’Tis the season to bring a little Advent/Christmas spirit to social media!
Imagine a month where you didn’t need to think about what you were going to post on social media. Pretty great, huh? Better yet, imagine a month where members of your church are creatively generating images that you collect and share throughout the Advent season. Sound too good to be true?
Enter the Advent Photo-a-Day Challenge.
What Is the “Advent Photo-a-Day Challenge”?
The “Advent Photo-a-Day Challenge” is a 27-day photo challenge that asks individuals to reflect upon one word or idea each day and take a picture that encapsulates that word, feeling, or emotion. It gives them an opportunity online to reflect upon the journey we take to the manger at Christmas.
Simply put, you choose 27 words, one for each day of Advent. Invite your church to participate by taking pictures and posting them to social media with a unique hashtag.
There is no financial investment on your side, but if you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll be on your way to connecting with your congregational members and community at large in a whole new way. Who knows the impact it could make! It would be great if even a single person’s view of Advent and the Christmas season changes by providing a daily focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
With this guide, you’ll have a blueprint to launch your first “Advent Photo-a-Day Challenge,” which is a great way for your church family to connect between Sunday and Wednesday services.
What You’ll Need to Run a Photo Challenge at Your Church
1. 27 Words (One for Each Day)
The First Sunday in Advent for 2015 is November 29. Set your calendars to that date. Thankfully, this isn’t a new idea, so there is a lot of inspiration out there from which you can draw insights.
2. A Unique Hashtag
Chances are your photo challenge won’t be the only “Advent Photo Challenge” going on out there. Having a unique hashtag will give your members a social media rallying point. Advent photos aside, having a unique hashtag for your church can serve you throughout the year. Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, Michigan, uses #faithtroy. St. John Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas, uses #stjcypress.
Utilize your church hashtag and consider adding a second for just this stream of images. Let’s get creative and say #yourchurchnameAdvent or #AdventHopeLutheran. Whatever you decide, use a program like Hashatit.com to search across several platforms to see if it’s in use already (you’d be surprised to see the different ways hashtags get utilized around the world).
3. Marketing Materials
It’s not enough to put a paragraph in the bulletin and consider the communication done. In order to gain traction for your challenge, you’ll need to tell people, tell them again, and then tell them about it once more. Then . . . remind them again. Here’s a quick list of communication avenues that can be utilized to share your church's challenge.
- Your Church Website
Your church website should be the web hub for all materials related to the challenge. Keep pointing folks back to it.
- December Calendar Printouts
Print out copies of your church’s December schedule. Have a stack of them in the back of church, put them in mailboxes, hand them out. Include worship service times, other Christmas activities, etc.
- Worship Service Announcements
If your church makes announcements at the beginning or end of the service, be sure to remind members about the challenge throughout the month.
- Facebook Profile Change
Create a graphic that members can use as their Facebook profile photos to reflect their participation in the photo challenge. Encourage participants to use your unique hashtag in the description when changing their profile photo.
- Facebook and Twitter Cover Photo Art
Change your church’s Facebook and Twitter cover photo to a calendar graphic that keeps all the words visible. The ideal size for social media graphics is always up-to-date in Sprout Social’s guide.
- Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram Posts
Prior to the event, announce the upcoming challenge with a calendar graphic, an invite video from the pastor, a photo inspiration, and other posts.
- Facebook Events
Create a Facebook Event listing for the challenge. Schedule the event to run from the morning of November 29 through 11:59 p.m. on December 25. Share the event to your page, but also begin to invite as many of your local friends and family to the event as you can.
- Email Campaign
Email once a week with the photo challenge for the week ahead and highlights from the prior week; or consider a daily email with “Today’s Photo Challenge.”
- Text Campaign
Use a service such as Remind to send out texts each day. Several texting accounts are free to create, and you can schedule texts ahead of time. Encourage folks to sign up by including how-to instructions in the bulletin.
- Bulletin Insert
Yes, consider creating a special insert for this challenge. Include all the important information. One side could have the complete calendar with the hashtag, the other side could include instructions to sign up for text reminders.
- Paragraphs for Bulletin and School Newsletters
If you have a school connected with your church, you already have a lot of newsletters go home to parents. Invite your school parents to join in the fun by writing up a paragraph and sending it, along with a graphic, to the principal and/or the teachers.
- Invite Local Companies to Sponsor
Increase the incentive to participate by finding a “matching” sponsor. This turns the photo challenge into a photo campaign. By getting a sponsor, you can encourage participation by saying, “For every photo in this year’s challenge, this local company will donate $X to our ____ ministry.” (This option is not for everyone, I know.)
4. Constant Engagement
- Involve your staff from the outset
You’re going to want full participation, from the pastor to the elders to the greeters. If this campaign is important to you, then you’ll need them to commit to participating. Keep your core group engaged and you’ll have at least 5–10 photos going per day. As you lift up and celebrate those who participate, you’ll encourage others to join.
- Keep adding to a Facebook album
Keep and maintain an ever-expanding Facebook album with photos and images from your members. The goal here is to get people to visit your page again and again to see what’s come through.
- Make photo slideshows to play in pre-service announcements
If your church displays announcements slides, consider including photos in the slideshow with the hashtag overlaid.
- Print a flyer each week with the upcoming week’s schedule
In addition to the printed month-long calendar, a weekly flyer insert can serve as a great reminder about the upcoming week. Make a little space on the flyer to include pictures from the previous week—and don't forget to credit the photographer(s).
5. Pre-Built Content
You can plan ahead and create images to send out through your Facebook page. Use Facebook internal scheduler to maximize your organic reach. Tools like Buffer can assist you in scheduling to Twitter.
6. A Way to View All the Images
With hundreds of photos being posted (a guy can dream!), you’ll want some way to track the flurry of images. Tagboard goes out to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Google+, and Flickr to fetch posts and images based on a hashtag search. You can do a fair share with the free version, but the paid version will allow you to embed the tagboard on your own website rather than point traffic over to their site.
7. Release Verbiage
I like to include photo release verbiage on the challenge page. It basically states that the photo takers, by using your unique hashtag, are giving you permission to use the photo. Gerber has a basic Terms & Conditions written up for anyone who uses “Gerber-specific hashtags.” Expanding the release to include other networks may assist you in the long run.
8. A Larger Vision
Help your people understand why they are doing this. For one, it brings the community together on social media and focuses them on the journey to Christmas. If you invest some time and weave the campaign words and themes into your messages, you’ll be on your way to sharing a coordinated and concise message with your church and the community this Advent season.
Are you up for running a campaign? If so, it’s going to take some effort—you may even suffer through a few days that are “dry” in terms of posting content.
Worst-case scenario? Only you and your staff participate in the photo contest and you’ll come away with a staff who has become accustomed to taking pictures that get better and better as the month goes on.
Best-case scenario? Your church will have a month where members and their friends will join in this journey to the manger. The challenge will provide daily reflections for individuals and families to focus on the real reason for the season. It’ll give your church a connecting point between Wednesday and Sunday messages. What a great way to keep your church engaged throughout a season where it is too easy to be overwhelmed and distracted by the things of this world.
What tips would you add?
Have you participated in a photo challenge like this at your church? How’d it go? Are there additional ways to help get the word out prior to and during the campaign?
Free Marketing Kit
Start your own Advent Photo-a-Day Challenge with this free marketing kit!
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