By Greg Nelson and Patrick Scriven
We compiled the following checklist for a recent workshop for pastors who are expecting to transfer into a new appointment this summer. While these are good things to consider as you approach such liminal space, we expect that it’s good to keep many of these items in mind throughout the course of one’s ministry with a local church.
To get you started, here is a short list of items you’ll want to consider as you start your ministry to a new faith community and/or leave another.
❑ Your Digital Doorstep
❑ Website | http://yourchurchumc.org
It is recommended that every church have a website. With each passing year, more people’s first visit to a church is actually online through their ”digital doorstep.” A nonexistent, or poorly maintained, website can be a big hindrance to church growth. Even if your church doesn’t have a website, it is recommended that you care for the online presence you do have.
Regardless of whether your church is fortunate enough to have a staff person, or reliable volunteer, to update its website, it is good practice to keep the digital keys (passwords, account information, etc.) in the church office. When leaving a church, you will want to make sure that these things are available for the new pastor, and that your credit card and name (if you set up any accounts) are updated to the new pastor or a church credit card.
Don’t have a website? Check out www.umcchurches.org for a low cost hosting option from United Methodist Communications. Online training and start up grants are available.
❑ Find-A-Church | LINK
A transition is a great time to check and update your listing on the denomination’s Find-A-Church site. If your church does not have a website, this portal can provide a basic presence on the internet along with some tools to share what you have to offer potential visitors.
❑ Update your Google Business Listing | LINK
While Find-A-Church listings and websites will often show up in internet searches, Google allows businesses to claim their ‘listings’ and add modest details to the information that will display in Google Search and Maps results. It is not uncommon for old addresses and incorrect phone numbers to show up, and there they will remain without your intervention.
If you have done this work in the church you are leaving, transfer this account information off to the church office or incoming pastor. If you arriving at a church, do a Google search for the church’s name to see if your new church shows up, and if the information displayed is accurate. While Google powers the majority of searches, consider doing the same for Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, and Apple Maps as time allows.
It is recommended that pastors use a church-owned email account (example: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) for church work. While not always possible, this can aide in pastoral transitions and in making a clean break.
✓ How do people in the local church contact you in your pastoral role?
✓ In leaving, how do you transition the email address (if using a church-owned email) to the next pastor? If using a personal address, what protocols are you engaging to remove yourself from your former setting?
✓ In arriving, do you have access to the email account used by the previous pastor (if it is church-owned). How will you share your new email address (if there is a change) with existing members?
✓ If you church uses a professional email campaign platform make sure the digital keys are passed along to the new pastor or that they reside with the church office.
✓ If your email address is changing, please be in contact with your district and conference support staff to let them know how to best contact you.
✓ In addition to this, please update your newsletter subscriptions when you change your address as we use newsletters as a primary way to share important connectional updates, news, and training opportunities.
For Oregon-Idaho: http://umoi-email.brtapp.com/subscribe
For Pacific Northwest: http://www.pnwumc.org/communications/email-subscriptions/
❑ Social Media
The majority of the churches across the Greater Northwest Area have at least one social media account. To varying degrees, these platforms can serve as a way to connect both to church members and potential visitors. The most commonly used social network is Facebook, with others using Twitter and Instagram as well.
While there is much we could say about this topic, the most important things are these.
First, as with the other digital tools we’ve mentioned, please take the necessary time to carefully transfer management of official church accounts/pages as you go through the pastoral transition. Each platform has its own method for doing so; most are not terribly complicated but again, please reach out to us if you get stuck.
Second, use extraordinary care to maintain appropriate pastoral boundaries as you leave one faith community and move into another. On the one hand, you will need to create room for new relationships with the members of your new church; the constant reminders of the very recent past will not be helpful. On the other hand, your intrusion, however unintentional, in the social media lives of former congregants is not a terribly collegial thing to do. In this hyperconnected age, making space for a new pastor is not as easy as it once was and it requires your care and intentionality.
❑ A couple of practical things you can do:
✓ Consider minimizing your social media use altogether during your pastoral transition. Focus on building new relationships offline with congregants.
✓ Use social media tools, when the platform allows, to exclude former congregants from personal posts. On Facebook you can also use such lists to limit what you see on your newsfeed. Here is a link to the directions from Facebook for this: https://www.facebook.com/help/190416214359937
✓ Be intentional, collegial, and transparent in discussing your usage of social media with others involved in the transition including the other pastor and members of your former church. Here is one example from the Rev. Peter Perry:
“Social Media, and especially Facebook, creates a constant virtual proximity to people, even when real-life relationships change. As a pastor in transition, I am committed to making space in my church for a new pastor to enter into your lives. Therefore over the next few weeks I will be using various FB options, ranging from unfriending to unfollowing to adding friends to selected groups and limiting my posts to those groups. It doesn’t mean I love any of you less, but that I want to be faithful to the covenant of pastoral ministry. Especially to those who are connected to me through First Your Town UMC, I will encourage you to go to your new pastor for pastoral concerns and conversation about the church. But don’t worry… my personal life, especially my photography, will continue to be largely public on Facebook.”
❑ Crisis Communication
What do you do or say when something goes wrong?
Crisis times do come to the church. A church fire, an arrest of a staff or church member, a break-in at the church or a lawsuit are some of the things that can bring the wrong type of media coverage to a church.
Taking time to have clear talking points and identified spokespeople can help make sure the story is told with the best possible perspective for the church.
When crisis comes, contact your District Superintendent. But, then know that your conference communicators are ready to be a resource for you. We can provide assistance with:
✓ Planning a media strategy of who should speak, and what talking points to use
✓ Writing a press release
✓ Coaching you before you talk to a media representative
✓ Practice interviews
As you are leaving one congregation and/or arriving at another, these items are worth your consideration. While it will not be within our ability to do this important work for you, your conference Directors of Communications are happy to offer their advice and support in navigating the transition.
Greg Nelson is Director of Communications for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. You can reach Greg at email@example.com | (503) 802-9205.
Patrick Scriven is Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference. You can reach Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org | (206) 304-9284