A new survey by the Religious Institute found 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.

Eight 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.

“We believe that congregations need formalized, written policies governing use of social media, web sites, and other Internet technologies,” said the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, President of the Religious Institute. “As more of the work of ministry moves online, these needs are only going to become more urgent. Specific policies governing online interactions between adults and minors are just as necessary as policies governing real world interactions between adults and minors.”

New technologies are also presenting clergy with new ministerial challenges, with a surprisingly high one in four clergy reporting counseling a congregant that had been arrested for online behavior. Many of the clergy reported that they have provided pastoral counseling on a wide range of Internet-related sexuality issues, including Internet-related couples counseling, infidelity, teen use of Internet (both sexual and non-sexual), compulsive Internet use and sexting. Eighty percent of respondents report providing counseling around Internet-related bullying.

The full executive summary of the Religious Institute’s Survey of Religious Professionals on Internet and Social Media Use, including recommendations, is available at http://www.religiousinstitute.org/survey-of-religious-professionals-on-internet-and-social-media-use.

The Religious Institute (www.religiousinstitute.org), based in Westport, CT, is a nonprofit, multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society. More than 6,300 clergy, seminary presidents and deans, religious scholars and other religious leaders representing more than 70 faith traditions are part of the Religious Institute’s national network.

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