Facebook Guide for Pastors in Transition [Updated 2014]

The More You KnowIn 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 choicesHacking 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.

 Ready? Go!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

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  1. Patrick Scriven says

    Thanks Jeremy for the update! I plan to link this to something focused on the discernment aspect around social media transitions.

    I would only critique the permission you give (not advice) around having two accounts. It may be easier but we also know it is a clear violation of the FB user agreement. Better to avoid a bifurcated life, but I suspect we agree.

    • says

      Right, we definitely agree.

      Although with Facebook reducing the reach of Pages, even though it violates the User Agreement, I begin to wonder if multiple profiles is more effective. I haven’t checked if the Interest Lists causes people to see your content more often yet.

      • Patrick Scriven says

        Pages have certainly becoming less effective. If intentional, but strictly professional engagement is the goal, I suspect that groups might be the best opportunity. And they can also disappear with a transition or have the administrative rights transferred.

  2. says

    Thanks for the update on this Jeremy. Two years ago I moved and I told my old congregation that I wouldn’t be cutting ties but I would not be interacting with them on Facebook. Many people didn’t truly understand but all have played nice since then. This is a good piece of advice that many people don’t think about when it comes to saying goodbye to one congregation and hello to another.

  3. Kimberly Quinn says

    I’m not a pastor so maybe my ignorance is showing. I have however been a Christian for over 30 years and have worshiped in 3 different denominations. So you can imagine I have seen my share of pastoral changes. So to me it would depend on the pastor’s reason for leaving and on how much church members share with the pastor. If the pastor simply retired or was called to a different type of ministry then I don’t have a problem with him continuing to interact with former church members. If there was a big scandal or some detrimental reason for him leaving then he probably should unfriend people. As a congregant we need to realize that the the pastor who has moved on is no longer our pastor, his roll in our lives has changed and we need to start building on the relationship with our new pastor. People get too attached to a pastor, and fail to develop healthy supportive relationships within the church. It isn’t my pastor’s job to solve my life’s problems, and we don’t own his time. So if a pastor has those “cling ons” then he needs to cut ties.

  4. David Stuckey says

    I will not UNFRIEND NOR HIDE MY LIFE from any friends that I have made at my current or future appointments. This is one place where the UMC denomination has things entirely screwed up. The strength of a ministers ability comes in his or her ability to make relational connections with the members of the community they are sent to serve to abandon that connection and friendship blatantly tells those friends that you were only their friend because you were their pastor. The UMC had better wake up and realize that the world has changed we are in the age of the new printing press. It is no wonder why all but 3 conferences in the US are hemorrhaging membership and worship attendance. If you don’t create genuine relationships then they will not connect with you or the gospel you are trying to share or come along side them in their discipleship walk.

    • says

      As I wrote in the post (and previous editions) the reality is that clergy do not always handle transitions well and thus we have institutionalized some concerns so that we all may behave better. I find the way how we do accountability refreshing in a world so often without it–this is an effort to have the technology assist in that accountability while allowing the pastoral role to shift to a new person once someone has ceased performing that role.

      • David Stuckey says

        Its the institution that is SICK for pete’s sake can you not see the cliff? Why must we make rules for the majority of us that have people skills for the idiots that don’t?

        • says

          • We have Safe Sanctuaries because of a small number of people who have violated relationships with children.
          • We have rules about pastors returning to their former parishes because of a small number of meddling pastors.
          • We have independent audits of the church finances because of a small number of embezzlers.
          • We now require windows on pastoral offices because a small number of pastors had indiscretions with parishioners.

          Likewise, it is not unreasonable to come up with reasonable expectations of how to handle Social Media…because of the failings of a few.

          • David Stuckey says

            As an outsider new to the ministry we are the most bloated, ill equipped, and lost organization I have every been a part of and what is sad is I worked in the healthcare industry and education professionally before my move to ministry. The current structure and organization has to have a major overhaul or we will go the way of TWA, MCI, Enron. The culture of America has changed so dramatically and our seminaries are 3 culture cycles behind the effective training of pastors. We train pastors for the church of the 1950s. When we has the counter cultural movement of the 60’s. The Consumerism culture of the 80’s and 90’s and the information revolution at the turn of the century. I didn’t come to join a sinking ship I came along side to bail the hull and to help offload the baggage of traditions that have no bearing on fulfilling the Great Commission.

  5. Hank says

    Wow, a really good page, though I always unfriendly everyone when I leave a church because I want to respect the next minister who will probably not post as much as I do. AND I think it is a good practice for me and them to understand that I am not their friend.

    Also, let’s be honest I don’t like some of them and this way I can be rid of them and use the F- word for a week before I start my next church. (Why yes I am a Unitarian.)

    • LW says

      Hank – your post made me laugh! And, yes, I’m a Unitarian, too. My husband just retired from UU ministry – he’ll be unfriending soon.


  1. […] In the past, many advised deleting/unfriending/blocking church members from social media accounts during one’s transition. Of course this is still an option for problem situations and for those wishing to draw sharp, “professional” boundaries. But as social media platforms mature, they are becoming more flexible and capable for those seeking to create boundaries between themselves and former church members.  Social media accounts allow this process to be handled more delicately through the use of lists and intentional posting on the part of a transitioning leader. Rev. Jeremy Smith, Minister of Discipleship at Portland First UMC has recently detailed the currently process of doing this on Facebook; you can find his guide HERE. […]

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