CHURCHES AND SOCIAL MEDIA. THE BENEFITS AND RISKS.

CHURCHES AND SOCIAL MEDIA. THE BENEFITS AND RISKS.

Do you think your church doesn’t need to be involved in social media? You may want to reconsider, as the benefits and reach of social media are significant. Over one billion people log in to Facebook each day. Instagram boasts more than 500 million users each month, and Twitter has 328 million monthly active users.

Social media allows churches to connect with their members, as well as people who may not attend church. Websites like Facebook offer a free, easy way to promote church events and strengthen your community outside of Sunday services.

However, misusing social media, even if unintended, can damage your ministry’s reputation and even put your church at risk of litigation. In order to enjoy the benefits of social media while also protecting against possible misuse, it’s wise to develop a social media policy for your church or ministry.

Below are a few subjects to consider including in your church’s social media policy:

Do not share personally identifiable information. Remember that social media is public and can be viewed by anyone, even if they are not a member of your church. Protect the children in your church by keeping their information private—never post birthdates, phone numbers, or school names. If you wish to share photos of minors, always seek written permission from parents or guardians. Make sure that photos don’t include items that might be used to identify others, such as street signs, house numbers, or vehicle license plates.

Be aware of copyright laws. It’s illegal to use articles, photos, music, or other materials without obtaining permission first. Simply naming the original author is not adequate. In order to legally post copyrighted material, like a video of a worship service containing copyrighted music, you must have proper authorization, either through a license the church holds or directly from the owner of the material.

Avoid posting information that may be confidential. Many churches make the mistake of posting prayer needs along with individuals’ names. Do not post any private facts about people or situations unless you have permission. Keep in mind that posting information about missionaries in sensitive countries or members of the military can actually put those individuals at risk.

Social media is especially effective for keeping youth aware of and involved in church events. But interacting with minors online requires caution. Because all online communication is not confidential and may be shared, your staff’s interactions on social media need to be transparent.

For adults who minister to youth, it can seem like a good idea to accept “friend” requests from students to keep communication open. A better solution, however, is to create a closed group that youth may join, which would help to create and maintain healthy boundaries. Online youth groups should have at least two unrelated adult administrators and should be open to parents of current members.

Mark Forrester, Director of Communication and Public Relations for the General Council of the Assemblies of God and the author of Trending Up: Social Media Strategies for Today’s Church offers some suggestions for making the most of your church’s social media.

“Church social media managers should ask themselves how they feel when they are followed by an account or when another account interacts with them or shares their posts,” Forrester said. “In turn, treat your own followers in ways that make you feel honored, respected, and engaged on other accounts. Don’t make the mistake of pushing out the same content to one channel for it to automatically feed to your other social networks. Take an extra moment to customize your content for each channel. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Limit yourself to where you will be most effective.”

Because of the risks in using social media, it’s essential to take steps to protect your church. In addition to developing a social media policy, train all employees and volunteers on the proper and improper use of social media. Be sure to monitor the church website and social media pages, as well as posts made by others.

For more information on the risks and benefits of church social media use, click here  to watch this riskmgmtLIVE video on social media policies.

To learn more about how to use social media effectively for your ministry, click here to preorder Mark Forrester’s latest book, Trending Up: Social Media Strategies for Today’s Church.

This information is not legal advice. Information is from sources deemed reliable. Information is subject to error, omission, withdrawal, or change. Contact your own legal advisor before taking any action that would have a legal consequence.