Recently, a church member called the office to say that he was disturbed to discover that information about himself and his children was readily available through an old church newsletter archived on our website, easily discovered through a google search. He asked us to remove the information, which we promptly did. The information was basic information that you might find in any church newsletter - the date the family joined the church, where the parents worked, the names of the children - but I feel terrible that we are responsible for putting information out on the internet that he would have wanted to keep private.
We have recently done a lot of work to update our church website (we hired an advertising firm for several thousand dollars), and we are thrilled with the results. In addition to publishing our bi-monthly newsletter on it, we keep an archive of old newsletters going back several years. I am concerned now that we ought not be doing this. The committee responsible for working on the website felt strongly, as I did, that we ought to have current and new information going up on the website on a regular basis, and that the newsletter was an important vehicle for that. But now I am left wondering if we should not publish our newsletters on our website, since they often include personal information about families in our church. Options include taking the newsletter down entirely, only publishing the first page (the pastor's column), only publishing a condensed version (without any personal information), or making the newsletter a "members only" feature. I believe that the newsletter is an important resource for people seeking a new church home, so I am hesitant to remove it or make it only accessible to members, but I am also concerned about protecting the privacy of church members. I am curious if others of you have dealt with this issue, and how you have handled it.
I think it is a good idea to make the newsletter available online to as many people as possible. Newsletters are one way that churches share with the community a bit of its identity, beyond just calendar data. It is however a good idea to remove from the published edition any personal info: parishioner phone numbers and addresses, names and ages of kids, things like that.
I also think it is a good idea to have "members only' info available on line via a password, or something like that, but even then I'd be careful with what info is included. Passwords have a way of getting out.
Sunday's Coming offers:
My previous church had a discussion around this very issue: how much information to release on the website.
In the end, rather reluctantly, we erred on the side of caution: the only part of the newsletter which was available online were the ‘non-personal’ - the church calendar. At first this made me unhappy – I wanted all the information out there, but we live in a naughty world and I came to realise that if people from outside were looking at the site with a view to attending, they would be more interested in the fact that the scouts were having a car wash than the fact that Beryl Bliss had celebrated her 90th birthday.
We did however have a short ‘news’ section where, with permission from the individuals, a photo and short item was included – just to give a more personal touch. We also decided that we would have sermons on there from time to time, when they seemed particularly appropriate, rather than a regular ‘slot’ which might not mean much outside the community.
I’m not saying we got it right – but that’s the way we went.
If you want to see the finished article, it’s at
What about the rest of you? Is this something you are dealing with or have dealt with? Please share your wisdom.
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