Gloria Gadsden, from East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, was
temporarily suspended that same year for posting, "Does anyone know
where I can find a discreet hit man? Yes, it's been that kind of
day" and "had a good day today, DIDN'T want to kill even one
student :-). Now Friday was a different story." Gadsden thought the
posts would only be viewable by her family and friends-but one of
her students saw the post and reported it.
Do an online search for "social media blunders," and you'll find a
slew of examples of major slip-ups-often resulting in legal
calamity. People everywhere-including the courts-are still figuring
out the rules of the social media game. Unfortunately, not
understanding the basic rules can get a person into seriously hot
Social media isn't a bad thing; it's a vital tool for the church
to use as it builds and cares for its 21st-century community.
Through Facebook and Twitter I now know more about the families in
my church than I was ever able to know in the past. I know when
kids are sick, when a pet died, and when the team won the baseball
game. This information connects us-I get to share in these
experiences. I've stepped outside the church building and into
their homes. That's the power of social media.
Your church or ministry likely has a Facebook page or Twitter
profile. Many churches have social media pages for individual
ministries. In most cases, the responsibility for the children's
ministry's social media is in the hands of the children's
There are pitfalls in social media that can have legal
ramifications for your children's ministry. Other risks may include
damaging your church or ministry's name in your community. We can't
hide from the dangers related to social media, but we can be wise
about how we use it. Jesus' words in Matthew 10:16 are a good
motto: "Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as
shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves."
It's critical that you and your team understand the following four
major social media pitfalls that can trap your ministry. Study
these carefully with your team-along with the tips for creating
effective practices to increase your effectiveness while
safeguarding your ministry.
Invading Families' Privacy
According to attorney Richard Hammar, founder of Church Law and
Tax Report, churches must be wary of how much information they
release-especially in the context of posting prayer requests
online. Releasing medical diagnoses or even basic personal health
information can potentially constitute an invasion of privacy-no
matter how well-intentioned. Even if the church avoids a lawsuit,
the resulting damage to the church's trustworthiness will be
Safeguard 1: Create a social media privacy
policy. Every church needs a social media policy for its staff and
volunteer teams. This policy provides the framework for how to
engage the world online. Include a section specific to the social
your teams on it. Don't limit the policy to paid staff. Volunteers
represent your church online with each interaction they engage
Policies vary from church to church, but there are great resources
online to guide you in creating a policy that fits your ministry.
Justin Wise, a church social media expert, has gathered a number of
policies from churches and posted them on his blog, justinwise.net.
And Inc.com also has a guide for creating a policy that's easy and
free to access.
Posting Videos or Pictures Without Prior
Pictures are an integral part of any social network. But before
you begin snapping photos with your smartphone on Sunday
mornings-understand the risks.
"Each individual owns his or her likeness or other identifiable
characteristic," notes Frank Sommerville on churchsafety.com. This
means that a church can't post a person's picture without consent.
Sommerville points out that if churches use pictures for
promotional purposes, then the courts would likely find that the
church used the images commercially. Even pictures taken by
volunteers can land the church in trouble in court. Legally, church
services and events are considered private and don't fit under
exemptions that cover images taken in public venues.
Safeguard 2: Get permission before posting
anything. It's tempting to overlook this step when there's a really
great moment happening on the children's church stage and you want
that picture. Don't. Posting a child's photo to a public site
without permission can damage trust and put kids at risk. Take the
picture, but don't post it until you have written consent from
everyone included in the image to use the picture online. If the
parents refuse, don't post it at all, even to your own personal
Facebook page, website, or email.
Some churches have begun posting signs at the front door alerting
people that by entering the building they're giving consent to the
church to use their image. This frees ministries to post photos
without having to obtain written consent. However, if a parent asks
to have a picture taken down, comply immediately. And don't be
tempted to forgo a signed consent form. You're wise to include this
as part of your registration package for each child and adult in
your ministry. For a sample photo consent form, go to Web
Exclusives at childrensministry.com.
Releasing Information Identifying Someone
Imagine that you're watching a group of kids from your ministry
sing at their elementary school. You pull out your smartphone and
take a picture with Instagram. You then upload with the comment,
"Watching Morgan and Kylie sing in the 2nd grade choir at Oak Road
You've just potentially violated the privacy of those minors
(think legal issues or custody disputes).
Another potential danger of identifying kids is that predators are
known to search social media sites for children's personal
information. Leaving any identifying information about kids on a
public profile, website, or even in an email that can be forwarded
puts children at risk because anyone can view, share, or forward
the information and image.
Safeguard 3: Take extra precautions with
personal information. Posting identifiable information is
especially dangerous when it comes to minors. Identifiable
information includes current locations, addresses, phone numbers,
emails, first and last names, ages, schools, and more. Churches
must obtain written permission before posting any of those details,
and even then it's not a good idea. Facebook pages are by nature
public. Emails can be forwarded. Websites can be viewed by anyone
with Internet access. So ensure that information you post has been
okayed and placed in a suitable public arena with precautions to
prevent kids from being individually identified. A rule of thumb is
to never tag kids in photos and never identify a specific child by
name. For instance, don't caption photos with things such as, "From
left to right: Alex, Denise, Carly, and Marcus."
Posting Copyrighted Photos or Videos
Many children's ministries like to post information about the
previous week's lesson on their Facebook page or Twitter feed. This
helps parents keep in touch with what kids are learning. I've seen
many churches post worksheets or take-home pages on their Facebook
page. If the children's ministry created this curriculum and all
the accompanying graphics (or paid for or got permission for their
usage from the publisher), then there's no issue. However, posting
worksheets from curriculum that you've purchased likely violates
the copyright of that curriculum. The same pitfall applies to
uploading videos or pictures from a purchased curriculum to YouTube
Safeguard 4: Share from publisher's sites or
get permission. Posting great resources to Facebook and Twitter
enables kids to learn at home and helps reach families. So it's
important to know what you can and can't post. Most curriculum
companies provide a copyright page that stipulates fair usage. If
you don't have the rights to post something, there are legal ways
around the obstacle. For music and video, look for the curriculum
publisher's official YouTube or Vimeo channel. If they have one,
then you can embed those videos on your Facebook page's wall using
the sites' share functions. For handouts, simply call or email the
publisher and ask permission to post worksheets. Not every
publisher will agree, but most will work with you. Whatever you do,
don't assume posting without permission is okay.
Falling into one of these social media pitfalls can have a
lasting impact on your children's ministry. And this list isn't
exhaustive, nor does it take into consideration new threats that'll
arise as social media platforms mature. Remain on the lookout for
new concerns, keep up with evolving privacy laws, and be aware of
changing trends. Knowing what to avoid-and educating your team-will
go far in keeping your kids and ministry safe. The concerns,
though, shouldn't keep children's ministers away from social media.
Its value in building relationships within your ministry makes it
one of your most effective tools. cm
Dwayne Riner (creativekidmin.com) is the creative and
curriculum director at The Ark Church in Conroe, Texas.