Survey of Religious Professionals on Internet and Social Media Use

Project background:

In the fall of 2012, the Religious Institute surveyed clergy in the Religious Institute database of progressive religious leaders regarding congregational and personal use of the Internet and social media, with a focus on sexuality issues. The survey responses indicated that while a majority of clergy and congregations have an active social media presence, there are virtually no written policies or national standards on how congregations or clergy are to use these technologies.

Project findings:

Survey_clergy use of facebookEight in ten clergy report having a congregational Facebook page, and 92% have a freestanding web page that is actively used for sharing news, prayer requests and more. One in five clergy reported intentionally visiting a sexually explicit website in the past six months. An additional 16% replied that they preferred not to answer the question about their personal use of these sites.

Less than ten percent of congregations have policies on congregational Facebook or Twitter account posting, or policies around online interactions for clergy and staff with congregants. Only 10% had policies around youth and educator online interactions, or an online extension of a “safe sanctuaries” or “safe congregations” policy.

Get the full report here.


Congregations need education on:

  • Safety
  • Online technology basics
    • Senior groups
    • Parent education
    • Teen groups
  • Online Dating Seminars
  • Support for Obsessive Use

Congregations need written policies on:

  • Staff interaction with minors online
  • Adult member interactions with minors online
  • Online versions of safe sanctuaries / safe congregations policies
  • Online sexual harassment
  • Tagging or posting photos of adult members/minors online

Congregations need written policies on:

  • Friending/following policies for:
    • Clergy and congregants
    • Religious educators and volunteers and children/teens
    • Staff and congregants
  • Twitter account posting
  • Cell phone left on/use during worship or youth group
  • Tweeting / Facebook updating during worship
  • Location-based services (for example: “checking in,” Foursquare)
  • Tagging or posting photos of events/congregants in social media

Adults (clergy or lay):

  • Don’t submit “friend” requests to minors.
  • Don’t initiate video chats with minors.
  • Use real names.
  • Keep a copy of all emails with minors.
  • Copy another adult on any email with minors.
  • Social networking groups should have both adult and youth administrators.
  • Get permission to identify or “tag” youth or adult parishioners on church sponsored sites from parents or guardians.

Click for sample policies and educational resources:

The New Media Project: digital media research for churches and pastors

Faith Community Considerations: Social Networking

Center for Progressive Renewal: Social Media Intensives training

Click for sample new media guidelines:

Suggested practices & guidelines for the use of social media (Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut)

Focus on setting appropriate boundaries online (United Methodist)

Broad collection of communications and social media guidelines (ELCA)