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Is Your Church/Staff CYBER-SAFE?
Part I Introduction

This is the first of a three-part post and has been UPDATED for 2012.

The topics to be covered are:

  1. Is Your Church/Staff Cyber-Safe?  Introduction
  2. Is Your Church/Staff Cyber-Safe?  Implementation
  3. Is Your Church/Staff Cyber-Safe?  Recovery

.

INTRODUCTION

We’ve all read the headlines or heard the news about a church leader falling to sin via the Internet.  While it may be involve an online affair (which often moves offline) it seems that more and more of these scandals are related to online pornography, either legal or otherwise.

This begs the question:

What is your Church doing to make it harder for Satan to tempt and ensnare your Church leaders and staff?

Many churches are not addressing this in a serious manner.  But, they DO have extra locks, badge systems, security cameras, etc., all over their campus in order to protect staff and property from physical threats.

Moral threats from technology are often overlooked, or under-addressed.

There can be a number of reasons for this:

  • Ignorance or denial regarding the threat to clergy & staff.
    .
  • Lack of familiarity with technologies that can protect the Church.
    .
  • Concern about the cost of such protection.
    .
  • Existing staff involvement with pornography (and they don’t want to be filtered or caught).

Let’s look at these individually..

THE THREAT

Pornography and gateways to other adult sites are ubiquitous.

News sites have links to Internet dating sites (often a cover for pornography).  Spam and other devious means employed by pornographers can take you by surprise.  Plus, you can just accidentally type in a wrong web address and BINGO!  You’re on a porn site.

Now, ideally,  as a man/woman of God you will just close that window, or turn off the PC (if more windows keep popping up, a technique called “mouse trapping”), and continue your work.

Ideally….

In the real world that we live in it is often a little different.  In the real world we have to remember that Satan is actively and constantly attempting to exploit our weaknesses:

  • What we just saw on the screen can NOT be “deleted” from our memory.  It’s in your mind, and Satan can and will use it later, even if you close the window and immediately delete it.
    .
  • The ministry is tough.  It can and often does take a toll on us physically, mentally, and in our relationships.  It is not uncommon for a pastor or other church leader to become so involved with “God’s work” that his marriage relationship takes a back seat and suffers a major hit.  Or, if a leader is single, his or her purity defenses  may not be maintained, or even built.
    .
  • Regardless of what our deacons and elders might think, we are not “supermen”. (OK, maybe it’s regardless of what the children in Sunday School think <grin>).  Just because we are clergy does not mean that we do not share in the natural desires and vulnerabilities that the laity struggle with.  In fact, we may even struggle more because we are the Enemy’s prime targets:

Take out a church member,
and you injure a small group.

Take out a staff minister,
and you wound or destroy an entire church!
..

scandalThe threat to the Church then shifts from temptation to the impact of such sin as the “blast damage” expands:

  • Faith is damaged in the congregation.
  • Satan starts fostering division within the Church
  • Attendance drops, as does giving.
  • Financial pressure increases
  • Outreach in the community suffers because you are “that Church”

The threat to the Kingdom is real!

And, let’s not even start on the legal vulnerabilities….

TECHNOLOGY SHIELDS

The threats posed by pornography and other undesirable activities on the Internet has spawned an entire industry devoted to filtering and monitoring computer use.  Use of such technologies is common among Fortune 500 and other firms.  But, many of these technologies are also easily employed regardless of the size of a firm or Church.

Different solutions are available for different situations.

Let’s look at these.


Filtering software
:

There are a wide range of programs available that will filter Internet content based on a broad range of categories. Not only will they filter web sites but they can also restrict access to chat, peer-to-peer file sharing (used for gathering pornography and illegal music), and other “layers” of the Internet beyond the Web.  Almost all will e-mail a notification of a restricted event.  This type of solution is good for small organizations, mobile devices, and home use.

  • One of the best examples of this is Covenant Eyes.  We recommend Covenant Eyes because:
    • It does an outstanding job, both in filtering and in reporting.
    • It goes with the hardware!
    • It supports both Windows and Mac operating systems.
    • It supports tablets and phones, whether Apple iOS or Android, Kindle Fire, and others.
    • For use by staff to protect their homes, they have a superbly priced Family Account for only about $14/month.
    • They have great tech support!

You can learn more at:  www.covenenteyes.com.  Remember, commercial/church use of this product may have different costs from those services offered to individuals or families.

  • Probably the best and easiest filtering solution is to use a DNS filtering service such as OpenDNS.  OpenDNS is FREE for home use but there are costs for organizational use.  The great thing about OpenDNS, and its competitors, is that it filters the NETWORK, not just a PC.  So, every device on your network, including come-and-go portable devices connected by WIFI (iPads, Kindle Fires, Laptops, etc.) are all covered..You can learn more in these three articles:

OpenDNS Filtering: A Review For Home and Church
Filtering Your Home Network via OpenDNS: What Parents Need To Know Part I – What is OpenDNS?
Filtering Your Home Network via OpenDNS: What Parents Need To Know Part II – Using OpenDNS

This is also one way of protecting users of LINUX-based computers since there are

Monitoring software:

Yes, this is, technically, “spyware”.  But, it’s “good spyware”.  Monitoring software is the equivalent to having phone conversations recorded by the securities firms that are taking orders for your investments, etc..  It provides a record.  But, it also serves a similar function as security cameras in letting people know that the church’s online property is as protected and monitored as its physical property.  Monitoring software is not for “spying” on the day-to-day activities of a staff, but to:

Spector Pro

    • Create another reason to guard what is done online (takes away the secrecy), and
    • Provide a means to either confirm or disprove allegations of wrong-doing.

In the home, Knights’ Quest recommends this type of software  only be used if  there is a known or suspected issue involving the Internet.  For professionals/adults, it also is a useful tool, although privacy and confidentiality concerns must be dealt with and addressed (counseling notes, offering records, etc.). It is recommended that your Church consult an attorney who is trained in electronic privacy issues before implementing this type of solution
.

ContentProtect HW

Filtering & monitoring hardware:

“Internet Security Devices” are used in corporate America to protect the organization as a whole.  These devices filter and monitor the Internet at the firewall.  Going far beyond the simple filtering that home-based routers are capable of, such hardware can also segregate parts of a church network with different access rules, etc.  This can protect against lost time due to personal surfing, or it can allow the 24/7 systems to be on the network, but not on the Internet.  These systems often provide reporting capabilities so you can see who is attempting to surf where, and when.  One of these “most loved” features is their ability to filter SPAM.

Such technologies all have their place, but they are not all needed by the same Church in all circumstances..

COST

ProtectionDepending on the solution your church chooses your costs will vary.

Filtering software: Costs for individual computers/laptops can vary by brand and features.  In addition, quantity discounts are often available, as are multi-pc licenses.  Due to the changing nature of the threat, and the fact that these filters must keep up with 1,000s of new “bad” sites/month, the cost is an annual subscription.

Services such as OpenDNS offer free accounts for home users.  Business and organizational users may incur fees.  These fees are reasonable, especially when compared to the damage causes by a scandal.

Monitoring software: Typically more expensive, with the best rated ranging between $75 – $100 for the first “seat”.  Discounts for multiple licenses are often available.  While a subscription is not required, it is strongly recommended that you purchase new versions when you “free update” period (usually 1 year) expires as the threat and technologies also change.

Hardware solutions: Much more expensive and should be reserved for churches and organizations with large networks and a dedicated IT Manager/IT Technician.  Prices can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, depending on the solutions and capabilities obtained.  These are annual costs, as well.  While the initial item costs are much higher the cost per seat is lower as these devices protect the entire network by filtering/monitoring at the firewall level.

Costs of Scandal: The costs, above, can be significant, I won’t gloss over that.  But, the costs of a scandal is far higher:

    • Reputation of the Kingdom, the Church, and it’s people.
      .
    • Reduction in attendance and tithes
      .
    • Potential legal costs if child pornography is a factor (it has happened, unfortunately)
      .
    • Lost of productivity and ministry efforts due to investigations, legal issues, and “crisis management”
      .
    • Destruction of a staff member’s career and, potentially, their family
      .
    • Finally, the cost in souls of those who reject the Gospel because of “hypocrisy”
      .

This does not include the losses incurred through lost time while staff members are busy misusing technologies..

EXISTING PROBLEMS

DiscussionLet’s face it.  By-and-large, the Church is playing catch-up on the sexual battlefield.  Especially on the cyber-sexual battlefield.  This means that we already have a lot of “wounded warriors” walking, working, and preaching.  It may be a small problem or a full-blown sexual addiction.  Regardless, they are out there, and they are hurting.

And, while many want help, others may not want their “supply” interrupted, and that is one reason their church is not protected.  They may cite costs and “wanting to trust my people”, but the real problem is in their hearts.

The odds are that, if you are not involved with illicit online activities, you know someone who is.  That’s just the statistics of the matter:

  • Focus on the Family reported that 14% of its calls to the Pastoral Crisis Hotline were for problems with pornography.
  • The author of, Men’s Secret Wars, Patrick Means, related that 63% of pastors surveyed are  struggling with sexual addictions or compulsions.
    .
  • 54% of pastors surveyed by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church had viewed porn within the past year.
    .
  • 29% of those claiming to be born-again believers see no problem with viewing explicit sexual content in media.
    .
  • 50% of men attending major  Promise Keepers events had viewed pornography in the prior week, 20 YEARS ago!
    .
  • 20% of Christian women surveyed by Today’s Christian Woman magazine reported problems with pornography addiction.  60% reported struggling with lust.
    .
  • 70% of pornography is downloaded between 9am and 5pm..

Keep in mind that we are not just talking about protecting the professional clergy, but ALL STAFF MEMBERS!.

BENEFITS

guy-reading-bibleAlthough it may become a budget item, reveal problems, and possibly create some controversy, there are benefits to creating and maintaining a Cyber-Safe Church:

  • Reducing clergy and staff opportunities for temptation/sin
    .
  • Protecting the Kingdom from scandal
    .
  • Avoidance of legal risks
    .
  • Setting the proper example for the congregation
    .
  • Reinforcing teaching on sexual purity
    .
  • Showing that your Church is addressing real problems faced by families
    .
  • Showing those in the congregation that your church is a place they can get HELP!

Guarding our eyes, our hearts, and our ministries, is not just a good idea.

It’s Biblical!.

NEXT:

  • Part II:  Implementation.
    Why should we do this?
    Aren’t we sending a bad signal to our staff?
    What about mobile/personal computers?
    When and how do we tell the congregation?

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1 comment to Is Your Church/Staff CYBER-SAFE?
Part I Introduction

  • Knight’s Quest– very strong, real and true article. We have filters and firewalls.

    Keep up the great work…

    Pastor Fuller
    NDCC

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