Controlling the Uncontrollable – Managing User Created Content

Stop the chaos!One of the biggest fears any website owner has about the new interactive website features is loosing control of the content of their website.  This is especially true for churches.

  • What if someone posts theology that is not what the church teaches?
  • What if someone posts something negative about the church?
  • What if people spam the site?
  • What if people post inappropriate content?
  • What if someone just attacks our church website outright with vulgar content?

These fears are understandable and can cause the leadership of a church to decide not to have an interactive website and just stick with the static, well-controlled website they have.  But I think that would be a mistake.  Here’s why…

It’s Not Completely Uncontrollable:
Let me start by easing some of your fears.  While allowing your members to post content on your church site does take some of the control out of the hands of the leadership, it doesn’t take it all.  There are still things you can do to keep some level of control on the content of your website.  Some things you can do will let you keep a lot of control and others will lessen that control.  I’m going to suggest that you go with the latter.  Here are some options to control the content of your interactive church website:

  1. Have two sections to your website, a church info side and a church community side.  There is some information that everyday members don’t need to be able to control or change, things like service times, church location, staff info, and church beliefs.  Since these are established by the leadership of the church, it makes sense to have these as static info on the site.
  2. There is software to prevent spam that can be is very effective.  Use it.
  3. You can moderate the posts of users.  For most interactive elements on your website you will be able to choose what level of freedom users have.  Each level has it’s own risks and effects on the user:
    1. Post Approval – This means all posts to the site must be approved by a moderator before they appear on the website.
      1. This gives you the most control over the content of your website, however…
        1. Users don’t feel trusted
        2. It requires more work from the church staff
        3. You’re least likely to get posts
        4. The site becomes more your church, then their church (ownership) and remember, the church is the people.
    2. Require login and use a Flagging System – This means all users must create an account and login before they can post a message, but their posts do appear on the site immediately.  The Flagging system allows moderators and members to flag inappropriate posts for review.
      1. Builds community as people must join the website to participate.
      2. This requires less work as members can monitor the site instead of church staff.
      3. You are more likely to get posts than if all posts must be approved.
        iv. Users have “ownership”.  They are able to post comments freely and they are able to report inappropriate posts
    3. Anonymous Posting with Captcha and using a Flagging System – This means anyone can post and they do not need to join or login to do so.  Captcha is for anti-spam.  You’ve probably seen this. It’s the picture code that you are usually asked to enter when you post a comment on a site or join a site.
      1. This can actually lead to less community as people can post anonymously, but people will feel freer to post what they think.
      2. Most likely to get posts
    4. I recommend the Require Login option with the Flagging System.
  4. Remember you can always delete posts.  More than likely there will be something posted on the site at some point that is inappropriate and shouldn’t be on the site.  As long as church leadership and members are monitoring the site, these posts can be quickly identified and removed.  If you require that people login before they post, then you can identify who posted the inappropriate comment and talk with them if they are a church member.
  5. You can also ban people.  If you require that people join and login before they can post, you can always ban someone that continually posts inappropriate material.  In addition to suspending the account, most moderating software will also allow you to ban the users IP address that can prevent them from creating a new account.

Hopefully this has helped to alleviate some of your fears.  With the various methods of monitoring, editing, and controlling content, your church can handle just about any issues that come up from user created content.  If you’re still unsure…

Don’t Think Too Highly Of Yourself:
I hate to break it to you, but for about 99.9% of the churches out there, there really isn’t anyone who is just waiting for the chance to post bad things on your website.  The truth is that most Christian sites that allow people to post content on their site don’t have an issue with people attacking their site.  It does happen from time to time, but it’s rare and you can always delete the posts.

Handing over controlDon’t Underestimate Your Congregation:
I’m going to be a little blunt here.  If outside attacks aren’t really a threat to your church website, then the rest of the concerns come down to a matter of trusting your congregation.  I would suggest that if you can’t trust your congregation to post content on your church website, then you’ve got some bigger issues to deal with other than whether to have an interactive website.

Trust your members.  Whether you realize it or not, they are the face of your church most of the time anyway.  Whether they are at work, out on the town, at the grocery store, or anywhere else, when they interact with people who either know they are a member of the church or if your members are telling other about your church (and we hope they do), they become the face of the church to those people.  Let them be that face on the website as well.  They can handle it.  There will be a lot of good things that happen because of it.  There will be some not-so-good things too, but isn’t it better to have those things in the open where the leadership can address the issues.  Those are great teachable moments that allow the church leaders, and other members, to correct and guide the members of the church.

Interactive websites are all about community and what is the church if not the community of believers.  In the American culture today, people have become more disconnected from communities, including the church community.  The social web is helping to change that.  The point of the interactive website is to help foster a greater connection with the church community.  Let’s reconnect.  Trust your members.  I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

What do you think?  Is it safe to allow user created content on your website?  Are there other reasons you don’t think an interactive website is a good ideas?  Tell us your thoughts.

Kurt Steinbrueck is the Director of Marketing Services with OurChurch.Com. He also serves on the leadership of Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Tampa, FL. You can find him on Google+ as .

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    [...] The Editor posted a noteworthy aricle today onHere’s a small snippetThese fears are understandable and can cause the leadership of a church to decide not to have an interactive website and just stick with the static, well-controlled website they have. But I think that would be a mistake. … The truth is that most Christian sites that allow people to post content on their site don’t have an issue with people attacking their site. It does happen from time to time, but it’s rare and you can always delete the posts. Handing over control … [...]