Separation Between Church and Self: A Framework for Church and Online Communications

The lines between our ‘work lives’ and our ‘personal lives’ have been blurred due to the interchange of social media and technology. Though not anonymous, there is a certain sense that because we’re not looking directly at someone when we share something electronically, our status update is somehow still limited to a semi-private audience.

What we say is both a reflection of who we are and what we represent. Beyond a personal sphere of influence, church staff and lay leaders are physical representatives of the character, culture, and convictions of the church they serve. Therefore, what is shared or made available through status updates, pictures and blogs needs to be filtered through the lens of the church ethos.

Several years ago pastor Tom Lane of Gateway Church in Southlake, TX, asked me to write a social media policy for the church. In the end, I created a framework instead of a policy since I am not privy to the entire staff culture or administrative oversight and boundaries over staff. Tom took this framework and modified it to fit the ethos of Gateway.

I won’t share Gateway’s policy because I fear many churches would simply use it as-is when what they need to do is think through how their own ethos should modify the policy. This document (content) is made to be changed. It’s a framework, not a policy, and has obvious places where churches will need to add, modify or take away. I’ve intentionally not made it copy-and-paste “instantly use-able” because I really want you to think through what you believe, why you believe it, and how it will impact your church staff.

Online Communications Framework for Churches

Introduction and Purpose

Email systems and email addresses, cell phones, and computers are provided to the employee to be used primarily for ministry purposes.  We believe that ministry by its very nature is relational so the use of digital communication to expand and develop a sense of community is a valuable tool for reaching people but needs appropriate guidelines.

The goals of all CHURCH NAME HERE communication are these:

  1. To promote member and community awareness of ministry initiatives and opportunities.
  2. To support ministry efforts by targeted promotion and timely interactive feedback.
  3. To provide relational points of connection and response through blogs, social networking software, church ministry websites, email, and text messaging.

This policy sets forth boundaries for using these digital forms of communication by employees and leaders of CHURCH NAME HERE.

Electronic Communications Policy

When sending a mass email to members of segmented groups of the congregation the email should be run through the DEPARTMENT NAME HERE for timing and coordination.  For further details, reference the CHURCH NAME HERE Email Policy.

All communication through any electronic form is subject to public scrutiny and can represent a reputation risk to the individual as well as to CHURCH NAME HERE.  Therefore, it is important for each person to consider carefully the information shared through these mediums.

Principles of Online Communication

  • CHURCH NAME HERE’S Social Covenant declares INSERT HOW THE CHURCH VIEWS THE VALUE AND IMPORTANCE OF RELATIONSHIPS AND WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE SOCIAL COVENANT WITH THE CONGREGATION, therefore communication should be positive and honoring so as to not violate the Social Covenant.
  • We believe that integrity is necessary for ministry, therefore, we cannot communicate confidential personal or sensitive information about people through these public digital sources.  Reference the CHURCH NAME HERE’S Privacy Policy for further guidelines.
  • When using text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and other similar digital forms of communication to contact CHURCH NAME HERE’S members, preference should be given to “OPT IN” opportunities for members to participate rather than assuming that since we have the capability to communicate with the individual that they will want every bit of communication we can give them. Over-communication or communication to the wrong target audience is viewed as “spam”.
  • Each employee must realize their responsibility for appropriate online communication behavior both with content and contact. It is our responsibility to maintain boundaries for our communications that are appropriate and righteous as they reflect CHURCH NAME HERE and, more importantly, the Lord.

Communication with Minors

Based upon applicable law, the church considers anyone under eighteen (18) years of age to be a minor.  Great care should be exercised when communicating with a minor. As an employee, you should avoid any communication which:

  • Would potentially allow the minor’s personal information, address, phone number, picture or similar personal information to be available over the Internet or to third-parties not having a proper church-related purpose.
  • Violates the church’s children/youth policies or would violate the policies if communicated in person rather than in a virtual or digital format.
  • Requests the minor to agree to or participate in an activity or undertaking which requires parental consent or that would customarily be understood to require parental consent. All contact and communication must respect the parent’s authority with their children.

Email

The policy of the church requires the employees to respond to emails in a timely way. A timely response is defined as taking place within a 24-hour period. For other details related to emails, refer to the CHURCH NAME HERE’S Email Policy.

Text Messaging

Text messaging is one of the fastest ways to connect with the cell phones of our congregation. We are responsible for our own text activities and the amount of text information we send out.

It is recommended that text messages are sent only to those who request to be updated via SMS text. Not everyone has a text messaging plan, so we do not want to force our members to incur charges for texts if they do not have a text message plan.

Minors use text messaging on cell phones far more than they use cell minutes to talk on their phones. Though this is an obvious means of communication with minors, great care must be taken to establish specific boundaries and guidelines for texting with minors that relate to both content and time of day the texting takes place. All lay leaders that text with minors must agree to and sign our Texting Policy document that allows CHURCH NAME HERE the right to request and view all text messages with minors.

Ministry Group SMS Text Messaging

Reaching the cell phones of our members, volunteers, and lay leaders is one of the best ways to share urgent information and event reminders. Unlike email, text messaging requires short, concise messages with actionable items. We encourage our staff to find ways to leverage text messaging to specific people-groups as an effective means of communication.

Various tools exist for text messaging and need to be evaluated for consistency with the existing privacy policy and for opt-in availability. There are to be no private departmental tools for group communication or data base management. The tools for text messaging communications are to reviewed and approved by the IT Department. All data entered about members and attendees of the church and are to be entered into the CHURCH MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE NAME HERE or other software approved through IT. Therefore, use wise judgment about which text messages need to be copied and into the member record for unique or urgent issues.

Social Media

It is important to understand that all social media platforms are public mediums. Even with private accounts or tools where the message ‘disappears’, the reality is that everything on the internet is saved somewhere. We encourage the use of social media for personal use. All CHURCH NAME HERE social media accounts are managed by the DEPARTMENT NAME HERE and are available for use by your department/ministry area through the NAME OF SUBMISSION FORM PROCESS HERE.

For the development of expanding the influence in our community, ministry staff may opt to include their personal social media account links added to their staff bios on the church website. The DEPARTMENT NAME will put links to social media accounts on the church website as an additional method for people to connect and get to know the leaders of the church and be able to follow a particular ministry or ministry team member.

Church Website

The church website is created, maintained, and serviced by the CHURCH NAME HERE (DEPARTMENT NAME HERE). Departmental and individual websites created by staff should be reviewed and approved by the DEPARTMENT NAME HERE.  For further details reference the Church Website Policy.

Blogs

Blogs are a popular way of sharing resources, thoughts, links, and stories in a format that can vary from paragraphs of text to audio and video recordings. Overall, blogs are an incredibly helpful way to share “beyond the website” in a format that’s typically casual, personable and freely accessible. Blogs should be presented to the DEPARTMENT NAME HERE for approval and inclusion on the main CHURCH NAME HERE website.

The church policy on confidentiality applies to blogs. Personal information shared can present yourself, someone else, or the church in a bad or compromised light. Most often when it comes to image and words of communication, perception becomes reality, so we must be careful in regards to what and how we communicate so that our intention is not misunderstood. An abundance of caution and common sense is required.

Church Blogs

It is expected that churches sponsor blogs be on the church website as micro-sites (i.e. pastorsblog.churchname.com). This allows for greater search optimization and easier navigation for site visitors.  When these blogs are presented to the DEPARTMENT NAME HERE, they will, as a part of the approval process, be included on the main church website.

Personal Blogs

Privacy concerns for sharing confidential information must be maintained. Each department and individual must operate within the guidelines of this policy regarding the content of their personal blog. For further details reference the CHURCH NAME HERE Outside Interest Policy.

There will undoubtedly be technological advances in the future that are not specifically described in this policy. Each employee should use their best judgment to assume that the overriding concerns for security and privacy expressed throughout this policy apply to such new technology and the employee’s adopting and using new technology are expected to bring such advances to the attention of the church’s DEPARTMENT NAME HERE for evaluation and the Human Resources Department for consideration related to updating this policy.

Church Oversight

As a staff member of the church, your online activities are a reflection of the church and represent your ministry. Therefore, your opinions expressed can be taken as representing the position of the church, although it is communicated on your own personal communications tools online.

Account Access

The IT Department will determine which accounts have a master password and email address associated with the church. In this way, accountability and protection of church communications, even those shared through “personal” accounts, will be monitored by the IT Department and reported to church leadership.

Privacy Expectations

All church communication equipment (computers, telephones, network, servers, etc.) belong to the church and are ultimately subject to being inspected or reviewed by appropriate church personnel.

Utmost care should be taken not to publish or make publicly available, directly, or by virtue of links, passwords or employee personal information such as social security numbers, drivers license numbers, home address or other information that should reasonably be held confidential.

For further information on privacy issues reference the CHURCH NAME HERE Privacy Policy.

Online Public Statements

Care must be taken to not speak on behalf of the church. All public statements and interactions on behalf of the church or its ministries will be coordinated through the DEPARTMENT NAME HERE to the press, both offline and online. An employee is not authorized to make any public statement regarding church policy organizational structure, management, governance issues, or regarding any alleged liability of the church to any third-party that has not already been communicated through the DEPARTMENT NAME HERE or from the pulpit in a worship service.  Employees are instructed to direct all questions on these issues to the DEPARTMENT NAME HERE.

Digital Communication for Commercial and political activities

CHURCH NAME HERE is a non-profit entity. If it engages in commercial or political activities, that nonprofit status can be threatened or expose the church to tax liabilities. Employees should avoid or limit any situation in which commercial or political links are established between the church’s communications and third-parties. If there are such links, the church could be considered to be a sponsor of those advertised commercial activities or an endorser of a political candidate could lead to liability for the church. The church can take positions regarding matters of public policy or regarding social issues so long as it meets the following criteria:

(a) It does not become an endorsement of a particular political candidate or party.

(b) It does not advocate specific legislative change such that the church is viewed as being involved in lobbying.

Any issues not declared above need to be brought to the attention of your direct supervisor for review with the church leadership. This policy exists to provide accountability and security for staff and lay leadership.

 

1 Comment

  1. Hi Anthony, thanks a lot for this, it is greatly appreciated! God bless, David

    Reply

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