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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Facebook?

Last week we marked RevGalBlogPal's 5th anniversary with a question about blogging...this week, Facebook is the social network du jour:

How do you navigate friendships on Facebook as a pastor? I'm currently not on Facebook because I'm not sure that I want to tackle this. I wouldn't mind being on Facebook to communicate with family and friends (especially those friends from college, etc.) But I don't know that I want my congregation to be privy to these communications. Do they need to see so much of my life? And if a friend says something offensive, I feel like it'd reflect poorly on me--especially as I've only been in my current call a few months. Am I being oversensitive?

Oh, and I did mention Facebook to a key leader in my congregation which was very interesting. She mentioned joining Facebook and being cornered at church because she hadn't immediately accepted friend requests. She told me her intent in getting on was to communicate with her widespread extended family. So, the water is a bit muddier here in my mind already.

Insights appreciated!


Is Facebook worth it?

Mompriest who blogs at Seeking Authentic Voice was the only matriarch with much to say about Facebook:

Facebook is an interesting conundrum. For the most part I think its important to maintain a level of privacy about our personal lives distinct from our ministry lives. Therefore I do not want my parishioners to be "friends" with me on my personal Facebook account. Among other reasons this is because our parishioners need to see us as their Pastoral provider and our personal selves may not meet their ideal, which could lead to additional problems. And as clergy we need to be able to be who we are with our closest friends and family without constantly monitoring ourselves because a parishioner may be listening or reading. That said I also understand the desire to communicate parishioner and pastor on the social medium of Facebook. One way I got around this, sort of, was to set up a Facebook account for the church. This account was managed by me but limited to postings and comments about parish related events. I also created a parish based blog for sermons, where I encouraged comments, and linked that to Facebook. (It wasn't too much work to manage a private and a parish based Facebook and blog). The parish Facebook and blog offered me additional opprtunties for communicating. I think you can make it clear to folks that your private Facebook account is just for family, but the parish one is a place for the congregation to connect to you and each other.

Another of our matriarchs indicated that she had no opinion, and no Facebook page.

So...let's get the dialog going with Mompriest and Is Facebook Worth It?... What do you think? How do you navigate the social networking waters as a pastoral leader? I am looking forward to hearing the wisdom and experience of our community.

May you live in God's amazing grace+



  1. I believe there is a way forward when deciding to interact on social networks. If you start your page with an alias that your family and close friends are aware of, then it becomes a little harder to identify the person behind the alias. For instant, you could use Fly Girl, or some other name to start the page, let you family know, and keep it simple and clean.

    Also use a generic web based email such as yahoo or gmail, with the alias.

    You could then create a "fan page" with your Pastoral identity that church members and others would use. The fan page does not give you the opportunity to decide who "follows" you and I would be careful what exactly I post there, but it does give your church members a chance to "plug" into you on facebook.

    This what I have done. On my regular page, I am Abigail Elizabeth Reynolds. On my fan page I am Dr. Abigail Elizabeth Reynolds. I know, no alias here, but for me, that was not a concern.

    I also block and remove ANY contact immediately if they use profanity and racist type statements. I have a zero tolerance personal policy for this type of behavior on a public, or private, forum.

    In addition, you can create "list" that allow only certain friends to see your information and wall.

    So I don't see a real problem if the page is well managed to having a facebook contact page, but the key word is well managed.

    I also know of Pastors and Churches who have started a fan page for their church information. It is an additional way of communicating with the congregation, especially those who are on the internet.

    Have fun and enjoy the possibilities.

    Dr. Abby

  2. I admire your ability to do the two things at once, Mompriest. Very sound advice. When I'm on the internet I very rarely find a way to be my whole self...b/c I'm very aware that moms are reading.

    So maybe a real facebook account and one for family and church friends would be the way to go for me. I guess I'll think about it.

  3. Because I spend a LOT of time with young adults, AND because I have to young adults as children, Facebook is an easy way for me to at least know what is going on in their lives. It also is a simple way to keep up on current trends and topics. So I Facebook with my own name.

    I have also decided that it keeps me authentic. I can't pretend to be one thing in one arena and one thing in another.

  4. I'm with unfinsymphony on this one, having found Facebook excellent as a tool to keep in touch with, for example, the young marrieds...the parish teenagers...enquirers...

    Young friends in ministry elsewhere!!! (including the "young at heart")

    And of course the extended family.

    But I have seen clergy get themselves into tiresome trouble by injudicious postings, apps, etc.

  5. I use facebook...a LOT. It's often open behind whatever I'm working on. But then again, I work primarily with teens and young adults, so about 75-85 people from my current church are facebook friends (including parents of these kids, as well as some people who don't have children but are on FB anyway). I have found it's better for the teens and the parents of children if I'm available via FB chat than if I am sitting in my office waiting for them to call or drop in (which will almost never happen).
    Having said that, I have gotten in "trouble" for a couple of status updates--the ones that say things like "Teri has been at work for 12 hours and is tired and doesn't really want to go to a meeting tonight." I no longer post anything that isn't chipper on FB, and I do have a list of people I've labeled "comp" (you decide what that means!) who can't see my status updates.
    I keep Twitter locked down and I have to approve anyone who wants to follow me there, and church people and family members are not allowed. It's my safe(r) space, whereas facebook is a ministry tool that also doubles as a way to keep in touch with family and friends and colleagues.

  6. For me, FB is a valuable ministry resource. I learn lots about people in my congregation who have "friended" me and also about what people in general are concerned with on a daily basis. All the young ones use it, it's true!

    I have one account. I do have to remember who all, in different life categories, are out there seeing what I post. It's an exercise in integrity and authenticity and boundaries for me.

    My own approach: I do not initiate being FB "friends" with people in my church or in previous churches, but if they "friend" me, I accept. I do initiate "friends" with clergy colleagues, personal friends, and family.

    As for who can see what (which is a concern!): Whatever you write as a status message is posted on your friends' walls so they will all see it. If someone comments on that status, it is seen by all your friends, too. When your friends post on your wall, their post can be seen by all your friends. But, what your friends post on their walls or profile (their original posts) are seen by you, but not by your friends. In other words, if my obnoxious relative posts something as his status or on his wall, it is not seen by my friends. If he comments (obnoxiously or otherwise) on my posts, my friends can see it.

    There is also a useful option to "message" someone, and that is a private conversation, not seen by anyone other than the addressee.

    The biggest downside for me as a pastor has been that I know what some of my parishioners are doing on Sunday a.m. instead of going to church! It's not always fun to glimpse their priorities.

  7. In addition to what others have said about FB, I want to add that there is a "remove" button for everything posted by anyone on your wall. Don't be afraid to use it. I also "untag" myself in all photos as a matter of privacy.

    I have a list of "friends" labeled "No Status Updates" - these are the folks who don't need to see what I put on my wall and it includes some church members and all youth.

    As others mentioned, I also created a page for the church. I love being able to pop up encouragements and reminders about church events on people's walls.

  8. I haven't found a way I'm comfortable with to negotiate the boundaries of a FB account, so I don't have one. Our church does, but someone else manages that. My son and husband both do as well, and are friends with many church members, so I regularly peruse their pages to see what's happening.

    A real life ministry story about FB from last night: I was at a parish member's home with friends. I got a call from another member that her husband had died; among other things, she couldn't reach her grown son, also a church member. Knowing that he receives FB posts on his iPhone, I asked one of the ladies there with a FB account to send him a message with the request that he call his mom ASAP. Turned out he was in a meeting, couldn't answer calls but saw the post, excused himself and called her. Three cheers for great use of technology!

  9. I initially began using FB as a way of keeping up with the college students in our campus ministry, and I have found it very valuable for my ministry in general. I only have one identity on there, so I am careful about what I write. I use Twitter (a locked account, and I don't allow any church members to follow me) to write things that I need to express in safer space. That said, I still try to be careful because my feeling is that no space on the internet is every fully private. Even if you write something pseudonymous and/or on a private page somewhere, you never know if someone who knows your identity might try to use it someday to harm you.

  10. Amen, earthchick. As I constantly tell my kids ANYTHING and EVERYTHING you post online is public or has the possibility of becoming public.

    I use facebook, but not Twitter. Twitter was just too much upkeep for me.

    I noticed while on internship that my posting changed as the congregation started using fb and friended me. I have toyed with the idea of two accounts, but I really would like to be able to designate who sees what. I know that the new privacy and security levels are susposed to allow that kind of selection, but I haven't figured out how to use it yet.

    I'll have to figure it out soon. Once I am called to a congregation I'll need to better separate my private and parish life!

  11. I, too, think FB is a great tool. I simply don't post anything I don't want the world to see.

  12. Our director of field ed. at seminary suggested that as we go on internship, if we want to FB parishioners, to set up a separate account with our internship identity to be used only for that time. This is similar to what others have suggested.

  13. I heart facebook, maybe too much. I love the HS friends I'm back in touch with, and truly consider the status updates to be a prayer exercise. BTW, I learned recently that it is against facebook rules to have two accounts. I'm sure the strategy of having a church page separate from your personal page is okay, and the way to go if you're concerned about privacy. Perhaps because I've been in my call for 8 years, I don't worry too much about what I post. I really believe in authenticity and want my congregation to see me as a whole person, not some junior Jesus. That said, when I do move to a new call, I will probably be way more careful about friending the new folks. I have found facebook to be a valuable way to stay connected with members who don't come every week.

  14. I'm a commissioned lay minister in my congregation and our church's FB administrator. A lot of church folks have FB friended me, so there's a lot of cross-pollination between the two FB pages. I tend to side with those who say, "This is who I am -- deal with it" -- although, because some of my church FB friends are kids from the youth group, I probably self-censor (generally in the form of language, LOL) a lot more than I would if I didn't have a position of responsibility in the church.

  15. As the questioner--I feel like I'm hearing that Facebook is a great tool, a place where I can/should be authentic--but not whole. Because there are things I can't say if there are people who I pastor listening. Some of these are about timing--when I was interviewing at my current setting, I didn't want my last place to know. There are also things that I can say to my family that I would say differently to congregation members, but that my family understands without me having to overanalyze every word before using it. I'm a private person who takes a long time to develop trust--the trust I have in my family isn't the same as the trust I have in my congregation--and I'm not ready to let the congregation have the same access as my family. Perhaps I'm just not ready for Facebook.

  16. I got in big trouble being too sassy with FB statuses. I hurt some people's feelings inadvertently, and learned once again the hard truth that Parishioners Are Not Friends. Most of my parishioners are now blocked from seeing status updates or my wall. The only ones who see them are really just talking to themselves anyway ...

    Apart from that, I love the connection to people from all corners of my past.

  17. church near cowsJuly 22, 2010 at 2:03 PM

    I too have toyed with getting a facebook account but haven't done it because I don't want to deal with not friending the congregation. It's not that I have a wild and crazy life, its just I don't want one more thing to think about, one more place that I am watched and judged, one more place where I have to be "on". I figure I can use all the privacy I can get because I already live in the small town where being a female clergy is hard enough. But as a young person with almost all of my friends and family in other states I also sometimes feel out of touch because I don't have a facebook page.

    So as an experiment I just started a page for the church. I don't know yet how much traffic it will get or how exactly best to use it. Perhaps after that is firmly established and I have a better idea of how exactly facebook works I can start a personal page and direct church folk to the church page.

  18. In my academic setting, I accepted friend requests from my students until I started reading things about them I didn't want to know! Now I have a policy: once you graduate, I'll friend you.

    This to say: Boundaries.

  19. At the congregation I formerly served, a parishioner asked to friend me, and I quietly ignored it. That turned out to be a very smart decision.

    What Mary Beth said: boundaries.

    I think for churches that have technologically active populations, a church page is a great idea!

  20. Facebook's privacy system has received just criticism for being unnecessarily complicated. But one of the things I really like about the set-up is that it's possible to accept a "friend" request from a person (thus avoiding real-life tension over their sense of entitlement to have access to your online socializing) while preventing that person from actually seeing most of what you post on your account.

    To restrict who can see your status updates on Facebook:

    1) Create "Restricted" List

    Under "Account" (upper right corner), select "Edit Friends."

    Under "Lists" (left side column), select "Friends."

    Click on the "Create New List" button at the top of your friends list.

    Name the list whatever you want (Restricted, Comp, No Status Updates, etc.).

    Select all "friends" you want to be included in the list.

    Click "Create List."

    (Later, you can add names to this list by coming to the "Edit Friends" page and selecting this list from the left hand column. You can also add people to the list at the the same time that you accept their friend request.)

    2) Adjust Privacy Settings

    Under "Account" (upper right corner), select "Privacy Settings."

    Select "Customize Settings."

    Next to "Posts by Me," click the Button describing who can see it.

    Scroll down to "Custom -- edit."

    Select "Friends Only."

    Under "Hide this from," enter the name that you gave to the restricted group in step one.

    Click "Save Setting."

    While you're here, double check that your other Privacy Settings are where you want them to be.

    NB: This privacy setting DOES NOT APPLY to posts generated by any applications you may have added to your facebook account. To control who sees posts generated by the applications you use, you need to change the privacy settings of each application individually under "Account; Application Settings."

    You can also control who sees what post on a post-by-post basis by clicking on the little padlock icon next to the "Share" button beneath the status update bar. There are many good reasons not to become overly reliant on this feature, but it's nice to know it's there.

  21. Great question! It makes me long for the days when facebook was restricted to people with ".edu" e-mail addresses, but there are SOME advantages to having my grandmother on facebook!

    The day that my district superintendent friended me on facebook (I'm a UM candidate for ministry), I decided that I needed to set up boundaries. Even little things that I would be happy to talk about one-on-one (e.g., why I support pro-LGBT movements in the church), I don't want my Board of Ordained Ministry to see & make assumptions without my opportunity to respond.

    So now, *everyone* is automatically on limited profile (i.e., can't see my wall) and I hand-select a few people (probably 10% of my facebook friends) who can see pictures, stalk my status updates, and post comments. Rachel's system is a god-send.

  22. This is a "how do you manage the boundaries?" question for those using FB (since I am still pondering it): I understand the features that allow you to restrict who sees what. But what about the people who don't fit neatly in those groups? For example, my SIL is a member of our congregation. If I included her in a narrower "family" group, wouldn't my updates show up on her page and thus be visible to the congregation members she has friended? Or what about one of my best friends who is also our youth minister? Or even the unexpected n-degrees of separation people (I found one of my closest friends from elementary school because she was friends with someone my husband had friended, so her posts showed up on my husband's page)?

    I'm in a small community in a big city, and people know people who know people...just seems that sooner or later there's bound to be overlap no matter how hard I try to draw lines. I'd love to figure out a way to sort this out, but until then, I'm off FB.

  23. I am with MP. I jsut do not see it being a good thing to be "friends" on FB. I did so in this call and really regreted it.
    My political party affliation is different from most members. I had a "like" on some political stuff and one elder has rattled and ragged the cage with me.
    He has gotten to the point of being obnoxious. He acutally started making derogatory comments about my "likes." Really, unprofessional and not the best example for others.
    Anyhow, I decided not to be "FB friends" in the future.
    However, I did set up an account for the church and it has proved successful and quite the place for info and pics

  24. I do ministry on facebook.
    But I always keep in mind that my mother, my bishop and youth from the congregation may be reading. I feel that facebook allows people to get a sense of who I am. I don't post anything I wouldn't be comfortable saying in conversation over coffee with parishoners.

  25. I have so far avoided this because my very small parishes are mostly filled by persons of a generation that have not joined FB. The few teens I have on FB I am comfortable having on my personal page, but my personal page has always been more professional than anything else--as I joined FB to stay in touch with seminary classmates. That being said, I have already invested some time in investigating FB's privacy standards and recommend others do the same. It is possible to have a friend who does not have access to all of your information.
    I do have a colleague who face the FB question because there are persons from her past that she does not want to help enable to contact her, and she has leaned toward starting a page for her church.

  26. BTW - if you are setting up a church account, it's better to create a page than treat the church as a person. Here's why:

    The youth and family person at my congregation set up a fb account for the church, Christ (Denominational name) Church. I received a fb notification from her that said "Jenny has just friended Christ and she thinks you may know christ too." Of course I asked to be Christ's friend!!

    It get's better. The next day I had a FB response "Christ will have to determine if you are a friend." or something like that. Wow! And I thought I was already in!

    The moral of the story: if you set your church up as a "person" in facebook, be sure to look at how the name is entered. In our case, the answer was for the youth and family minister to remove the church's fb account and go with a page instead.

    We surely don't want to confuse people about whether or not Christ will friend them!!!

  27. I suppose I'm not as concerned about privacy as some. I see my life modeled as much a part of my ministry as my work. And i've been on Facebook since the day it went public. That said, I also view it as a social gathering, not a private conversation ... And I only post things I'd say to anyone on my list at a coffee shop.

    I have found more and more of my work and connections with clergy are on fb chat and private fb messages ... Some are using it instead of email ...

    Those who friend me get all of me ... from info on my fender bender to my involvement with the community theater. They get to know my political opinions, but I don't make political statements often. I have also stopped "liking" slogans or groups that I don't have confidence in.

  28. Ramona, I am LOL over your post :-D There is a great sermon starter in there, I'm sure!

  29. Betsy - it didn't take long for that one to show up in a sermon last summer!

  30. I'm on, and I have some of my congregation members who are "friends", but I'm careful about what I have a status updates.

    I do like being able to get in touch with people via facebook message, so it can be a ministry tool.

    I notice some people use facebook, but just don't post status updates that often.

    I am considering doing that.

    I find that i more often like to write something clever rather than be "sassy."


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