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Your Church, Social Media, and the IRS

Written by Angie Joya on Oct 03, 2019 in IRS Compliance

Pastor Leslie couldn’t get the idea that the end of the year was just three months away. How was it already October? Where had the year gone? Mentally recounting the events of the year, she couldn’t help but wonder, “How can our church reach more people?” 

She suddenly realized she was pacing, and her 16-year-old high schooler was staring at her from over the top of his ever-present phone. 

“You okay over there?” He muttered in a quizzical tone.

“What? Oh, yes. I’m just trying to figure out how to get connected to more people that doesn’t really involve spending any money.” 

“Mom! Are you serious?” He shook his phone in her direction. “Here’s your answer.” 

The need for a social media policy

Social media is one of the easiest ways to reach a large group of people of varying ages. Research has shown that in 2018, 74% of Facebook users checked their Facebook at least once a day, and 51% check it multiple times a day. When it comes to the photo-sharing platform, Instagram, 60% of users checked their account once a day, and 38% checked it multiple times in a day. These numbers reveal how great the potential is for social media accounts and profiles to influence other users. However, with social media posting comes great responsibility.

While social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are easy ways to reach people, it can also be one of the most easily misused tools. Let’s use an example with Pastor Leslie.

One Sunday, Pastor Leslie took pictures of the children worshipping in her church’s children’s ministry. However, 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. 

Pastor Leslie was grateful for the staff member who reminded her of this detail. This incident made her think, “What else don’t I know that I need to know about my church’s social media usage?”

After careful thought and research, the church was able to implement a social media policy and some helpful strategies.

What to include in a social media policy

Perhaps you, like Pastor Leslie, are trying to navigate the world of social media, and you find yourself having to make decisions about how social media can be used to benefit the church. At first glance, social media seems to be a platform primarily used for engagement and sharing photos. However, many people are surprised to learn that the IRS actually cares about what is posted on social media. This makes it all the more important to have social media behaviors and etiquette outlined in the church’s policies. 

Any church’s social media policy should outline:

  1. How the church’s social media will be used,
  2. The language that is appropriate to use in posts, 
  3. The type of content that can be posted,
  4. Who and what can be represented in the photos used on social media,
  5. Protection for those who are in foster care systems and in custody issues,
  6. A privacy policy
  7. Who has the authority to post on the church’s social media, and whether or not approval is required before posting. 

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Staying compliant with IRS Publication 1828

As tax-exempt organizations, there are listed qualifications and rules in the IRS Publication 1828 that churches and all nonprofit organizations must abide by. When a church violates one of the listed rules in Publication 1828, the church puts itself at risk of losing its 501(c)(3) status. 

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 the church’s platform. With social media being like a second pulpit, no church should 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. 

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

  1. Angry rants;
  2. Theological debates;
  3. Slandering businesses, organizations, or other pastors; and
  4. 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.

You can learn more about how the IRS looks at your ministry’s social media accounts by reading this blog: "Three Ways the IRS Uses Your Church’s Social Media."

Extending your reach and influence

Social media is an excellent tool for extending your church’s reach and influence to the internet-world. Social media accounts can also act as a second pulpit, allowing you to share the Gospel with strangers who may have yet to visit your church. But to have the greatest impact, your church must operate its social media correctly. Creating policies for you and your church staff (or volunteers) to follow will become another tool to help protect your congregation and your church, freeing you up to be an active participant in the wide world of social media.

If your church or ministry doesn’t already have a social media account, now is a great time to set one up. Some of the most popular social media platforms are:

  1. Facebook: You can post blogs, events, announcements, video clips, and positive encouragement. Facebook also offers a feature called “Facebook Live” which allows you to broadcast real-time videos for viewers to see. This platform is excellent for churches to be better connected with their congregations, and it also allows for the opportunity for more intentional online conversations.
  2. Twitter: You can post sermon clips, sermon quotes, Bible verses, and quick quotes for information or encouragement. Emphasis on the “quick” as Twitter only allows you to post up to 280 characters.
  3. Instagram: You can post pictures and graphics, Scripture, announcements, and sermon quotes. Instagram also allows you to post videos and photos that last for 24 hours only through a feature known as “Stories.” Because Instagram is owned by Facebook, you also have the ability to broadcast in real-time using Instagram Live.

All of these accounts can be directly linked to your church’s website. Creating a website for your church and starting social media accounts allows you to capture the essence of what your church is about and share it with the world-wide-web. Think of it as an electronic business card for your ministry. Your website can offer more information about your church to show your congregation and community the new ways they to get involved. 

If you don’t have a website for your church yet, StartCHURCH has an excellent solution—StartSITES!  Through our easy-to-use platform, you can create a website with an online giving feature in less than 1 hour! 

What could your church do if it could just reach more people? Find out by giving our specialists a call at 877-494-4655 or clicking the button below to schedule a call. 

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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.

Raul Rivera

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