With the "Youth Ministry in America" survey results as a starting point, we continue our roundtable discussion. This time around participants talked about concerns and policies related to how youth leaders communicate with their students. (If you missed last week's blog post on the top concerns facing youth ministry, you'll find it here.)
Roundtable participants: Brian McAuliffe, CFO at Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois; Garland Owensby, professor at Southwestern Assembly of God University in Texas and a volunteer youth worker; Brad Neese, teaching pastor at Berrien Center Bible Church in Michigan; Laura Leonard, associate editor of BuildingChurchLeaders.com and a volunteer youth leader in Illinois; and Wes Trevor, youth director at Central Presbyterian Church in Colorado. Ashley Moore, assistant editor for the Church Law & Tax Group moderated this roundtable—with assistance from editorial resident Andrew Finch.
Ashley Moore: During my work on the "Youth Ministry in America" survey, I came across a number of youth pastors who lacked solid communication boundaries with their students. I read one tweet from a student to a youth pastor that went something like, "Isn't it funny that my youth pastor is my number one friend on Snapchat?" There's always a tension between trying to reach students where they are, while still protecting yourself and your leaders from anything inappropriate.
At your churches, are there policies and procedures for how youth leaders should communicate with students?
Brian McAuliffe: At Willow Creek, parents have to be notified before there's any kind of electronic communication with their kids, and they need the parents' permission. In terms of what's communicated and what's said, the leaders are trained about how to recognize if it's getting away from where it should go, so that they can ask for assistance or communicate with parents.
Brad Neese: Our church doesn't have any communication rules or policies that I know of. One of the things that I do, personally, is make sure my wife has access to everything that I have. So whether it's passwords, a Twitter account, Facebook, text, or e-mails, there is just no-holds-barred access. When we entered into student ministry in 2001, we followed those personal guidelines. Ever since then, she's had access to everything.