Be Careful Out There

By | January 17, 2014

Awana recently posted a blog article on Five Rules for Ministry Focused Social Media, which is quite good. Of particular note, as we progress through the Awana club year with all of its special events (like Bible Quizzing!), theme nights and such is the last rule, “Be Legal”. The whole blog is worth reading, but I’m going to repost Rule 5 here for emphasis:

“5. Be Legal. Seriously. Seriously. If you don’t remember any of the other rules, please, please, please remember this one.

Some “legal” absolutes.

*Never EVER put up someone’s health situation on the web – even if it’s a sincere prayer request. Saying that Leader John is in the hospital for heart surgery is absolutely illegal. (Unless – Leader John gives you specific permission to do so.)  If you aren’t aware of the HIPAA privacy laws, you need to look them up and read about them – they absolutely affect churches and even well-meaning prayer requests.

*Never EVER put up a child’s picture unless you have parental permission in writing.  Tell your leaders this, too. A lot of leaders take a lot of pictures of crazy hair night and have them all over Instagram and Facebook the next day. You can’t do that WITHOUT permission.

Some churches smartly include an online permission form with the regular registration material at the beginning of the year. That way you get the permission on file (or find out who doesn’t want their child’s picture on the web) right away.

Being online is a great way to let parents and clubbers know about special guests, club cancellation, verse quotes or simply fun facts – but be smart and think through what you’re posting.”

We heartily recommend including the online permission form in your basic clubber registration paperwork. You might make it a general media publication permission which would include newspaper, television, or online permissions. Explain to the parents what it is for, where pictures might be posted or the child’s name might be used and who would have access to them (e.g. general public, church members only, etc.).

In general it is also important for safety that you NEVER, NEVER, NEVER include the names of the children with their photos online. Include a statement to the effect that your ministry won’t do so in your policy.

Be sensitive to the sad reality that there may be people with life situations or safety concerns that would prevent them from giving permission, and that this might affect your ability to post photos of particular events. Make sure your leaders are aware that they are NOT free to post photos on their own Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, etc. accounts of Awana events; parents of children are free to do as they please, but leaders are acting as agents of the church, and could potentially get the church into trouble if they post a photo without permission from a child’s parents.

Also be aware of the legal standards in your state, and how they might apply. For instance, here in Ohio I am told that it is impossible for a parent to sign away the rights of their children – meaning that even if a parent signs a waiver giving permission for participation in an event, or to publish a photo, they are only signing away their personal right to sue later – they can always sue the church or a leader in the name of the child if something unfortunate were to happen.

Please be aware of the law, and how it affects your ministry! Be careful out there!

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