Are You (And Your Church) Safe and Secure Online?

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For additional resources related to social media policies and digital safety please visit our other Network post:  Social Media Sample Policies

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Prior to COVID-19, a handful of churches were taking the leap into online streaming of their Sunday services. With that shift, Safe Church received a few questions about how to ensure these churches were following proper policies for the safety and privacy of their congregations.

Churches recognized the value of offering an online platform to connect with people that were unable to be in the church building but still wanted to feel a part of the Sunday Service. We could have never anticipated the drastic shift that took place this spring. Suddenly we all hope to connect online as we remain under quarantine for some time to come.

As we all come together with the same immediate need of understanding how to safely connect online with our friends, families, and congregations, we would like to offer some guidelines to help make sure you can deliver an effective service to your congregation while keeping your members safe.

When You Are Streaming a Service From Church, With a Congregation Present

When initially exploring this question, thinking of the building being full of attendants, there were some basic safety issues that needed to be addressed:

  1. Your congregation needs to be aware you are videotaping the service. 
    1. Consider putting a note in the bulletin.
    2. Put notices on the doors where the taping is occurring.
    3. Discuss this move to an online platform during a church service so the congregation is well informed.
  2. People that are a part of the service need to agree that they are comfortable with being on camera.

  • Consider how many elements are a part of the service - the sermon, the worship, baby dedication, children’s stories, etc. People need to be reminded that a service is being taped and asked if they are comfortable participating. 

  • Consider a children’s choir singing for Christmas. Has every parent/guardian agreed to have their child on camera. What if one parent does not agree. Does that mean the child won’t be able to participate? 

  • What about Profession of Faith? Is the individual comfortable having their words taped with the potential for others to share?

What are some alternatives? Would it be better to decide to simply have a policy to not have children on camera? If so - how do you manage the times during the service that you cannot focus on people’s faces? Could this be a time when you put a slide on a powerpoint that the camera can rest on for the duration of the song? 

  1. How are you giving access to the recording?

Are people logging on to a live stream? We will talk about how to manage that later in this article. Is this a service that is being recorded and then uploaded to a YouTube site? Who has access to this site? Do you need a link to access the video or have you put it on the internet, open for anyone doing a Google search to find? Be aware that your audience could be much larger than you anticipate. 

More resources on live streaming:

  • General information to consider when deciding to  live stream: 

How to Live Stream your Church Service: A practical guide

  • Security/Safety issues with live streaming:

 Be safe not sorry when live streaming your worship services

  • Information about Copyright laws:

 6 things your church may be doing illegally

Common Platforms for Virtual Meetings and How to Navigate them Safely

Zoom is a platform many of us use, and in the past month they have upgraded their security significantly in light of the significant increased usage of their platform. Zoom has provided  an excellent blog on Best Practices for Securing Your Virtual Classroom that is primarily written for teachers, but is excellent for anyone hosting a meeting. 

For those of you using Webex, here is an overview of Cisco Webex Best Practices for Secure Meetings: Hosts.

Google Meet is quickly replacing Google Hangouts. Google Meet has been approved by school boards as a safe way to offer virtual teaching. Here is an overview of the safety measures Google has put in place for this new platform.

Safety Standards for Connecting Online

(The following guidelines were received with permission to distribute from another denominational abuse prevention team).

These guidelines will help to protect both the people you minister to and yourself as you engage in digital interaction: 

1. Digital interaction with minors, outside of family and personal social networks, must be for ministry purposes and not personal in nature. 

2. When possible have a second adult online with you for all meetings or conversations. 

3. Do not meet with a young person online by themselves. Plan to meet with more than one young person on each call. If the conversation needs to be private, arrange a mutually agreed upon third party to be involved in the conversation. Feel free to explain to the young person why this is necessary. 

4. Do not accept unsolicited video calls from minors when alone. 

If you must answer an unsolicited call, bring a third party on the screen with you. If you cannot include a third party, decline the call and respond to the young person via another means (chat, DM, phone call), including or informing a third party, to determine the need and set up a safe and suitable meeting environment. Please exercise caution in all cases of unsolicited communication, working to ensure that there are appropriate accountability and transparency measures in place. 

5. Plan and hold digital meetings during normal hours for social or business interaction. 

Do not conduct meetings or conversations with any young people at a time of day that you wouldn’t hold a meeting or programming at your church or home under normal circumstances. 

6. Consider where you are in your home before you turn on your camera. Ask yourself: Is this a space I would invite someone into if they were physically in my home? 

7. Consider how you are dressed before you turn on your camera.

Ask yourself: Would I go out in public to meet with people dressed this way? Would I conduct a meeting at church dressed this way? 

8. Keep a record of your online interactions and meetings.

Record the date, who was present, purpose of meeting and key topics, and concerns that may need to be followed up. (If participants are comfortable with it, you could record Zoom meetings.) 

9. Report any concerns you have from online interactions to your supervisor. 

10. Keep parents informed of planned digital discipleship efforts. 

Just as you would with regular  programming, keep parents aware of meeting times, scope and sequence of teaching, expectations, etc. 

A Final Word About Online Safety

Many have noted that this pandemic has pushed us into a brand new era. We have had to change and adapt to a new way of connecting and this will change how we manage life even when the pandemic has been eradicated. Therefore, now, more than ever, it is especially important to be vigilant about your safety in our online world. The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has created an excellent resource to support our understanding and  awareness  of the potential risks related to our children being online. Please take a few minutes to review it as you shift to this new norm: Online Abuse and Safety

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