A pastor shares a creative way he reengages teens and youth in Bible study.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s brand promise is: “We can help you understand the Bible to find freedom, healing, and hope in Jesus.”
The Sabbath School Bible study guides provide a great avenue toward fulfilling this promise. However, as I’ve traveled to different churches around the world, I’ve seen that many of our teens and youth don’t read or engage with the Sabbath School study guides. It’s certainly rare to find a church on Sabbath morning where all the Sabbath School classes are overflowing with people from these age groups.
While there are many reasons for low attendance, I think it’s time we considered new and creative ways of engaging with the young members of our church.
Instagram is a mobile social network that allows users to edit and share photos and videos. It’s also one of the most popular social networks in the world, with more than a billion monthly active users (June 2018). Thirty-seven percent of all internet users are on Instagram (February 2019), with close to a 50/50 split between male and female users.
Instagram is most popular with teens and young millennials: 38 percent of users are aged 13-24, and 31 percent of users are aged 25-34. Only 14 percent of users are aged over 45. In the United States (which has similar demographics to Australia), Instagram is a preferred social network of teens (72%), second only to YouTube, beating both Facebook (51%), and Twitter (32%) (May 2018). Instagram users are also well-educated: 42 percent have a university degree, and 36 percent have completed some university training.
Most churches continue to use printed Sabbath School booklets. But how many teens and youth read paper publications? Some, but not many. Our teenagers have been replaced with multitasking screenagers who have substituted paper for glass. Unlike the static medium of paper, glass provides a kinesthetic, interactive, connective, and visual medium that is highly portable and always shareable. For the newest generations in our Adventist churches, verbal has been replaced with visual, sit-and-listen has been replaced with try-and-see, and commanding has been replaced with collaborating.
For screenagers, everything they want to know can be found in a quick Google search, or by messaging their friends on social media, or listening to the people they “follow” online. Consequently, with such a huge number of young people using Instagram, I decided that this is the perfect platform for sharing the Sabbath School Bible study guides.
Each day I share a new post that has a big idea and three main points from the daily study guide. Each post is less than 100 words. Images in each post match the images used in the Sabbath School app, and a link is provided for users to download the free app and read the full study guides in more than 40 different languages. A range of hashtags organically brings users to the sdasabbathschool account. Alternatively, users can search for sdasabbathschool in the Instagram search bar.
A key benefit of using Instagram is that users can share comments and questions under each post. This engagement is important for those who live in remote locations and may not be able to attend a church each Sabbath. It also gives a voice to those who may not feel comfortable speaking up in their Sabbath School group at church. Significantly, these conversations can happen anywhere and anytime as people from all over the world communicate together through Instagram.
Back in the 1800s, Ellen White was shown in vision that her husband, James, should start a small newspaper, and like “streams of light” it would eventually go “clear round the world.” Today, in a digital age, this vision continues to be fulfilled at light speed, and the young members of our churches are at the forefront of this new form of gospel proclamation!
The original version of this commentary was posted by Adventist Record. Social media statistics for the United States are taken from the Pew Research Center’s “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018” report.