Facebook has changed the way people communicate. At Campbell, we have guidelines for how staff relates with people online, similar to the United Methodist “Safe Sanctuaries” guidelines for face-to-face communication.
Because the landscape is always changing, we are continually discussing the implications of new means of communication. So, it is not a static policy; it must remain fluid in order to respond to rapid changes in the virtual world.
Our latest conversation pertains to notifying “the church” when someone has a need (an illness, surgery, the death of a loved one, etc.). Put rather crassly, the question is what should “count” for notifying the church.
If a staff member happens to read an update on someone’s timeline that says, “Surgery set for tomorrow,” or something similar, does that indicate that the person wants a pastor to show up for prayer and so the staff member should contact a pastor to make sure that happens?
If a pastor reads someone’s tweet indicating a need, but does not respond, is that a failure of pastoral obligation? What if a pastor reads the tweet and DOES respond, but the individual didn’t actually want a personal response?
Currently, we have the guideline that a Facebook post (or a Tweet, or any online posting) does not constitute an “official contact.” A phone call, email, or text message does. The reasoning is that those three are directed communications, rather than public announcements. As such, we do not do a pastoral visit for something we only learn about online.
On the flipside, someone on staff may contact a person individually to respond to something learned online, and in that conversation the staff member needs to ask, “Would you like this concern included in the prayer list?” and/or “Would you like a pastor to visit?” and/or “Could we arrange some meals for you while you recover?” or something like that, depending on the situation. Then, the church responds “officially” to the need.
Even as I re-read that paragraph, it sounds silly. But it is where we are at the moment. And so we’d like some input. What are your thoughts on these questions? And what guidelines, if any, does your church follow regarding social network posts? What should those guidelines be?
Thanks in advance for your comments!