It’s standard that organizations that work with a diversity of people, especially churches, should have a written social media policy for leaders and staff. A written policy brings accountability and protection to those who serve and lead in our ministries. An old proverb says, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” The difference between a business social media policy and ministry social media policy would be including prayer as part of your planning and strategy and how to maintain integrity of relationships and information shared through social media.
If you and your team are entering into the process of writing a social media policy for your ministry, here are four things for you and your team to keep in mind:
1. Consider Your Audience. Social media is more than a communication tool. It connects people across a diversity of audiences, classes, socio-economic groups, race and gender. In reality, there are no real boundaries in the social media world. Therefore, one boundary your social media policy should make is “who is the policy for,” specifically. In other words, what is the relationship between the social media, the ministry leaders and staff and the receiver? A clear audience will ensure a safe and spiritually nurturing social media environment. For example: a social media policy is able to be enforced for paid and unpaid staff along with ministry leaders, but it’s difficult to enforce for every member of the congregation. Remember, a policy serves to give boundaries, increase freedom and protect both the leader and the student/child. In addition, as professional staff (pastors, DCEs, etc), part of our job is to protect the ministry which is entrusted to us.
2. Represent! Understanding that in the social media world, you still represent Christ (as His disciple) and your ministry, your “in real life” code of ethics continues to
apply, even online. All your interactions, including social media, should be morally and ethically responsible, professional, mindful and accountable.
3. Know Your Boundaries. Social media blurs the line between professional and personal identities. The social media world doesn’t necessarily distinguish “official”
comments from personal opinion. Remember, you represent your Lord, yourself and your ministry. Be mindful of privacy settings, especially if you are interacting with minors as an adult. Everything posted in the social media world is public. Even if you remove a picture or document, it still remains cached. A simple rule of thumb: you are accountable for everything you say and do. It is okay to “own up” to mistakes. It’s a fantastic way for your community to show grace and be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus, together.
4. Common Sense Keeps People Safe. Social media is not a replacement for face-to-face conversations and real-life and real-time relationships. Social media, though a valued resource, can give a mask of deep attachment. Remember, you are responsible for what you do and say, whether online or offline. Adults have more power than children and students (this includes online relationships). Ministry leaders and staff have more power with whom they have a pastor or mentor-like relationship. It is good to be aware that emotions are still a part of the social media world–for better and for worse. Keep in mind that the mutuality of friendship cannot exist when there is a disparity of power. In this sense, there is always a relationship of power existing between the leader/adult and the student/child. Remember who you are as a baptized child of God, transformed into the image of Christ.
For an example of a church’s social media policy, you can download this PDF of the Concordia Lutheran Church (Pullman, Wash.) Social Media Policy.