Welcoming Students through Instagram
New students are looking for authentic connections.
Many InterVarsity chapters have used Instagram to meet new students, and those students are now following Jesus wholeheartedly as leaders and core members.
We have seen about 1% of those first contacted on Instagram becoming members. This could either feel very depressing or incredibly encouraging. For example, one chapter followed 1,000 new students on their University’s Class of 2026 Instagram account, and through prayer and good follow up, this turned into 10 new members and real friendships. It’s a difficult journey full of hard work to follow and connect with a thousand people on Instagram, but it ends with love.
In this article, we will introduce you to two key roles needed for Instagram outreach and give you a simple steps to make a game plan for your outreach.
Instagram Outreach is like a Roller Coaster
When you follow people for the first time, it feels like a roller coaster train ascending to the top of the first drop. Then, when students start following you back, your stomach turns and it can be overwhelming. But when a student joins your fellowship and you get to know them and their story, it makes it all worth it. We’ll walk you through each part of the process, help you set good boundaries, and be successful.
Two Roles for Instagram Outreach
There are two important roles you need in order to meet and follow up with students online. You can do the roles yourself or create teams of students to join you. The first role is the Gatherer. This role is short-term but requires an intense couple of weeks. The second role is the Welcomer. This role is less intense but stretches from the spring to fall when you welcome your online friends in-person for the first time.
Good Gatherers are organized and tenacious. They initiate following lots of new students and work quickly, sending and receiving a bunch of DMs in response to follows back. They are willing to ask for help if they’re overwhelmed, instead of ghosting people. They’ll have to handle the occasional inappropriate DM with maturity. They might often be rejected. This role could be great for graduating seniors because of its short-term nature.
Gatherers are responsible for:
- Following students from the chapter account
- Sending an introductory DM
- Asking interested students to fill out an interest card
- Asking the Welcomer for a handoff
Good Welcomers are friendly. They’re ready to be responsive to interested students. This could be a great role for next year's small group leaders, allowing them to build relationships with students who might be in their group in the fall. They should be winsome and enthusiastic. They are prepared to continue texting incoming students once a week throughout the summer to ask for prayer requests and build relationships.
Welcomers are responsible for:
- Being available for the handoff from the Gatherer
- Following up via text or your personal IG
- Connecting periodically during the spring and summer. Consider inviting them to your small group!
- Inviting them to connect in-person in the fall
Creating a Game Plan
Now that you know the roles, here are the 5 steps to making a plan to welcome new students through Instagram.
1. Train Your Team
Learn how to be both a Gatherer and a Welcomer in order to be able to then train your team. You’ll have to train Gatherers on what to DM and how to ask for contact information. You should help Welcomers know how to ask good questions and be friendly. And, you’ll have to agree on how the Gatherers will make the handoff to the Welcomers.
2. Follow and DM Using Your Chapter Account
Create a list of accounts that you’ll use to find students to follow. Try searching for “Class of 27” and the university and/or college name. Here's an example of a Class of 2025 account from the University of Florida.
Using your chapter account, Gatherers will follow students who follow that class/school account. Don’t be afraid to set a large goal, like following 1,000 students. This may take you several days because Instagram only allows you to follow 200 people a day. As students follow your chapter account back, send them a welcoming DM.
Sample welcome DM: “Hey ___! Welcome to the [Campus Name]! We’re so glad you‘ll be going here this fall. My name is [Gatherer’s Name] and I’m a [full-time staff worker or student] with InterVarsity Christian fellowship here at [Campus Name]. We’re all about making intentional community on campus through small group Bible studies, worship, and tons of other fun events. We would love to connect you to a student leader, so you have some connection before you get to campus. Are you interested in that? If so, can we get your phone number? Let me know!!”
How do I keep track of who I have followed and DM’ed? Write down the account and handle where you last stopped. Similarly, write down the handle of your last DM so it’s easier to find where to start again.
3. Set Aside Time to Reply to DMs
Some incoming students will be interested and will respond to your initial DM. You and your Gatherer team will need to set aside time to reply and help those who responded fill out a contact card with their phone number. This will allow a Welcomer to connect with them via text. Decide who on the Gatherer team is responsible for replying to DMs each day. It’s okay to wait up to 24 hours to respond.
Sample DM to request contact information: “I’m so glad you’re interested in getting connected! Can you fill out the contact card linked below, and that will help us make sure we have your info so your message doesn't get lost in our DMs. Then a student leader will reach out to you soon via text.”
4. Hand Off to Welcomers. Follow Up Using Text or Personal IG
Create a process to move contacts from Gatherers to Welcomers. You’ll want to create a simple online spreadsheet with the students' contact information and Instagram handles. Make this list easy for both Gatherers and Welcomers to access. Follow up with Gatherers and Welcomers to make sure information is being exchanged and new students are engaged.
Sample text exchange between a Welcomer and an incoming student
Welcomer: Hey ____! This is _____ from InterVarsity. I got your number from our contact card after ____ contacted you over DMs. InterVarsity is an on campus ministry at [Campus Name]... I was wondering if you have any prayer requests…I’d love to pray for you. And can I send you some cool stickers? If not, no worries at all :)
New student: Aw that's so kind of y'all! I'd love that!
Welcomer: Awesome! Just send me your address and we'll get some stickers out to you! And I’ll definitely be praying for you! Do you have any questions about coming to [Campus Name]?
Continue to get to know interested students over the summer. Ask questions and offer to pray for them. Try to invest 30-60 minutes a week texting interested students.
5. Invite to Connect In-person and Online
Brainstorm with Welcomers what might be the most friendly events they can invite new students to over the summer to have fun and connect with InterVarsity members. Finally, we get to the most important step: meeting them in person when they get to campus. This could be an NSO event or a meal with the Welcomer and their InterVarsity friends.
What if My College or University Doesn’t Have “Class of” Pages?
This makes online outreach harder, but not impossible! We suggest three strategies:
Look for clubs and organizations at your school on Instagram. You can find names of clubs on your university website. Some new students may start following these pages, allowing you to reach out to them in a similar way as described above.
Tag partner churches. Churches that have good social media presence may be interested in helping students get connected on campus via Instagram.
Reach out directly to youth pastors at local churches. You can offer to have your Welcomer personally connect with incoming freshmen and help them have a smooth transition.