Yesterday, we began the discussion of the importance of creating a social media policy for your church. It is complicated issue, but one that I feel strongly about and want to help you begin to address. If you missed yesterday’s blog containing the first four items, please click here to read it. And then today, I will conclude with four final social media policy suggestions.
5. Confidential or Church Member Matters are Off Limits. Church Staff are much like attorneys. There is a sense of safety in confiding in your pastor, but others are sometimes privy to this conversation as well. One area is of utter importance is the communication between a pastor and the member of the congregation. I once heard it said, “If the walls of the church could talk…” I liken it more to, “If the church secretary could talk…” Both pastors and staff members are often privy to information that is deeply personal to a member of the congregation who is having financial trouble, marriage issues, or is in deep sin. It is no small matter to clearly define these conversations as very confidential, ones that must never be shared on social media of any kind. Even a tweet that describes something seemingly innocuous can be damaging. An Admin who tweets that she is “praying for a member going though marital troubles” can be too descriptive when people witnessed who came in to talk to the pastor an hour before the tweet.
6. Make Clear What Subject Matter is Off Limits. The most important thing you can do is make clear what subjects are off limits when a staff member posts using social media. This can be everything from objectionable content to the weather. Clarity is very important here, but constant communication is also important. This is an ever-changing subject, one that you will have to continually modify. Some of these things can be time sensitive issues such as an impending election or a major news story. It is the church leadership’s job to update church staff if there is a subject they do not want discussed. Recently, I had a church staff member ask me on election day if it was legal for him to post about his view on the election. My response was that of course a pastor can show his personal support, but that the question was if the church leadership had any issues with this. This is the problem where there is not a clear policy addressing such matters. While it would be perfectly legal for the staff member to do so, there was a lack of communication from the church leadership about the church’s overall view of such content.
7. Minor and Opposite Sex Interaction. An area of major concern to the church is the interaction of church staff with minor children and people of the opposite sex. One consideration, for example, is not just your youth pastor, but youth interns. More and more young children have access to social media, text messaging, or chat functions. While these can be tools for ministry, they can also be quickly abused. I always recommend having a specific policy about what ages are off limits for communicating via social media. In the same regards, many churches have rules against having a male pastor texting female volunteers, or vice-versa. While this may be very limiting, controls can be put into place to mitigate some of that risk, such as instructing that the only time social or text type communication can occur is during “work hours.” While this may sound old fashioned given today’s technology, it does insure that the communication between the church staff member and the member/guest of the church is above reproach.
8. Consequences. The last thing to make clear is that there can be consequences for staff members’ actions, ranging from disciplinary action all the way up to and including termination for cause. It is important that the staff members take this policy seriously as this can open the church and the individual up to real legal liability for defamation, threatening or harassment lawsuits. This is a real risk for the church and for the individual, and the staff members must be made aware.
Drafting a social media policy can be very detailed and confusing, knowing where to set the lines, where to give some latitude, and where to be strict. I like to help churches though this issue by first discussing their past experiences and then gaging how technologically savvy the staff and the congregation is. This can help us determine the level of social media that needs to be utilized and how much latitude is to be given.
What limits do you place on your church staff when it comes to social media?
If you missed the first four areas that your social media policy should address, be sure to read part 1 here.