More from Adam Copeland on church policies for social media

January 6, 2011

CCblogger Adam Copeland, who recently did
a stint here
as a guest blogger, has posted a grad-school paper of his on
church policies regarding social media use. He wrote this after inquiring here and elsewhere about what policies might
be in place.

Not many, as it turns out--Adam's research didn't turn up much.
In the paper he takes a close look at four he did find: one from a national
body (the PCUSA, written specifically for General Assembly last
year), two from state-level bodies in Connecticut (the UCC conference and the Episcopal diocese) and one from an individual
congregation (Holy Trinity Catholic Church in DC). Adam
examines each policy's take on privacy concerns, the issue of multiple social
contexts converging (and sometimes colliding) and specific questions raised by
youth ministry (where both the opportunities and the risks of using social
media in ministry are brought into sharp relief).

Whether you're gung-ho about social media or think it's useless
at best, the fact that it's widely used and presents unique situations is a
pretty good argument for having a policy. But it's not easy to come up with a
good one. Here's Adam:

Perhaps
the challenge of writing such policies is best summed-up in the glossary of the
UCC policy. In it, "inappropriate content" is defined, but with a caveat.
Inappropriate content "refers both to content that is improper or offensive,
but also content that might be suited to the medium but not to the
relationship." The challenge, of course, is that both relationships and social
media change every single day, so judging propriety with a static written
policy is a challenging task. But, from this pastor's point of view, at least,
it's a task that should be tackled since social media, like all forms of human
communication, is being and will be abused. The situations are vast and
varied-pastors wondering if they should "un-friend" old congregation members
once they move to a new call, youth pushing the bounds of appropriate Facebook
rapport, youth leaders text-messaging youth daily with notes of support and
suggestion, pastors counseling couples whose relationships began (or ended) by
way of the Internet.

Such situations require care--and perhaps protocol. But as one
commenter quipped in response to Adam's earlier post here, a policy is by
definition something put into place after someone has already violated it.