In many church systems, there’s pastoral change each year: pastors retire, pastors move from their church to replace them, pastors move to replace those pastors…it’s a chain of pastoral transitions. But in the age of social media, gone are the days of “well, see ya again someday” with former church members. If you are Facebook or other social media friends with your church members, you continue to have contact after you leave.
So the question comes up every year: Should pastors unfriend their former church members? Should they keep being involved in their social media lives? It’s a touchy question in the digital age that pastors agonize over.
Thankfully, you are reading this page. This is the Third Edition of our Facebook Guide for Pastors in Transition, and we have a tried-and-true method for you, your pastor, or your incoming pastor to both maintain connection to their previous church while focusing their social media engagement with their current church. Read on…
Why this is important
Previous versions of this guide have engaged two questions:
- Should pastors have two social media accounts? Hacking Christianity has always focused on integrity: being the same person online that you are in your real-life pastoral ministry. Having two Facebook accounts doesn’t work for this pastor but it can work for you and it makes unfriending former church members very easy: just delete the account.
- Should pastors unfriend their former church members? Some say that a few bad eggs who abuse social media connections after a move should not cause everyone else to have to cut ties. HX claims otherwise: fiscal malfeasance, child abuse, and other bad actions have caused us all to be more aware of our relationships and our accountability. While some people may choose to unfriend their church members, our suggested method below accomplishes the best of all situations.
New for this year is that instead of outlining three different choices, Hacking Christianity has only one recommendation: use the three tools of Friend Lists, Privacy Settings, and Unfollowing both for pastors in transition and for pastors looking for more holistic ways to use Facebook. We have three reasons why:
- This solves all the above problems and maintains connections without interaction.
- The process has become incredibly easier with the Facebook 2014 update.
- This is the way how I have used Facebook for five years without any incidents.
Three Steps to Facebook Continuity
There’s a simple three-step process to categorize your current church members and how to begin to categorize your future church members. All of the below are PRIVATE actions, meaning no one knows anything about your friends lists and follow lists.
NOTE: all steps are assuming you are interfacing with Facebook on a desktop/laptop. I do not have instructions for iPhone/iPad/mobile as the interfaces are different and often the options I’m using are missing.
1. Make a Friends List. Go to this page on Facebook and click “Add New List.” Name it your old church name/location. Add parishioners from your old church to this list and click save.
2. Set the Privacy on your future Facebook posts. Go to your privacy settings here, under “who can see my stuff” click the drop-down box under the text area and select “custom.”
Under “Don’t share this with…”, type in your old church’s name and it should come up. Click on it, and save changes.
3. Remove former church from your news feed. This one is a bit tedious but it’s only tedious once. Go to each member of the list (click here and select your Old Church list) and click on their profile. See the “Following” icon at the top? Click it so it reads “Follow.” This means that although you are still friends, they will not show up in your news feed.
Done! What did you just do? This process allows you to post without continuing interaction by old church members, and it “removes the temptation” to see what people are up to in your old church. But instead of defriending, you are still connected. If you hear of a baby being born, you can type in their parents’ name in the search box and still see the pictures. If you change your profile picture, your old church members can still comment. But by and large, your posts will not show up on their timelines, and theirs will not show up on yours, so your day-to-day interactions will be more focused.
Note: A more holistic analysis of different methods is found in the 2012 guide.
Advanced tips/techniques for Pastors
Mastered the above? Here’s a few quick tips for pastors that will help them manage digital transitions.
- Create a page. I have a Facebook page for my blog and I use that to point people to. That way, they can follow it and control how much they want to interact with it, not me. This divides the personal/professional easily for me.
- Suggest the new pastor to parishioners to be “friended.” You can “suggest friends” to your friends in a mass way by clicking on their “friend” button on the new pastor’s account and clicking “suggest friends.” Then you can unfriend or change friendship levels while knowing they are in digital communication with the new person.
- When in doubt, unfriend them. If you are unsure if they can handle the transition or if you can handle it, unfriend them. It might be painful for them when they realize it, but it hurts less in the long run. This is underlined because it is really important.
- Give VETO power to the following pastor. If you ARE doing the recommended procedure above, let them know. If they are not comfortable with it (given a reasonable amount of time and digital exposure) then you have to be okay to go nuclear and unfriend them. You have to respect the following pastor’s ministry, and it is in the best interest of the congregation to do whatever is best. For Methodists, you are an apologetic for a connectional system, and should do the same in honorable ways in the digital milieu.
Thoughts? How do you use Facebook effectively?
If you find meaning in this article, and you are Methodist, please share with the Boards of Ordained Ministry, District Superintendents, and pastors you know are going through this difficult transition time. Here’s a short link to copy/paste: http://hackingchristianity.net/?p=5727