Earlier this week, I received an email from Trish. She asked, “What are your thoughts on posting pictures on Facebook of church events? Should we be concerned about posting pictures of people without their consent?”
One of the best things a church can do to get people excited about what’s happening is to share stories. There are lots of ways a church can tell stories; doing so online often involves sharing images. After your big outreach event, you want to share pictures and video of what just happened. On your website, you want to give potential visitors an inside look into what happens in the life of your church and what your guests can expect when they’re part of a Sunday worship service. These are great things, and—if you’re not yet sharing stories through images and video online—I encourage you to consider implementing these ideas. But that also means we need to talk about privacy, expectations, and good practices.
Of course, I’m not a lawyer, and Church Juice is not in a position to offer legal advice. For the most accurate local legal counsel, we encourage your church to seek out an attorney with expertise in media law. Some of the advice below is based on an article from Church Law & Tax.
Images with Children
If you’re taking photos, whether at a special event or as part of your regular weekend services, children are probably participating. That means that often, especially if you’re trying to show the life of the church, children should be a part of your photography strategy. Guests love seeing that there are young families involved in your church. People want to see smiling faces of kids learning and having fun.
If you’re planning to take pictures of anyone under 18, you should include a consent form. That could be part of the registration form for nursery or a special one-time agreement for special events. The idea here is to educate and inform the guardian that photos will be taken and that your church may use those photos for further publicity either online or offline.
Your church should also have a plan, especially on Sundays, to be able to quickly identify children who cannot be photographed. Of course, you don’t want to focus (pun intended) on kids who can’t have their picture taken, but your photographers need to be aware of exactly whose faces can and cannot appear in photos. This could be something as easy as a symbol on the child’s name badge.
Taking Photos on Sundays
If you want to display quality images on your social media, website, or in print materials, you need photos of what’s happening on Sunday. This helps people get an idea of what they can actually expect when they enter your building’s doors for the first time; after all, images speak louder than words.
Your church building is a private venue, even if you’re offering a public event or service (including special events like a food pantry or VBS). That means you need to actively notify the people attending that their photo may be taken and may be used for promotion. A notice like this could look like a sign at the entrances to the building, a pre-service slide, or a small blurb in the bulletin.
Photos at Special Events
Sometimes churches choose to do special events at a public space. Your fall trunk-or-treat may happen at a local school. Your Easter egg hunt might happen at a neighborhood park. Or you may do food drives at a local community center. These events are great for storytelling. With images, you can share the exciting work your church is doing to build relationships, share the gospel, and impact your community. Photos and video of these types of events are also great for future promotions and marketing.
If your church is hosting a public event at your building, the same rules apply as the section above. However, if you’re running an event where the public is invited and you’re on public property, then it’s much easier to take pictures of people. However, I’d encourage you to use a mixture of both of the above suggestions. Notify people that photos are being taken. And, especially for outreach events, an image release form can be part of the registration form—in addition, registration forms help you follow up with your guests.
Whenever your church is doing something exciting (and it always is), these are great moments to help build momentum and excitement in what’s happening around your church. Sharing stories through visuals is a great investment of time and energy. Posting images online or in print are great ways to remind people about what has been happening at your church, what’s currently happening, and what’s coming up. But when we deal with a person’s personal image, we should be proactive, clear, and informative.
How does your church inform or get consent for its images?