I seriously told a friend “I wish pastors would ask me before they do anything on Facebook.” There’s just so many clergy on facebook that are unaware of how to use the system to its full benefit for churches. So, here’s my advice when it comes to changing churches (most changes happen in the coming month).
In connectional denominational systems like the UMC (where pastors are moved frequently among churches), the expectation is that pastors would cease contact with their former congregation. But what about Facebook and social media? Should pastors unfriend their former congregants? Should they keep them friends? It’s a touchy question in the digital age that our polity hasn’t caught up to yet.
If there are any UMC conferences that have published expectations for digital presence and relationships, I’d love to see them. Post them in the comments.
In the meantime, I previously blogged about this problem last year in “Having Multiple Identities is an Example of a Lack of Integrity“…but here’s the updated version after another year of practice and reflection.
There are four options of what to do with online personas and pastoral moves.
Novice: Delete all your former church’s friends.
- The simplest way is to delete all the friends of your old account. This means they are not part of your life anymore and you change churches without any further attachments. Done and done.
- Feelings may be hurt but it’s the cleanest break.
Beginner: Start a new account for the new pastorate.
- Some pastors have taken to having a “real persona” and a “church persona”: ie. two facebook accounts, one for their family and friends (Jeremy), and one for their “professional” life (Pastor Jeremy). While I think it neglects to use Facebook to its full advantage (see below options), it does make a break between churches easy.
- So the solution is to simply stop using the Pastor Jeremy account and start another account (Super Pastor Jeremy) and begin friending your new parishioners there.
- You can then cease to check the former pastorate’s account or check it infrequently. If you set your email notifications correctly, you could get notes whenever they write on your wall or direct message you, but otherwise you cut off communication with them.
- As a combination of Novice and Beginner, if you have two accounts, then wipe the friends list of the Pastoral account and start anew, only friending your new parish. This maintains the boundary pretty cleanly.
- Please note, however, that two accounts is a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service. They will likely never bother you but it is technically against the rules.
Advanced: Start a friends list for each church.
- This is the most advanced of the Facebook options. It is also the most effective, in my opinion. Master and understand this and you are a Facebook pro.
- First, create your friends list.
- Click “Edit your friends” here.
- Click on “Create a List” and name it your former church.
- Add your parishioners to that list.
- Second, assign privacy restrictions.
- Click on “Privacy Settings” here.
- Click on CUSTOMIZE on the left side.
- Now under each item that you want to hide, click the lock button and select “customize”. Set to friends only “except” and type in the friends list you made earlier (it should auto-fill). click SAVE SETTING. The header graphic on this post shows this step.
- This is tedious but do this for each item you want to hide.
- Now, your former parishioners can see your profile INFO tab…but can’t see your wall or photos. In other words, they can still contact you and see where you are in the far future, but they aren’t a part of your day-to-day life.
Pro: Set levels of access for all your friends.
- I make three friends lists: Limited Profile, Safe Profile, and Full Profile.Under privacy, I set these groups to have different levels of access.
- People I meet online or know from church, I add them to my Limited Profile. People here can only see my information, but not my wall (any posted links, pics, tags, etc). It is essentially a static page with my interests and that’s it.
- As I get to know them, I graduate them to my Safe Profile and allow them to see my posted links for discussion. I don’t consider those as private and I don’t mind linking to controversial topics to spur discussion.
- Eventually, I graduate them to Full Profile where they can see my entire wall and everything. Am I taking a risk? Sure. But by then they will have proven their trustworthiness with my random thoughts.
- The benefit of this is that everyone discusses and I can discuss with them all in one place! Saves time and energy with only a little setup and diligence, and I’m not managing multiple accounts or worried about saying the wrong thing to untrusted people, especially youth or parishioners.
So, in summary, there’s four different methods to deal with the former parish members who are your facebook friends:
- Remove them completely from your life (Novice)
- Add them to a church-specific user account that you disconnect from (Beginner)
- Create a friends list with custom privacy controls so the former parish is still aware of your static details (Info tab) but not your dynamic actions (wall). (Advanced)
- Use friends list to their fullest extent and create tiers of trust. When you move parishes, simply move the old parishioners down the tiers so they are more like #3. (Pro)
Thoughts? Reflections? How has your moving churches and social media experience been?