Images are worth at least 1,000 words in today’s digital communications. Photos and videos give viewers of your web and social media presence a sense of who you are as a congregation. But because of concern for the safety of children and the privacy of members, use of images can pose challenges. In this article we’ll examine some questions you should consider in your congregational context.
Note: This article shares common practices among congregations. It is not policy, nor does it constitute legal advice. If you have legal concerns, consult an attorney.
- Photos of adults engaged in congregation activities used to “report” news about the congregation – such as social media posts from an event, web or newsletter articles, online photo galleries – can generally be used without seeking permission.
- You should get permission from a parent or guardian for photos of children under 18 years of age. Don’t post full names of children to protect their safety.
- For photos used as design elements on websites or in ads or flyers, for example, it’s good practice to get permission from adults and children.
Some congregations shared their practices in a discussion on the SEPA Communicators Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/sepacomm/).
- Mediator, Philadelphia and St. Peter’s, Hilltown rely on getting verbal permission from the parents of children photographed.
- Others, like Advent, Harleysville, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, place photo policy statements on event registrations. Advent includes the following text on its VBS registration form, with a checkbox stating “I confirm I understand the Advent Photo policy”:
By registering my child for VBS, I understand that Advent may use pictures that include my child on Advent’s website and that no personal information about any children will appear with those pictures.
- You can adapt the sample photo release form on the Synod website (http://ministrylink.org/resources/resource-library/item/sample-image-release-form/) for your local use. Make the release as broad as possible. Cover photos, video, audio recording and other electronic images, and seek permission for any and all publications. Always keep releases on file.
- Some congregations have staff, council leaders and other members sign a release once per year. Others have parents sign releases or acknowledge a photo use policy each year at Sunday School registration.
- Don’t post anything that would be objectionable or embarrassing to the subject(s).
- Consider whether you will post names of members (never children) for whom you do not have expressed written consent.
- Do not intrude on anyone’s solitude, seclusion or private property without permission
- Be aware of copyright issues. Some congregations share videos of worship or programs that include music and or sermons. Make sure that you have appropriate web/podcast/streaming licenses from music publishers or licensing organizations such as CCLI, OneLicence.net, and AugsburgFortress. Also, get written permission from any speakers or preachers whose work you post.
By Bob Fisher
Assistant to the Bishop for Communications and Mission Interpretation
- Sample Release Form
- Telling Your Story Through Images
- ELCA Photo Guidelines
- Social Media and Congregations
- Tips for Web Managers on Copyright
- Writing for the Web
- More Communication Resources (MinistryLink)
Free, royalty-free photo from Unsplash.