BY AMY CATTAPAN
Instagram and Pinterest might not be the first tool you think of when it comes to evangelization, but when you picture your class or youth group, how do you see them spending their free time? On their phones, probably!
If your students are like mine, they can’t wait for class to end and get back on their phones. Does that mean your instruction has to end the moment they reach for their phones? Absolutely not! As believers who live and breathe our faith, we can reach young people exactly where they like to be … on all their favorite social media platforms!
As a Catholic fiction writer, I began my venture into social media purely as a way to connect with my readers, but I quickly discovered that social media could be used to evangelize in ways I had never imagined possible.
For me, it all came together when I opened my second Instagram account. (That’s right — I have two Instagram accounts!) The first was for my author business. The second I opened on behalf of a group of Catholic young adult authors. We had formed a Facebook group called Books for Catholic Teens, and we used that group to reach parents and teachers.
However, it wasn’t effective for reaching other teens, who tend to spend little to no time on Facebook. Their social media platforms of choice are Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat.
Instagram is all about photos. And memes, definitely funny memes. Thankfully, it’s also easy to figure out on your own. It does, however, require a smartphone since it’s an app, not a Web based program. After you’ve downloaded the app, sign up for an account and start posting pictures. You can take pictures right through the app or pull one up from your camera roll.
What kind of pictures might you share? Don’t overthink this. Simply share pics related to living out your faith. Feeding the poor at a soup kitchen? Take a photo of yourself behind the counter. Reading a good book about your faith? Share a picture of it. Heading off to Adoration? Snap away! Visiting a new church? Share it with them.
Not all your pics have to be about you, by the way. You can offer photos of your favorite saints and then write a caption about why you love that saint. Some really effective Catholic Instagrammers do “saint of the day” or “Scripture quote of the day” posts.
With the Books for Catholic Teens Instagram account, I originally felt stumped for post ideas. Then I decided to create a daily photo challenge. Every day during Lent, I posted a challenge. On Ash Wednesday, I challenged our followers to take selfies showing the ashes on their foreheads. On Fridays, I challenged them to post pictures of how they were avoiding meat. I called this our Lent-a-thon challenge, and “players” posted their pics with the hashtag #Lentathon. The response was amazing! Many teens, preteens, and adults participated. Even better, it got the teens thinking about their faith on a daily basis. It also gave them a safe place to ask questions. When I posted an almsgiving challenge, a few commented to ask what that was!
When you think of Pinterest, you might very well think of a place to find dessert recipes, do-it-yourself projects, and house-decorating ideas, but it, too, can be a place to share our faith — and find ideas for your classroom. When I attended the last C3 Tech Conference (Catholic Communication Collaboration Technology Conference) in Los Angeles, I spoke with a number of youth ministers, teachers, and catechists who used Google to find their classroom and activity ideas. They were amazed to discover that Pinterest held a wealth of ideas for faith-based activities with kids.
If you’re new to Pinterest, it’s a social media platform you can use on your computer or smartphone. Enter key words into the search bar and then click on “all pins.” Need an icebreaker appropriate for a youth group? Search “icebreakers for youth groups.” Need some free faith-based coloring pages for younger students? Find those on Pinterest, too.
Teens also enjoy Pinterest, so you might pick up some young followers. My teenage nieces use it to find children’s activity ideas for babysitting, as well as those ever-popular humorous memes.
Finally, there’s Snapchat. This is a newer social media platform, and I’ll warn you that preteens shouldn’t get on it. However, Snapchat doesn’t really deserve the bad reputation it first had. Like any social media, it can be used for either good or evil! So let’s make use of it for Christ!
Like Instagram, Snapchat is an app for your phone. You post pictures or 10-second videos to your “story.” Anything posted remains on your story for 24 hours and then disappears. That said, anything on Snapchat can be saved as a “screenshot” so teens should be warned (as with all social media) not to post things they wouldn’t want the whole world to see.
As a writer, Snapchat appeals to me because I can tell a mixed-media story with my snaps. Through pictures, text, and videos, I can weave a story about making it through my day. Some of the teens that follow me on Instagram have followed me over to Snapchat, where I can give them more of a “behind-the-scenes” view of me living my faith. I can talk directly to them, add funny little “stickers” to the images, and use wacky filters that make it look like butterflies are spinning around my head. If you’re squeamish about Snapchat but feel like you might try Instagram, then you’ll want to know that Instagram also has introduced its own version of creating “stories.”
Whatever platforms you use, be genuine about sharing your faith. Youth are quick to see through any facades. They just need to see us living out the Good News, and they’ll follow our example!
Amy J. Cattapan, MS, is a best-selling author, speaker, and middle school English teacher from Chicago. She writes inspirational books for teens and tweens, including Seven Riddles to Nowhere and the award-winning novel Angelhood.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, February, 2017.
Image credit: Robert Kneschke / Shutter Stock 730530235