Recently, Instagram passed twitter to be the #2 social media site. I’ve seen a whole crowd of people on it – with good intentions – trying to evangelize. However, I think most of them succeed much less than they could because they fail to understand the medium enough to transmit a message that is attractive in this medium. Yes, I’m on Instagram; I admit that I’m not perfect in using it to evangelize.
In this blog post I’m using the term “evangelize” more generally than I would otherwise use it: referring to the idea of not just bringing the Gospel to those who don’t have it, but to also support those who fully believe and are walking the Christian life.
I’m going to divide this into three parts: bad ways to evangelize, important principles about Instagram that affect how we can pass on the message there, and examples of people evangelizing on Instagram.
A few fails:
- I’ve seen a bunch of accounts which focus on political issues (from either side: I’m an equal opportunity offender) and then occasionally add Bible quotes which seem to support their position. Laypeople should be involved in politics to change her country for good but you have to recognize when your goal is political and not religious.
- I’ve seen people who post pictures of religious items, and then post a selfie that indicates a lack of virtue (I’m not going into detail).
- Others just post low-quality items. For example they post plain black and white pictures of their Bible all the time (I think this may be a good occasional post but if that’s all you post, your feed gets very boring), or post blurry pictures of religious articles or religious celebrations.
- Another fail is someone who posts lots of memes: some of which are positive, and some of which rip others to shreds. Christianity, however, is a positive message so those memes that rip others to shreds detract from the message.
To understand how to evangelize, we need to look at why people go on Instagram. Instagram is not about current events – unlike other social media, you can’t link blog posts or news articles from Instagram. Instagram, at least in general, is not about debating issues such as politics, pro-life, and atheism – in fact it seems set up to be anti-polemical.
I think there are two main reasons people go on Instagram. First, people go on Instagram to see pictures of what their friends are doing. Second, people go on Instagram to look for beauty – this is expressed in many different ways, which is seen from food posts, fashion posts, architecture posts, photography posts, etc. I think each of these ways provides us with an opportunity for evangelizing.
To evangelize friends, all you need to do is be spontaneously positive about the faith. Post a picture of the excellent pizza you had, and then post a group picture of your small group at church that you enjoyed, then your puppy, then a Bible verse, etc. This method should be mainly personal posts and only reposting Bible verse or inspirational stuff that inspired YOU. In this way, Instagram is simply an extension of the friendship evangelizing that Matthew Kelly eloquently proposes in Rediscovering Catholicism. I’ve seen a few great examples of this, but haven’t kept track so I can’t link them here.
To evangelize the beauty, we need to discover that beauty. This type of evangelization takes a particular skill. This skill is picking up beauty that is already there. Two people on Instagram have done this particularly well (and they got #2 and #3 after the Vatican on my list of top 12 Catholic Instagrammers). First, a young lady from Dallas, TX who runs catholic_teen_posts. She grasps what is beautiful in our Catholic faith and is able to put it into meme form. What I find noteworthy is that she constantly shows beauty, not ugliness. This doesn’t mean she never argues, for example a recent post said, “Test your pro-abortion argument by adding ‘therefore, it’s okay to kill children,’ to the end. If you aren’t convinced, don’t waste your time posting it to a pro-life site.” That challenges the other side without belittling them. Second, Father Jason Smith, LC is a priest who is a former Art student and a great photographer. He posts extremely beautiful pictures of his daily life. (Note: my own account copies him more than the young lady.) He captures the physical beauty of a Chapel, or work of mercy, which allows you to see through that physical beauty to the spiritual beauty.
I hope a bunch of you are inspired to evangelize more on Instagram. If you do so, please try to evangelize your friends or evangelize through beauty.