What do social media guidelines look like for a UK church?

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Edited extract from ‘Church Online: Social Media’, available here:

When you’re considering guidelines for your church, make sure you define ‘social media’ as explicitly as you need, remind people why guidelines are necessary, and remind people why you’re using social media in the first place—where it fits in your communication as a whole.
The lists below are a summary, drawn from many churches’ guidelines.

These social media pointers could apply to any individual or organisation:

  • Your posting is permanent. Even if you delete it, it may have been seen and stored.
  • You don’t need to reply quickly.
  • Don’t be anonymous.
  • Use privacy settings wisely. Don’t give home addresses or phone numbers.
  • Don’t get hacked: make passwords long, varied and complicated, and use up-to-date security so ware and firewalls.
  • Ignore potential spam links or requests from strangers.
  • Ask yourself: would I be happy with God / my mum / my children reading this?
  • Would you be happy to publish your message more widely?
  • If you’re sharing a post, do you have permission to do so? Does the copyright belong to the creator or to someone else who requires payment or needs to give permission?
  • Is your message lifting others up or pushing them down?

Now add these, which are specifically relevant to churches and church leaders:

  • If your social media account has the church logo, website or address, avoid expressing personal opinions on it.
  • If church leaders are on social media, are they there in an entirely personal capacity or with the same awareness of their professional role as they’d have on a Sunday morning? It’s not necessarily easy to draw the line, but people contacting their church leader on social media, particularly about pastoral issues, may find it helpful if the distinction between personal and professional is made clear.
  • If inappropriate or pastoral information starts to be shared, take the conversation out of social media. If sharing pastoral information feels like gossip (or, in fact, is gossip), don’t do it.
  • Information from a closed or confidential group or meeting should be kept within that group.
  • Safeguarding: don’t include pictures of children, communicate directly with children or add them as friends to your personal social networking page. Behave as you would publicly, with approp- riate safeguarding measures and policies in place. Churches need to be above reproach in this area, for obvious legal and pastoral reasons.
  • Ask yourself: am I being a good representative of the church?
  • If you link to a website, this could be seen as an endorsement of its content. Are you happy to publicise and promote it?

How about this as a shared expectation within our church for social media?

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:2–6)

Most church networks now publish guidelines on social media. Links are in Chapter 4 (including one set which made national news for its level of practical advice, despite the Diocese of Bath and Wells’ concession that it was ‘worthy but a bit on the dull side’!).

Some churches have particular guidelines for the use of social media, and Snapchat in particular, with young people. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has produced www. thinkuknow.co.uk, which gives important guidelines. Adults working in churches are advised not to initiate contact with children, young people or vulnerable adults on social media, or to have private conversations.

When you’re putting together guidelines for your church, make sure you define ‘social media’ as explicitly as you need, remind people why guidelines are necessary, and remind people why you’re using social media in the first place—where it fits in your communication as a whole.

To whet your appetite have a look at advice the bible gives.

Laura Treneer, Bible Reading Fellowship

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