Ministerial Boundaries & Social Networking
Social networking can be a great tool for building community in congregations, but it
raises some boundary issues that require thought. Many Associations or Conferences
have added a unit on electronic communications to their boundary workshops.
Churches, conferences, camps, and associations may want to consider whether policies
should be expanded to include safety guidelines for new forms of interpersonal
contact. Over the next couple of months PLL will compile and share information to help
form these policies. We welcome any input from you about guidelines in your setting(s).
Here are a few examples of different kinds:
Pastors with an online identity on Facebook or elsewhere should consider carefully whether the community and conversation there is appropriate to share with the congregation. It is simplest and safest to have two online identities, one for friends and family, and another for congregation members and other ministerial contacts. It’s the pastor’s responsibility to understand the site’s privacy settings and use them to insure appropriate content. It is best for a minister to determine ahead of time how to handle “friend requests” and to be consistent. The guidelines in the Ministers’ Code of Ethics about the conclusion of a ministry apply to electronic communication as well. Pastors should no longer maintain the same online relationships after leaving the setting for ministry, such as friend status, or access to a church’s internal networking site. Because this is a relatively new area, Associations and Conferences may want to make these considerations explicit to those whose standing they hold. The relations between youth and adults on social networking sites is sometimes confusing, especially for leaders with less experience online or with other electronic communication.
Just as with any relationship, it is the responsibility of the adults to set these standards and maintain appropriate boundaries. So, it’s especially helpful for a church to develop and publish these guidelines for all adults and youth.
Just as with all abuse prevention guidelines, camps or youth mission trips raise different concerns and require a unique set of guidelines, as well as training. Conferences and Associations are leaders in helping all church-related groups and activities consider the implications of their online behaviors and appropriate boundaries.
Churches with any kind of online identity may want to bring together a few tech-savvy members to draft guidelines and discuss them in the congregation to ensure that they are well understood and publicized. This can be helpful even for a traditional website. For example, churches which post newsletters online should consider that this content will likely be searchable on the web, and ensure that members or friends of the congregation are aware of that and do not object to it, especially if their names or pictures will be available.
Here are a couple of examples of guidelines published by Conferences:
Send your guidelines, and other ideas, suggestions and examples to Christy Trudo,
from UCC Parish Life and Leadership Newsletter, January 2011