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Annual Meeting workshop explores safe use of social networks

An Annual Meeting workshop on the use of social networks online raised concerns and opportunities for churches.

Brandon Duran
Brandon Duran facilitated a workshop discussion on social networks and offered resources.

Brandon Duran of Plymouth Church Seattle and past PNC board moderator, facilitated discussion.

Participants discussed the changing role of Facebook, standards for safe media use, accountability in posting pictures, and the potential for groups to share ideas and prayers.

Social media include Twitter, Facebook Pinterest, YouTube, Google+ and Linkedin.

Duran’s handout explained that social media are online platforms that expedite conversations, in contrast to traditional media that deliver content but don’t allow readers, viewers or listeners to share in creating content.  Social media are ways for people to talk, participate, share, network and bookmark.

They integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction through words, pictures, videos and audio.  They are ways to share ideas, likes and dislikes, and comments with the world at large.

One pastor in the workshop said that  his church asks people not to post concerns about people’s illnesses on Facebook.

Another expressed the potential for counseling via email. 

One told of a member starting a Facebook group for sharing ideas and prayers.  Church members were invited to pray for someone who had an accident, resulting in an outpouring of care.  When another person shared about illness in the family, there was no response.  Perhaps it was because of the time of day it was entered, people did not chime in and the pastor did not respond.

“Facebook is too random as a regular prayer network,” said Duran.

Social media present issues because they are part of the culture of immediacy, so they raise expectations of immediate responses, as in that case.  The group was not run or regularly checked by the church staff or pastor, but they were blamed for not responding.

The family was contacted, nurtured and given an apology.

It’s important to understand what media are appropriate, Duran pointed out.

“We need to understand the purpose of Facebook, know the audience and understand different ways we need to deal with an institution, people and a community,” he said.  

“Internet is ink when it’s posted,” he said.  “Once something is out there, it can be shared and becomes public.”

He called for being mindful of layers of communication:  What is appropriate for texting, email or social media? 

Duran does not believe social media are appropriate for counseling.

One participant cited a Gallup poll that said people discern 52 percent of meaning from someone’s tone of voice, 43 percent from body language and just 5 percent from words.  Email is words only, so on an emotional issue, it’s important to call, he said.

“Social media is about balancing communicating what we want to say and who we want to communicate with.  We need to think when we put up a website not just what we want to say but what will get the message out,” Duran said.

He asked, what if a part-time employee at a church lists the church as an employer on Facebook and sometimes posts things about the church, what does it communicate about the church?  He advises having separate pages.

“If you work for a church, there are social expectations, and there should not be potty talk online,” he said.

One dynamic of social media is for people pass postings on to friends.

Duran advises churches to set policies on social networking:

• Pastors and church leaders should create separate personal and church/professional accounts.

• Privacy settings should block professional contacts from seeing personal posts.

• Church people need to be in appropriate groups.

• Pastors should not friend request youth and children in the church.

• Children and youth in photos online or in brochures should not be named.

• It is useful to have media release forms for videos and photos of those under 18.

• There need to be ethical guidelines for pastors who leave.  Do they “defriend” people.  Pastors should have separate church and personal accounts to maintain boundaries.

• As a forum for people in a church to talk, there should be guidelines about racist remarks and cyber bullying.  There need to be multiple administrations for safety and accountability.  It must be clear if the forum is member or staff driven.

Duran suggests the following resources:  UCC Connecticut Conference Internet Safety Guidelines at and its “Facebook for Churches” at

Social Media Handbook has a chapter on “Writing a Social Media Policy”

For information, call 206-622-4865 or email


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © September 2012




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