A Draft Paper by the Department of Internet Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
The speed of technological change has adjusted the way in which we communicate on a daily basis. It has radically transformed our personal lives, the lives of our faithful, and the ministries of our parishes. The Church should view these new forms of communication as a positive addition to its ministry and as a way to enhance the lives of our communities.
One way to expand a parish’s outreach is through the use of social networks. The current, dominant social network is Facebook, although there are others. Due to the unique ability to connect to an active audience of millions instantly, many parishes have set up Facebook profiles in order to create a presence in this new space, connect with their parishioners in another way, introduce themselves to future visitors, and advertise news and events. Although these technologies cannot replace face-to-face ministry, we hope to take advantage of their positive dimensions, and offer a balanced approach that benefits the Church and enhances the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Establishing a Facebook page has become essential for modern parish communications. With Facebook, and social media in general, a parish has the potential to interact with people in new and exciting ways, from creating an ongoing dialogue with current parishioners, to rekindling connections with those that may have fallen away from the Church, to even attracting new people to the Orthodox Church and Faith. As of December 2011, there were over 800 million registered members worldwide, and more than 425 million monthly active mobile users!
While there are many benefits to a parish Facebook page, a well-planned set of guidelines ensures its purpose and goals align with those of the Church, in a safe and appropriate manner for all its users. We have compiled some thoughts that may help your parish establish its purpose and identity on Facebook while maintaining that "all things be done for edification," as proclaimed by St. Paul (1 Cor. 14.26).
Before you begin, you should have the approval of the Parish Council and the blessing of the parish priest. Once a committee of organization leaders and other interested parishioners is established, ask all involved to identify goals, and how they can be maintained. Clarify the points discussed by the committee prior to publishing on the site. Consider the following before making your page public or announcing it to the congregation:
Have a clear and defined purpose for the Facebook page. The focus should always be Christ-centered, first and foremost. Is the page engaging and keeping your visitors online, or is it encouraging them to participate and interact offline also? For example, are they visiting the parish, attending services, and participating in events? The church is inherently communal, and we must remember that in order to have community, we must have real relationships, and not just virtual ones. Some examples of things your parish can do on Facebook include:
- Provide critical news in a timely manner to parishioners
- Publicize upcoming events (dinners, workshops, retreats, etc.) to a larger audience
- Have follow-up discussions on sermons and lectures
- Establish interactive book clubs
- Upload public photo albums of events to attract new parishioners
- Collect donations or supplement the capital campaign
- Advertise conferences and retreats
- Provide spiritual nourishment with daily quotes from the Fathers
Determine the audience. Will access be restricted? Will there be specific group pages for your different ministry groups or just a single page for the entire community? Is Facebook being used to reach out to existing community members or will you try to attract new parishioners from outside the community?
Privacy Settings & Confidentiality
Consider whether or not the page should be viewed by the public or as a closed group. Will this page to be accessible to newcomers or current parishioners only? This will determine what information is displayed. Note what user or organization information will be shared and how it will be shared. The page administrators can monitor who views your posts, status, photos and other information under the Facebook Privacy Settings.
Identify just how much information is to be shared. What information should be presented on this site? (pictures, videos, discussion boards, external links)? The content posted will be based on the audience. For example, consider whether or not the page will advertise certain meetings, events or prayer requests to the general public. You can approve all tags in photos, videos or notes before they are public.
Determine who can post on the page and what will be posted. Should only administrators be able to post or will this be an open forum to which all can contribute? If you want to archive parish events with albums, make sure you have the permission of those in the pictures you are posting. When minors are in the pictures, be sure to have a waiver from their parent or guardian before publishing the album. Administrators can approve tags to photos, videos, posts, statuses and notes before they are posted. Select this under your Privacy Settings. Be sure to identify a protocol for removing potentially inappropriate posts.
Think about who will review the site regularly. Administrators should review all tags in photos and videos, notes, discussions, videos, and language used on the site. Password information should be kept secure also. Make sure that more than one person has access to the page in order to maintain accountability. Establish a policy for handling potentially inappropriate content.
D. General Maintenance
Maintaining a Facebook page is extremely important after its creation. An active presence on Facebook sends the message that the community is energetic and alive. Content should be posted and reviewed on a regular basis. If posting and commenting responsibility is split between multiple volunteers with various talents and interests (Orthodox social issues, theology, practices, music, etc.) maintaining a presence will be simple. Administrators or committee members should review membership requests, content, privacy settings and the overall health of the site on a regular basis.
E. Appropriate Behavior and Other Concerns
Inappropriate content or members who abuse the page policy should be dealt with quickly, fairly, and according to the guidelines agreed upon by the committee. Any misuse of an official page of the church by either an administrator or a user, reflects directly against the Church and the parish, and must be taken seriously.
Post your group’s policy in an easily accessible location at the parish and be sure to reference it when dealing with inappropriate behavior. If something arises that hasn’t been outlined in the policy, ensure there is a quick and efficient way to contact the committee members, so that the behavior can be handled and the guidelines updated, if necessary.
Keep in mind that not everyone viewing your Facebook page will have the same understanding of appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Not all inappropriate behavior will be malicious, so deal with issues privately rather than publicly. Deleting a post, and then sending a private message is much more polite than commenting on it and bringing more attention to it.
Perception is Reality
All members of a parish page have a particular responsibility to maintain an appropriate perception on a social network. Youth workers and clergy will be recognized by young people, parents, and fellow staff members as representatives of the Church. For this reason, you should carefully consider the content and nature of any type of communication with a young person. See the following links for important additional information and explicit details on this matter.
GOA Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries: Youth Protection Manual
Orthodox Church in America: Guidelines for Clergy Use of Online Social Networking
Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco: Encyclical on Using Technology with Discernment
In order to facilitate continued mentoring and dialogue online, it is recommended that an administrator create “official” social networking groups or fan pages. Carefully review these options when creating the page. This allows for healthy communication in an open forum, rather than private communication that can be misconstrued.
Remember that information posted online has the potential to be shared - everything from photographs, to discussions and comments, to videos. Be mindful of this fact and do not post anything that you would not want to be made public. We should never believe privacy settings are perfect or that posted items are permanently deleted.
It is clear that these new technologies are great gifts when used with wisdom and discernment. As long as we maintain certain parameters of privacy, keep in mind the limitations of electronic communication, and utilize Facebook to enhance existing aspects of our faithful community, we can “Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day” (Psalm 96.2) even on a social network.