Originally posted on ThatChurchConference.com 

I’m all for hustling and reaching people on many fronts, but sometimes we need to slow down and ensure we’re mastering the basics before we play around with every new shiny toy.

When I wrote that post, Snapchat had just surfaced and social media managers were in a panic to start using it. Today we find that many churches are now using it. Which has caused a debate over whether it’s worth the time, and whether it’s even a good idea.

It’s clear that Snapchat isn’t going away. In fact, it’s growing at crazy rates. Today it has over 100 million active daily users, all contributing over 8 billion daily video views.

Those stats alone make it worth taking a closer look at. But here’s some more.

Because I care about the church and I’m always interested in new ways to reach more people, I decided to give Snapchat a real honest shot. I want to be able to make a solid recommendation one way or the other.

I’ve been using for over a week, and while I think there is definitely a case for why a church should use it, there are many factors to look at first.

Let’s start by looking at the two most common objections churches have about Snapchat:

  1. It has a naughty history so churches shouldn’t be using it. It’s true. Snapchat was created by two dudes who wanted to send photos of their junk to girls but needed a way for the photos to disappear. So they created an app where you could send self destructing texts. It has evolved quite a bit from its early stages, but it can be, and still is being used for evil.
  2. Kids can use it to hide content from their parents. This is why so many teenagers are using it. Any photos, videos, and messages you send on Snapchat disappear within 24 hours or less. And there’s no way for a parent to have access to the account to check up on their kids, unlike Twitter and Facebook. Should the church be condoning an app that has little to no accountability?

Let’s break this down…

The naughty history behind Snapchat is something that was a major concern for me. The app is still being used for that kind of activity. But does that mean the church should avoid it all together?

On Twitter you have no control over who follows you. Every week I get new followers that are nothing more than porn accounts. They’ll even tweet me naked photos. It takes time each week to block these accounts. Yet the church is using Twitter.

Facebook started as a website for comparing college chicks to each other, without their consent. Today it would be crazy for a church to avoid Facebook. Now I realize this isn’t a completely fair comparison. Facebook has tremendous privacy controls. Snapchat doesn’t have any safety net at all, and that’s intentional, so it probably won’t ever change.

With anything we put our time and resources into, we must use discernment and caution, and operate within boundaries. On Snapchat there aren’t many boundaries you can put up. However, there is one available option that allows you to use the app and not be exposed to anything bad: Be selective with who you follow and friend. As my friend Katie Allred shared in her Church Snapchat Guidelines, as a church account you could simply not friend anybody, or only friend your staff and pastors. You only see content from your friends, so use discernment with who you follow.

So if you’ve got a strategy and policies in place, you can actually use Snapchat and not have to worry about being exposed to anything bad. In that regard, it’s actually a safer place than Twitter.

Now onto the second issue — condoning an app that makes it easy for kids to hide from their parents. That can definitely be a real issue. So let’s find a way to rise above it before we excuse it away. Churches should be creating culture and leading the way, not just conforming to what’s popular and hoping it works out.

We can start by educating parents on the dangers of social media, and recommending ways they can talk to their kids. Post content encouraging kids to use Snapchat for good. If kids are using it for something bad, shouldn’t the church be showing how to use it for good? Let’s fill their feeds with good content, maybe provide them a bit of hope and inspiration among the other crap they may be consuming. The only other option is to do nothing. Either way it’s not up to the church whether kids use it or not.

If you’re following along this far, perhaps I’ve convinced you that it’s possible for a church to use Snapchat and not compromise their integrity. That’s at least what I’ve discovered after using it for only a week.

So let’s look at what I’ll call secondary concerns. Besides the two objections above, there are a few other negative aspects to the app that annoy me:

  • The user interface isn’t great. It doesn’t seem to be an issue with the kids, but I’m 33 and find it pretty annoying. It took me a whole day fiddling with it to figure out how everything worked. Kids love that because it means their parents won’t be able to use it. Good luck training staff on it, or explaining it to your senior leaders. I imagine this will make it near impossible to get approval for it at many churches.
  • Content isn’t sharable. There are no likes, favorites, or any ability to share great content on other networks. Sure you can download your own videos, and others can take screenshots, but it’s not designed to share your content. Which breaks every social media rule we’re used to. This just means you’ve got to focus on creating great content specific for this audience. If you’re strategic, perhaps you can reach a significant slice of the 100 million people using it.
  • Stories expire. I know I covered this above, but I wish the stories didn’t expire. I don’t understand why they don’t just give you the option. Let me choose to keep it on my profile forever, or to let it expire. I spent a lot of time putting together my first story, then it slowly started to dissapear piece by piece until it was gone forever. A total of 14 people watched it.

Besides all that, it’s not all bad. There are a few things I really love.

Most significantly, the concept of sharing content as a story is pretty incredible. It’s a creative and original way to share content that encourages you to not just snap a single photo or post a message, but to create a storyline and share it using a combination of text, photos, videos, filters, stickers, and more. It’s neat, and there’s nothing like it.

Since the medium is so unique it does take time to do it well. If you want to stand out and create quality content you have to plan ahead and be strategic about it. There isn’t much you can produce ahead of time, considering you can’t upload pre-produced photos or videos to Snapchat. And if you go into a Sunday morning or a midweek event hoping to create some great stories on Snapchat, you’ll likely fall pretty flat if you don’t plan it out ahead of time.

The good news is, since the content goes away anyway, if you take a week off of posting it won’t hurt. Your account won’t look stagnant, you just won’t reach anyone that week. In a way there’s less pressure – just post when you have something good.

So what is my recommendation for churches?

I believe churches should be trying to reach as many people as possible, by all means possible. And Snapchat, while I believe it has its unfortunate quirks, has proven itself to be a great way to reach a large number of people. So yes, I believe churches should be on Snapchat, within reason and with boundaries like anything else. And I think they should rock it. Lead the way and set the culture.

But… only start snappin if you’re doing other things well first. 

Sure 100 million is a lot of people, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 1.5 billion people on Facebook. And when you look at who that 100 million is, it’s mostly tweens and teenagers. Is that your target market? Is it a big enough market for you to invest time and resources into?

On the flip side, if tweens and teenagers are your market and you do have the time and resources, then Snapchat is THE place to reach them. At least for now. Once more people my age start using it, the kids will move on to Peach or something we’ve never even heard of yet.

I think Snapchat has enough momentum and potential that it is here to stay, in some form or another. But it’s never going to be a Facebook or Twitter. My mom will never use Snapchat, but she’s on Facebook every day. My wife will never use Snapchat. And as an overly cautious parent, I probably won’t allow my kids to use it when they are older.

My advice is to focus on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram first. Do those well. That is where you will reach the most people and have the most impact. If your resources allow you to go beyond that, then I’d say Snapchat should be the fourth network you jump on. And if you can’t make it work, or you just don’t have it in you – then move on. It’s not going to hurt if you aren’t on Snapchat.

So don’t panic trying to figure out how you are going to juggle four major social networks as the only communications person on staff. But if you do have the capacity, please stop making excuses and let’s find a way to make it work or have a good reason to move on.

Agree or disagree? Still have objections I didn’t cover? I want to hear them. Hit me up on TwitterFacebook… and of course Snapchat.