13 Sep 2018

The IRS and the Church’s Facebook Page

Christine Bove

Pastor Leslie has been interested in using Facebook and Instagram to reach her community for a while. She decided to do some research to see if using either online platform would be a good use of her time. 

She found that 74% of Facebook users check their Facebook at least once a day, and 51% check it multiple times a day. For Instagram, 60% of users check their Instagram once a day, with 38% checking it daily multiple times.

Armed with those new statistics, Pastor Leslie decided to start using social media in her ministry. She felt that Facebook would be a great tool to help her stay connected with the congregation, as well as reach out to new people in her community.

Building your church’s social media policy

Even though social media is a useful tool, it can also be misused. Pastor Leslie discovered this during the early processes of building the church’s social media presence. 

On Sunday, she was taking pictures of the children worshipping in children’s church. She didn’t realize that two of the children in the picture were in foster care. She was about to post the photos on the church’s Facebook and Instagram accounts when a staff member reminded her that children in the foster care system cannot have their faces shown in order to protect them and their foster families. 

She was so grateful that her coworker reminded her of this. This incident made her think, “Are there other rules I need to know about posting on social media?”

After extensive research, she developed and implemented the church’s social media policy.

What should be in a church’s social media policy?

Any church’s social media policy should outline:

  • How the church’s social media will be used,
  • The language and verbiage that is appropriate to use,
  • What kind of content can be posted,
  • Who and what can be represented in the photos used on social media,
  • Protection for those who are in foster care systems and in custody issues,
  • A privacy policy
  • Who can post on social media (does someone approve posts before they are posted?)

Pastor Leslie had a lot of decisions to make about how social media can be used at her church. She had to decide the kinds of things that can be posted, who can post, and if there is an approval process needed before things are posted. 

Some churches develop an approval process for images. This allows for the pictures or posts to be reviewed before they are published online. These extra sets of eyes will help make sure that everything that is posted follows the church’s social media policy and represents the church accurately. 

The more research Pastor Leslie did to develop a comprehensive policy, she realized that the IRS cares about what is posted on social media. She found that she needed to add another section that would help keep the church IRS compliant. She discovered it’s important to have social media behaviors and etiquette outlined in the policies. 

Staying compliant with IRS Publication 1828

With churches having their tax-exempt status, there are listed qualifications and rules in the IRS Publication 1828 that tax-exempt organizations must abide by. When a church violates one of the listed rules in Publication 1828, the church is at risk of their 501(c)(3) status being revoked. 

Some negative behaviors to avoid on social media to stay in IRS compliance include the following.

  • Inappropriate comments, pictures, or gestures
    • This means promiscuous pictures, sexual comments to other people online, or crude gestures should never be posted on social media.
  • Political comments, stances, or rants. 
    • As is listed in the IRS publication 1828, a pastor can’t claim a political party from stage. With social media being like a second pulpit, no church can claim a party publicly from the church’s social media account.Let your policies be clear on how your staff and pastors can interact with political matters on the church’s social media. 

After adding rules to her church’s social media policy to help the church stay compliant with IRS Publication 1828, Pastor Leslie decided that the church’s policy needed to include one more step. 

It is a good idea to further define the tone that your church’s social media presence should take. Churches can decide that certain behaviors could reflect poorly on the church and should be avoided. These behaviors include: 

  • Angry rants;
  • Theological debates;
  • Slandering businesses, organizations, or other pastors; and
  • Behavior that is in violation of the church’s bylaws.

Without these details outlined in your policy, it could be easy to misuse social media. Churches and individuals can also be sued for violation of privacy, custody issues, and related situations regarding this issue.

Pastor Leslie took all of this seriously and helped put into place a policy that protected her church and her congregation.

To help get you started on building your own social media policy, call us today at 877-494-4655 and receive a complimentary social media policy template for your church or ministry.

From the second pulpit

Social media is a great tool for further expanding your church’s reach and sharing the Gospel from your second pulpit. It just needs to be done correctly for the greatest impact. Creating policies will become another tool to protect your congregation and your church, freeing you up to be an active participant in the wide world of social media.

So if you haven’t already, I would highly encourage your church or ministry to set up it’s own social media accounts. 

Some of the most popular social media platforms are:

  • Facebook: You can post blogs, events, announcements, videos, clips, and overall encouragement. This platform is great for being connected with your congregation and having more intentional online conversations.
  • Twitter: You can post sermon clips, sermon quotes, Bible verses, and overall quick quotes for information or encouragement.
  • Instagram: You can post beautiful pictures and graphics, Scripture, announcements, and sermon quotes. 

All of these accounts can directly link to your church’s website. Social media can act as a snapshot of who your church is; in other words, it’s an electronic business card. Your website can offer more information about your church and show your congregation and community new ways to get involved. 

If you don’t have a website for your church yet, StartCHURCH has an excellent solution. StartSITES will help you create a website, ready to receive online giving in less than 1 hour! 

Are you ready to step up to be an influencing voice to your online community? 

Set Up Your Website in Less Than 1 Hour!

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Blessings,
Raul Rivera

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