As congregations and church leaders have discovered, social media is a quick and efficient way to disseminate information. The flip side of the speed and reach of information is that sometimes inaccurate and personal information can be spread as well.
Therefore, congregations need to have consistent and well-known policies in place when it comes to how and when certain kinds of information, particularly death notices will be handled.
As individuals, we need to be careful and discreet about how we share such information on our personal accounts as well.
We live in a world now where it is not uncommon for people to share information about the death of people before family members are notified. While we cannot stop this from happening, we can ensure that we are not part of the problem and not contributing to this with some simple rules.
Many of these rules are the same as any policies about death announcements in church.
Here are some simple guidelines:
Ask family members how and when they would like the announcement to be made.
Assume that if it’s okay to announce it in church, it is okay to announce it on Facebook. Ask the family. They may be okay with it being announced in person at church on Sunday morning but wish to have more time to inform other family members before the news is made more public. Remember your Facebook Page is public.
Wait until the obituary is published before sharing it on the Facebook Page.
Share more information than what is in the obituary. Do not share home addresses for cards on the Facebook page.
Ask yourself “Is this my information to share?” before sharing news of a death on your own timeline.
Assume that because a family member shared it, you are free to share it as well. People in grief may share things on social media without thinking about who else may see and share this news. This is not your news. Wait until the obituary is published to share it.
Reply to posts about a death in the family with sympathy and prayers.
Use this as an opportunity to lecture them on whether or not Facebook is a good place to share this news. Do not judge them for how they use social media to cope or grieve.
Like anything else, social media is tool. Like other tools we need to be careful that we are using it in ways that build up the Body of Christ.
About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-HansonThe Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.
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