The internet is a dangerous place for churches. Scandals often start and end online. This article is not to encourage you to follow these types of stories. Nor is it meant to fan their flames. Be cautious with how you conduct your church business online and how you respond to scandals. Religion is often a scapegoat for inflammatory situations. Keep your cool, follow these steps, and rely on scripture for your inspiration.
Double Check Your Content
The first step in avoiding an embarrassing situation is avoiding small mistakes. This means checking all your content for errors. The most common will be running text through grammar and spell-checker software. Also, review all images and videos. Do not only focus on your subject. Look in the background for possible problems. Consider a video or image of your pastor talking about an Alcoholics Anonymous group meeting at the church. It is far less credible with the communion wine bottle sitting out on the table behind them. A simple review can help avoid these situations.
Check Facts and Share with Care
Your church should not share the latest viral video or news story. Blogging and iterative journalism are the newspapers of the internet. Yet all the facts are not always present when a story breaks. Bloggers put it on their readers to find the errors in their articles. And even when facts are wrong, they often put corrections as a small note at the bottom of a post. Check reputable sources to ensure the items you share are true. If there is any question, stay out of the fray. Stick to posting your events, photos, and inspiration on your digital platforms.
Silence is the Response to Snark
Scandals do not have to be true to be popular. If you are a large and/or successful church, you make yourself a target. Because of this target, many will poke at you. Stories may not be true. They will almost certainly not be helpful. But they will be biting. Fighting battles online is a lot like walking into a spider web. You can feel the problem, but to everyone else, you are flailing at nothing. The best option is to wait until the scandal blows over. The benefit of viral videos is that the next big thing is likely to come around very soon.
Christ is Still the Golden Example
We often look at the Bible and think it is so difficult to relate to our technology-driven world. Yet what did Jesus do when he was betrayed? His followers scattered, and the one that remained denied even knowing him. Jesus was later mocked and with the help of an incited mob, sentenced to death. Could we endure that fate today? Many get offended with the slightest provocation from a random online stranger. Look to the example set during Jesus’ last hours to be our inspiration. Endure what is necessary and enjoy the peace on the other side of a scandal.
First, when you, your church, or your pastor get into trouble, contact a lawyer, and follow their advice. Then take these queues to make your online presence less damaging. Communicate with your digital teams so they respond appropriately. Then pray for patience. Read scripture and the Passion story for additional inspiration. See how the creator and perfecter of our faith dealt with betrayal and humiliation. Apply those lessons to our daily lives as we deal with online media in a fallen world.
This article was inspired by Ryan Holiday’s book “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” (Warning: contains some NSFW language)
Photo courtesy of Gratis Photography