Geoff Vanderkooy of PeaceWorks Technology Solutions, Waterloo, spoke to a group of mostly pastors and church administrators at a Mennonite Church Eastern Canada-sponsored seminar on social media last month at Conrad Grebel University College.

Also connected by telephone and Internet links to four satellite locations, Vanderkooy, a member of Erb St. Mennonite Church, Waterloo, refused to give specific solutions to congregations or individuals, and instead focused on the broader topics of how social media could be either a help or hindrance to congregations, pastors and individuals. His advice included:

  • Youth have given up on e-mail. Contact them through Facebook.
  • Professional clergy should have two Facebook accounts: one for their job and another for their personal lives.
  • Everything on the Internet is stored somewhere permanently.
  • A congregation needs to think about who can access what on its web page. If bulletins or newsletters can be accessed by anyone, does the congregation have permission to post photos of individuals, or to include information such as the health status of a member or a member’s relative in a prayer concern? What would employers or insurance companies do with such information? Vanderkooy suggested churches need to have both a privacy policy and someone who constantly checks out what the congregation is doing, to ensure that the policy is adhered to.
  • Like any tool, the Internet has both pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it gets a message out to more people more quickly. On the minus side, it takes time to keep websites, blogs and Facebook pages up to date.

Vanderkooy advised pastors and congregations that they need to act online as they would anywhere else. There are some conversations that should be carried out face to face, rather than through e-mails or Facebook posts, or even over the phone. Since everything online is potentially public, he suggested that anything posted or written should stay positive, as negative items can be quickly disseminated and misunderstood.