idea. (Thanks Eli, Andrea, Eric, and Emma for your feedback and help!)

Now go out and see if SnapChat works for your church!

Let us know if the comments if you have any questions. Also, share your experience using SnapChat in church.


Don’t forget to follow us: UUAYaYA

You can also use our Snapcode to follow us!



Further reading:

How to Use Snapchat: A Detailed Look Into HubSpot’s Snapchat Strategy

How To Use SnapChat For Churches

Snapchat for Church? Possibly!

What I Learned From Our Church’s First Week On Snapchat




About the Author

Bart Frost is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the Unitarian Universalist Association.
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