Trend Alert: Churches of Instagram

Trend Alert introduces you to the latest brands, products and services that are trending with 16-24s.

If you follow celebrity news, you’ll probably know that Justin Bieber is more focused on his Christianity these days than his music career. The 24-year-old pop star hasn’t released a new single since August 2017, during which time he became heavily involved with the evangelical “megachurch” Hillsong, and married model Hailey Baldwin, a fellow Hillsong member and devoted Christian.

While Justin may have quickly become Hillsong’s most famous supporter, he’s not the only celebrity to champion the church, and similar churches such as Zoe, Vous Church and Churchome. The Kardashians and Selena Gomez are also involved with Hillsong, while film star Chris Pratt recently made headlines for his association with Zoe Church, which evoked allegations that the organisation is anti-LGBTQ. These churches have been popular with young stars for some time, but as we enter 2019, they are certainly “having a moment” in celebrity culture.

What differentiates churches like Hillsong and Zoe from the traditional Christian church is their youthful, upbeat atmosphere and culture. Their services are held at large venues, with live music and high energy, giving the feel of an exciting pop concert. They have large followings on Instagram, particularly Hillsong (1.9 million followers). From a marketer’s perspective, it’s clear from their websites, videos and social media posts that they have a young audience in mind.

These churches are using the same strategies we discuss at our YMS festivals around the world to engage Millennials and Gen Z. By turning celebrity attendees into ambassadors, they are employing the tactics of influencer marketing to raise brand awareness among young people. It makes sense, considering that these churches are evangelical. After all, isn’t influencer marketing essentially a form of evangelism?

For celebrities, it’s natural to use the same methods to support their church that they would use to promote their new album or fashion line, or a brand they were paid to endorse. However, choosing to become a member of a church is a much more personal and consequential decision than choosing which beauty brand to buy, raising questions around the ethics of using celebrities to influence this area of young people’s lives.

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