Social media policies should be a given. They protect your church, outline standards of conduct, and ensure consistent messaging across communication channels. However, some social media policies focus on communications that originate only from the church’s channels rather than individuals working within that church.
Both pieces are needed when crafting your church social media policy. The policy should cover not only how the church uses social media but also how church leaders, staff members, and volunteers use the platforms. Detailing both elements prevents social media mishaps and incidents like the ones reported in a recent Atlantic article.
In the article, several people said they have experienced backlash for sharing their political opinions on personal social media channels. Some people were fired. Others lost funding or found that a concert had been cancelled.
This, my friends, should not be. People should be able to express themselves. However, if they work in the church or are associated with it, they also need to remember they reflect the local body. More than that, they reflect Christ. If their online posts are argumentative, hateful, or otherwise offensive, the church and local community is not served nor is God glorified.
3 Things to Remember as You Approach Social Media
I would suggest that when it comes to social media, we should remember three things:
- Social media platforms are ideal for opinions, but not always conversations. It’s hard to have a heart-to-heart conversation on social. Sound bytes and 140 characters are rarely conducive to healthy discussions.
- Cultural and political issues touch people intellectually, emotionally, and sometimes physically. We must remind ourselves that people come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. What we grapple with intellectually another person may feel emotionally or physically.
- Make much of Jesus, not the cultural or political issue. Hearts, heads, and hands won’t change if we mount the social soapbox and spout cultural or political rhetoric. We must make more of Jesus and the gospel. We should center our conversations on him because only he can transform lives.
20 Church Social Media Policy Tips
To help you create a church social media policy that exemplifies the above three ideas, use the 20 steps below. They will lead to a social media policy that mirrors Christ and dialogues with current political and cultural issues. The first 12 steps relate specifically to social media policies. The final eight either support the policy or cover how to address politics as a church.
- Prioritize principles before practicals. Principles give us the “why.” They motivate and build unity around a shared vision. As such, they should be established prior to setting down practical strategies, policies, and plans.
- Remember you are salt and light. Jesus might not have said a lot on the subject of politics, but he gave us a guideline for operating in the world. He says, “You are the salt of the earth. […] You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-4, NASB). Salt preserves and prevents decay. Light illuminates. Our role as Christians and church communicators is to shine the light and prevent societal decay. That means we must engage culture, not abandon, attack, or assimilate to it.
- Shape social media policies from the top down. Social media policies should be communicated from the top down, not the bottom up. While your leadership may be too busy to craft a policy, you should ask them to review it. It keeps them in the loop and ensures your policy aligns with the mission and vision of the local church.
- Ground social media policies in the Bible and prayer, not just church communication strategies and plans. All our work should be covered in Scripture and prayer, even something as potentially dull as a social media policy. If we get our heads and hearts right, we write the right things.
- Consider whether to treat social media platforms distinctly or as a whole. Social media networks operate differently. Because of that, you may want to write policies specific to platforms. Snapchat, for example, likely requires a different approach than Facebook or Twitter.
- Define which standards apply to the church and to individuals who represent the church. In the corporate world, employers think through the separation of the personal and professional. We can model a similar idea by deciding which standards govern church communications and which ones apply to individuals. By clearly differentiating the two, staff members, church leaders, and volunteers always know what they can or cannot say online.
- Outline prohibited online behaviors and consequences in the social media policy. Prohibited behaviors include harassment, bullying, and retaliation. We’d like to think those things don’t happen in the church, but they sometimes do. We should also detail rules for accepting friend requests. As an example, you might want specific policies about youth leaders befriending teenagers on Snapchat or Facebook.
- Develop a social media policy and share it across the church. Social media policies work when they’re shared, so share yours with everyone who needs it. A shared policy helps develop a unified vision and consistent messaging. To begin developing and sharing yours, use the definitive list of church social media policies at Youth Specialties.
- Determine who is responsible for updating your church social media policy. Your church social media policy is a living organism. As such, someone should be charged with caring for it. (Kind of like the hamster in third grade.) This person should update the policy as needed and share the latest iteration with church leaders, staff members, and volunteers.
- Revisit applicable laws and, if needed, retain legal counsel. Churches are held to some laws when it comes to politics. Ensure you aren’t breaking them by revisiting the regulations. Also check with Bolder Advocacy. Many times you can talk about certain topics if you address them correctly.
- Share appropriate and approved content. Some internal discussions or information shared in confidence should not be shared online. Include that information in your policy. You should also write down guidelines for taking and using photos, videos, and other content.
- Enforce the social media policy. No one likes to be the “bad guy,” but policies require enforcement. Some companies and nonprofits require employees to sign a social media agreement. It essentially acts as a “terms and conditions,” giving the company the right to discipline an employee who doesn’t adhere to the social media policy.
- Hold ongoing trainings, seminars, and workshops. Ongoing trainings, seminars, and workshops keep skills sharp. You don’t have to bring in a speaker or anything like that, but you should use vetted resources like those found at Courageous Storytellers.
- Think through potential social media crises. A social media policy can’t cover every crisis, but it sets the ground rules for one. But besides writing a policy, you should prepare for social media crises. Revisit the policy and review which actions and responses the members of your team are responsible for.
- Talk through current political and social issues with your team. When cultural and political issues arise, talk through them with your team. Find out where their hearts and minds are. Ask them to share what they’re struggling with or what they’ve experienced personally. By working through issues together, you form a more tightknit team and develop ways to address politics in public.
- Create messaging for your team to share on social media platforms. If you don’t create basic messaging and content, your team could say anything. That may work for day-to-day items, but you should provide some direction and guidance when dealing with complex issues like politics and culture.
- Orient your team around the gospel and Jesus. If we want to address cultural and political issues well, we need to get better at communicating the gospel first. I use and practice a four-frame method to keep gospel conversations on track: God, man, Jesus, response. God creates man. Man rejects God. Jesus dies and rises from the dead for mankind. Man responds to Jesus’ offer of salvation.
- Focus on moving sensitive conversations offline. Social may not be the best channel to have conversations on, but it’s a great tool for inviting people to offline discussions. Racism was a big issue last year, and my church responded by creating Reconciliation Discussion Groups. The groups meet throughout the city and involve people from the church body, local community, and law enforcement.
- Ask, “Does my message advance or derail the gospel?” Before you post anything online, pause for a moment. Do you have all the facts? Are you representing the issue as fairly as possible? Is what you’re about to say something that will draw people toward Christ?
- When in doubt, remain silent. If you’re ever not sure about whether to post something on social media, remain silent. Our words can do great harm or good. If we aren’t sure how those words will affect people, we should let them sit for a while longer. If you do feel that you need to say something, ask for advice about how to phrase it. A person who seeks counsel is wise.
With the 20 steps listed here, you’ll be able to craft a church social media policy that governs online communications and establishes standards for behavior. You’ll also be able to engage in political conversations without isolating the audience.