No one wants to talk about or even think about their church closing. Yet 65 percent of churches are in decline or have hit a plateau. So what does it actually mean to close a church? And when a church closes, what happens to the church technology and communication channels like social media and websites?

Closing the Doors

From the buildings and grounds to the staff and financial records, member files and church management systems to social media and website accounts, closing a church is a lot of work. Carefully deciding what happens to a church’s online presence when it closes is vital in our digital world.

Decisions about when, how, and who will monitor the church’s digital presence and data as the closing process happens should be organized, planned for, and executed with precision and care. Some church organizations may have a protocol to follow in regards to turning over social media, websites and other business accounts to a governing body.

Online Media Wrap-up

Web presence is everything. Informing online audiences of a church closing is a matter of digital etiquette and personal choice by the pastor, leadership, and church communicators. Clear, concise, and timely communication should be the number one goal. In the simplest form, social media messages and posts can respectfully tell followers the date the church is closing and offer them thanks.

Data Privacy

With online data privacy concerns at an all-time high and new legislation coming online May 25, 2018, churches should be aware that they are responsible to protect any sensitive information that they have collected or will collect in their lifetime. This is especially important to consider when closing a church.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) clearly outlines that all business, charities, schools, churches, and other organizations are responsible for protecting sensitive information that they collect from members, donors, attendees, students, etc. Though these regulations are being established in the UK and EU specifically, they do cover all businesses who have customers or members of the UK and EU. Most of the world is coming into compliance with these new regulations because they have a global member and customer base and know that these measures are likely going to become a global movement.

When a church closes, there will be data files, probably both paper and electronic. Churches must create a process for dealing with this sensitive data, even if they are turning it over to a governing body. With the new GDPR rules, churches should also plan to inform their members of their policy for handling their sensitive information and for protecting it while they are still in business and when they close. This can be posted on websites and social media or sent via email.

Social Media

Church social media accounts should be carefully considered when closing. Pastors and church communicators can work together to create a plan and policy for all social media accounts, deciding if and when they will be deactivated and/or deleted. Though this may not technically be considered “sensitive information,” church social media accounts do have photos and videos of members and others on them and should be treated with care.

Here are tips about account deletion procedures for the big three: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

  • Facebook accounts are notoriously difficult to close. Their deletion statement says: “It may take up to 90 days from the beginning of the deletion process to delete all of the things you’ve posted, like your photos, status updates or other data stored in backup systems. While we are deleting this information, it is inaccessible to other people using Facebook.” Facebook accounts can be deleted from the app or website.
  • Twitter’s policy states that it may take up to 30 days for accounts to be completely erased and that tweets may be indexed, viewed, and accessible in online searches during that time. Twitter accounts have to be deleted via the Twitter.com website and cannot be deleted via the Twitter app.
  • Instagram seems to be the most upfront about how to delete accounts and does not seem to discourage users or hide the instructions. Like Twitter, it also requires users to log into the Instagram.com website to delete accounts, and accounts are deleted using the main webpage and not from the user profile. Once users have gone through all of the confirmations answering “yes, I want to permanently delete my account” the account is deleted – forever.

Some organizations and individuals will take the time to download all social media information from their accounts (photos, videos, documents, etc.) before deleting them. This is likely a good idea for churches to do, especially if social media was heavily used.

Instructions for downloading your data for each social media apps can be found here:

Devices and Billing Accounts

All church devices and tech equipment should have information removed and stored on hard drives if the data is going to be kept for official records. And all devices that are being sold, donated or recycled should have their memories wiped.

Also, remember that recurring payments for online accounts for websites and paid social media accounts may be tied to church credit cards or bank accounts that will also need to be coordinated and planned for as the closing process takes place.

This is important to consider because churches may want to at least keep their websites up and available for one month following the closing, as a courtesy to their community members. Some churches may decide to use their website as a historical record that remains in place and is maintained for a certain period of time (or indefinitely) by a volunteer or other organization. Think it through and make a plan.

Posting and Consolidation

As the closing process moves forward, weekly updates and formal statements from pastors and church communicators can be shared via social media and websites as a courtesy to members, followers, fans, and neighbors.

People are paying attention and will be especially interested when a closing is announced. Keep them informed. There will be questions. Posting to social media is a public statement that can effectively timestamp your message and make it official to your online community.

Posting and responding to social media, email, and website inquiries should also continue until the planned closing, if possible. Avoid disappearing from cyberspace without warning or giving notice to your audience. People do care and do want to know what is, has, and will be happening to your church – even as it closes.

God is in the details, even in closing a church and its social media accounts. There are prayers to be shared and blessings to be given, and likely grieving to be done. Social media is a place where people can connect and share their feelings and experiences, and your church can provide that platform and opportunity to them. Tying up loose ends and properly shutting down all systems with grace and professionalism is good business and a thoughtful blessing.