November 2016
Tools for Evangelism

Using Instagram Effectively for Church

With over 500 million monthly active users, it’s likely you have heard of Instagram and some of you may use it. A popular online photo and video sharing social network, Instagram was launched six years ago and is currently owned by Facebook. For me, the most interesting thing about Instagram users is this demographic: more than 90% are younger than 35, with almost half under 24. Instagram is clearly a space that belongs to youth. Which begs the question: Are churches doing enough to interact with young people in this space they are obviously very comfortable in?

Picture perfect

To begin using Instagram effectively for your church it’s helpful to know what works best in this specific platform. To start off, the Instagram app can only be downloaded and used on a smart phone. This immediately makes it a platform of choice for people (like me) who consider their phone to be an extension of their arm. The app is meant to be used to capture both moments from everyday life and special events, and shared with friends and “followers,” with the best ones being “liked” or “reposted.” Although the app offers several beautiful filters to enhance the colors and tones of the image, it’s always best to start off with a picture is already well framed, color-balanced, and most importantly, meaningful and evocative to you and to the people you choose to share it with.

Too many words

Unlike Facebook and Twitter that rely largely on words, on Instagram the focus is on images. Communicating without words can often be very liberating – pictures open themselves up to many different interpretations and aren’t limited to only those who know the language. It is possible, however, to go overboard with hashtags on Instagram. Since Instagram doesn’t have a 140-character limit like Twitter, pictures can be accompanied by too many hashtags that may not make sense, are too long, or aren’t related to the image; this is as common as it is annoying. On the other hand, when used thoughtfully hashtags can be very useful in terms of connecting with your target audience, building interaction, and creating a unique virtual pin board of images with other contributors.

Mirroring the church

An effective Instagram account is intimate yet welcoming. It opens a window into a space that is real and honest, while inviting others in to witness and share. These are qualities that we often encounter in a successful church. Much like a good church, an effective Instagram account celebrates community, expresses diversity, encourages sharing, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. A successful church Instagram account will be inviting, positive, and give new visitors a sense of the soul of church. It will also be a space where members and worshippers see themselves and their relationship with the church expressed with love.

A good post

What makes a memorable Instagram post? The obvious answers include a great picture, a meaningful story, and an honest portrayal. At ECF we have found that certain kinds of posts work better than others on Instagram. Here are a few of our favorites that you can try too:

Quote pictures – Try everything from a Bible quote to a greeting that is time and season appropriate. These can be created using a beautiful background picture, an evocative font, and branded with your church’s official logo. We’ve found that these really resonate with people – it’s like we’re celebrating a special occasion or festival together with our virtual family!

Behind-the-scenes - Sometimes what is mundane for us can be something unusual and interesting for our followers. An all-staff meeting, a Christmas party, or “the weather from our window” posts make you/your church more relatable. A peek into the real, everyday life of a church is intriguing and special to many.

Short videos – Instagram works well with both images and videos, and the latter can be a great post if it’s short and candid. It could be a short Christmas greeting from the rector, the choir singing part of a special number, or children in Sunday school creating something special. Videos are such a pleasure to watch and often give viewers a more intimate understanding of the life of the church.

People shots - Pictures of members and worshippers in action, laughing, sharing, or learning are some of the very best kinds of Instagram posts. It is the people who make up the church and seeing them in action is an accurate and true reflection of what the church is, and should be. This kind of picture is not only relatable but it also shares joy, which is really the most wonderful thing about Instagram.

One caveat: when posting pictures or video on social media, written consent should be obtained from anyone appearing in the photo or video and always from parents or guardians for all children.

Charis Bhagianathan joined ECF in November 2015 as communications coordinator. Before moving to New York, Charis worked at Council for World Mission in Singapore as communications manager and at Dorling Kindersley Publishers in New Delhi as senior editor. At ECF, her focus is on strategic internal and external communications. While Charis has always enjoyed working in marketing and communications, her heart lies in social/new media and writing.


  • Photo Release Form, Ann Fontaine, St. Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church, Episcopal Diocese of Oregon

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This article is part of the November 2016 Vestry Papers issue on Tools for Evangelism