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

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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.

A couple of years ago pastor Tom Lane of Gateway Church in Southlake, TX, asked me to write up a social media policy for his review. In the end, I created a framework instead of a policy since I’m only a volunteer at the church and 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 and infused his own gentle yet firm wisdom into what is now the Gateway social media policy. I’m thankful that Tom shared with me the final version, as it gave me insight into what he and the leadership believe and expect. The result of the combined effort sent me back to the drawing board to rethink the framework I originally wrote.

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. Instead, taking cues from the venerable and wise pastor Tom Lane, I’ve copied and pasted the text from my new “Church Social Media Framework”, with HTML formatting, for use in your churches.

NOTE: 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. Simply copy and paste the content below and modify it for your church. This is provided free to all Christian churches.

Church Social Media Framework

CHURCH NAME HERE

Social Media Communications FRAMEWORK

DATE HERE

Introduction and Purpose

Many individuals and departments are interested in using digital communication services beyond email, such as text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, etc to maintain contact and to send important, but unsolicited, messages to members and contacts of theirs and of CHURCH NAME HERE: for example, to all members, all staff, department leaders, or to some combination of these large segments of our data file.

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 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.

  • Opinions expressed could be unintentionally interpreted as representing the position of CHURCH NAME HERE although they are communicated through a non-CHURCH NAME HERE source like Facebook or Twitter.
  • Personal information that is shared through these mediums can present yourself, someone else, or the church in a bad or compromised light. Most often when it comes to images and words of communication, perception becomes reality. Therefore, we must be careful with both what and how we communicate so that our motive is not misunderstood.
  • Pictures and information posted on personal sites are public with world-wide exposure and therefore can have work implications related to reputation risk.  For further details reference the CHURCH NAME HERE Outside Interest Policy.

Philosophies to Consider when Communicating

  • CHURCH NAME HERE’S Social Covenant declares INSERT HOW THE CHURCH VIEWS THE VALUE AND IMPORTANCE OF RELATONSHIPS 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 Privacy Policy for further guidelines.
  • When using text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and other similar digital forms of communication to contact CHURCH NAME HERE 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.

Content Topics

Appropriate text and posting topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Timely departmental and ministry updates.
  • Specific information to parents or family members related to completion time of ministry events, arrival time from trips, and prayer/ministry updates from events.
  • Administrative announcements that are specific and time-critical.
  • Personal information that enables individuals to feel connected with you as a leader of an area of ministry or the church and which enables them to get to know you at an appropriate social level.
  • Invitation for participation or involvement in departmental ministry.

Inappropriate topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Any message whose content goes beyond your departmental mission or your appropriate personal data.
  • Any discussion or presentation of sensitive CHURCH NAME HERE organizational or ministry information that has not already been made public.
  • Any solicitation for personal benefit.
  • Any message that includes improper or discourteous content or abusive language (including sexually-suggestive content, profanity, racial or sexual slurs) or that is otherwise not consistent with CHURCH NAME HERE’S core teachings and beliefs.

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 parents authority with their children.
  • Suggests the minor meet with you for any kind of activity not part of regular church events or a church-related purpose.
  • Would be considered as child abuse or neglect as described by the church’s policies and applicable law.

If your ministry lay leadership is in contact with minors as part of their duties, the DEPARTMENT NAME will provide a non-staff email address (FIRSTNAMELASTNAME@CHURCHNAMEVOLUNTEER.ORG) and the necessary steps to set this up with a free email service such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail. The purpose of this email address is to provide a non-private email for lay leadership to connect with minors that is filtered through the CHURCH NAME HERE email servers for oversight and accountability. See DEPARTMENT NAME for further details.

Online Communication Methodologies

The term “online” is continually being updated because of new technologies. Therefore, the following is representative of the current technologies available today.

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 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.

Personal Social Networks

Some of the newest and least understood tools are online social networks. Ranging from simple, personal connection points such as MySpace and Facebook to group-wide, affinity-based social groups such as Ning, to the text message based service, Twitter, it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each tool in the context of sharing information. Most important is remembering that all of these mediums are public to one extent or another. Therefore, staff is cautioned to be very careful when updating private information with these tools.

Facebook

Facebook allows both individuals and organizations to create profiles for sharing information, pictures, experiences and even videos on a large platform. Though some levels of security exist, the church Privacy Policy and Communications Policy guidelines need to be adhered to as boundaries for online community tools.

Each ministry may want to create a specific “Group” on Facebook as a way to share pictures, calendar updates, event details and unique, ministry-specific information. All church-sponsored Facebook groups should include links back to the church website and/or church website ministry pages.

Twitter

Twitter is unique in both its ability to allow each person to learn and share with others (those they ‘follow’) and to share and update information with those interested in you or your ministry (‘followers’).

Twitter is considered a valuable tool that can be used for staying connected to church members. As such, personal interaction and sharing certain aspects of your personal life are encouraged as a part of building community. However, never forget that even your personal Twitter accounts are representing the church and your actions are reflections of the church as a whole.

For the development of community, if a ministry staff person is on Twitter the IT department will put links to Twitter 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.

MySpace

Each department must decide if a church-sponsored MySpace page is warranted due to the fact that the advertising displayed on MySpace cannot be controlled.  Individual MySpace accounts for ministry staff are discouraged.

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 (also called Weblogs) are a popular way of sharing resources, thoughts, links, and stories in a format that can vary from paragraphs of text to audio recordings (podcasts), and video recordings (vidcasts). 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. When a ministry staff person has a personal blog it needs to be declared on the Outside Interest Declaration form to their Executive overseer.  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 under 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 communicate 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 nonprofit 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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