Social Media Best Practices #1 – Appropriate… | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
March 2011

Social Media Best Practices #1 – Appropriate Boundary Setting

By Chris Wilterdink

After attending the 2011 Do No Harm Event in Houston, I returned home to Denver with a bunch of best practices suggested by Pastors, District Supers, and Specialists regarding a church’s use of social media. I will offer up some of the best practices shared at the various meetings during this event.

First up, appropriate boundary setting. Many churches have ideas about what constitutes appropriate boundaries for young people regarding physical space and contact – in fact many churches employ ‘Safe Sanctuaries’ as the standard for keeping young people, lay people, and pastors safe in physical situations. Now, social media allows young people and their church sponsors to connect in virtual worlds – where physical boundary policies are more difficult to apply. So we must discover what are appropriate boundaries for those who work with young people to set.

Best Practice #1 – Create a user specific to your role within the church instead of using your personal accounts for communication. Having young people, their parents, and other church members as your friends on Facebook (followers on Twitter, etc) while your personal account is still connected to your friends, old college buddies, or even your family members can provide too many opportunities for your worlds to collide in awkward ways. (e.g. How will you explain that tagged picture of you from Spring Break ’97 when a youth finds it? When a friend leaves a wall comment with questionable language, who else will see it?)

Instead, leave your personal accounts personal! Create a role specific user (eg First UMC Youth Minister) then create and maintain church connections through that login. Not only does this help stop worlds from colliding, it also sets an implicit understanding that any posts under this user are church related and therefore church approved. In times of staff (Pastoral or otherwise) transitions, it also allows youth groups and young people to remain connected to each other and the user.

Best Practice #2 – Have a dedicated church member or committee create and monitor social network accounts on your behalf. A church shared their struggle of a bad break with a youth worker, so damaging that they needed to sever all ties with this person. However, this youth worker had created their group’s facebook page – and therefore remained as an administrator for the group! Monitoring conversations and spam on social media should also fall to a third party. Youth workers and Senior Pastors are busy folks, and need an extra set of eyes to monitor interactions and impacts. Having multiple eyes on any social networking tool helps define clearer boundaries, as transparency arises from having multiple viewpoints.

Best Practice #3 – If you have and approve ‘Safe Sanctuaries’, define what it means to have ‘Safe E-Sanctuaries’ for your church. List all the electronic mediums that your church staff and volunteers make themselves available. Now, apply the same ideals of ‘Safe Sanctuaries’ to those electronic means. This means that all interactions, when understood from a pastoral role with power differentials, must be appropriate and visible. The same boundaries of safety reporting apply to electronic communication and in person conversations, yet how can someone report a counseling session that takes place within social media? And – whom do they report it to?

In the end, setting boundaries on how your ministry uses social media will create meaningful relationships utilizing these new tools of the trade. They will also help your young people and staff to keep each other safe and accountable as they connect in this way.

Chris serves as Director of Young People’s Ministries for Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Chris has a BA in English Education, and an MS in Project Management, and over 15 years of local-church youth ministry experience. He is passionate about leadership and faith development in young people and helping ministry leaders understand their value in the lives of young people. A Stephen Minister, Chris is a native of Colorado living in Franklin, TN with his wife Emily, 2 children, and sausage-shaped beagle.