Disclaimer: The following is just one pastor’s suggestion for how church leaders can use Facebook. I’m just one pastor with more than 30 years of experience in public ministry and nearly 10 years’ experience on Facebook. I’m one pastor who has used Facebook in many different ways, made some mistakes and seen a lot of pastors make mistakes, and I think I have a found a pretty good model for church leaders using Facebook and other social media.
I believe strongly that church leaders should use social media. For purposes of this article, I’m focusing on Facebook. I believe church leaders should have a Facebook profile under their own name. I think they should friend all of their church members (and lots of other people).
I believe church leaders should view Facebook as a public ministry tool.
“But…What about my privacy?”
You don’t have privacy on Facebook. I think we need to give up that idea. Yes, you can use privacy controls and I think church leaders on Facebook should take advantage of them. That said, you should view Facebook as a public place and present yourself on Facebook as you would present yourself anywhere in public. You should be you. You should be authentic. You should be your authentic public church leader person on Facebook, not your authentic, hanging out in your sweats in the living room with family and close friends you.
If you are not on Facebook or you are on Facebook but refuse to friend anyone but close friends and not church members, you are missing out on a vital way to build relationships. I do not subscribe to the myth that relationships can only be established and sustained person to person. It is not an either/or proposition.
Online and in person relationships work together to build and strengthen community and relationships better than one way alone.
It is very difficult to get to know people when you only see them an hour a week. You can get to know active members better because they come to church for more activities. Facebook allows you to communicate with all of your members and get to know them better while they get to know you better.
By being public on Facebook you may need to give up some of the things you do and share that you would not share with the congregation. As I said earlier, Facebook is not that private so you shouldn’t be doing that anyway. It’s a small sacrifice compared to what you gain in strengthening your ministry.
What does it mean to be authentic in a public way?
It means you share on Facebook what you would share in person in public. That looks different for each person.
What about Politics?
If you are politically active and open about your politics in person, your congregation should know that already. But there is a balancing act, so that you do not make people who disagree with you think they would be unwelcome at your church. This is an opportunity for you to model and encourage civil and respectful debate. I know the temptation for some to just let loose with all your political venting on Facebook and keep that from the congregation. I don’t think that’s healthy or even practical.
On the other hand if you are someone who is more comfortable not discussing politics in public that is how you will be on Facebook. I’m not advocating one way or the other, I’m simply saying that whoever you are in public is the person you should be on Facebook.
What about Two Separate Facebook Profiles?
This is a very bad idea. In the first place, this is against Facebook policy and if you are discovered, both of your profiles will be shutdown. It is very difficult to keep the two separate and eventually you will post the wrong thing on the wrong page.
Also, it keeps you from sharing things about your faith and your church with your non-church friends.
Do not keep your non-church friends and church friends separate.
Let your church friends know what you like to do outside of church and let your non-church friends know more about your church and faith by what you share.
There are some professions where it is very easy to keep your professional life and your personal life separate. That is not how it works for church leaders. You are more involved in your parishioner’s lives than the average professional. Yes it is complicated and yes boundaries must be maintained. But recognizing the complexities involved will help prevent boundary violations more than pretending it is simple to keep your personal life strictly separate from your professional life.
I believe using Facebook as a public ministry tool also solves the dilemma of what to do about congregation members as friends when you leave a congregation. If you are using Facebook as a public ministry tool you will have very many friends. I advocate friending just about anyone. I have 1354 friends on Facebook right now. Also most of my posts are public so I have strangers following me. You are more like a public figure than a personal friend. You can keep former members as friends, but refrain from interacting with them other than liking a picture of a grandchild. Never comment on anything about the church, good or bad. This is a time to utilize privacy controls and add former members to a list and restrict what they see for a year after you leave.
Finally, do NOT use the church as a personal profile as a substitute for friending your parishioners. Again, this is against Facebook policy. Your church needs to be a PAGE, not a personal profile that people can friend. Also, if you are using the church in that way, you have access to your members’ personal Facebook posts but they do not have access to yours. That is kind of creepy and not how relationships work.
There are lots of ways to use social media and as I said, this is just one suggestion born out of a lot of experience. I believe this is how church leaders can use Facebook to stay out of trouble by not oversharing, build and sustain community and relationships, and most importantly, “Show em Jesus!”