July 23, 2014

Tax Guide Reminder: July

Don't forget this important date.

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For expert help with all of your church's tax questions, check out the 2014 Church & Clergy Tax Guide.

Stay informed on church tax issues. Subscribe to our e-newsletter, Church Law and Tax Update.

July 22, 2014

Is Your Facility Safe?

What OSHA can teach you about creating a safer church for staff, contracted workers, and the entire congregation.

The U.S. government's Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) sets the standards for employee safety. The act's provisions are broad enough to cover almost any employer, including churches in certain circumstances.

OSHA applies to any business that affects interstate commerce. When do church activities qualify as a business that affects interstate commerce? Purely religious activities never do. For example, if your organist falls on the steps leading to your chancel, you will not have to worry about an OSHA citation.

On the other hand, if a church ventures beyond purely religious pursuits, it may be subject to OSHA requirements. Schools and daycare centers are clearly businesses, and are engaged in interstate-commerce because their books, supplies, and equipment can come from various parts of the country.

Churches that run an educational institution must ensure that the employees are not subjected to safety hazards and that their activities comply with OSHA standards. People who work in the church's bookstore would be entitled to similar protection. Moreover, administrative personnel, such as an office manager, are technically covered by OSHA.

Continue reading Is Your Facility Safe?...

July 21, 2014

Monday Church Management Roundup: 7/21/14

Five trends, tips, ideas, and stats to help church leaders manage well this week.

1. Report all suspected abuse. "(N)ote that the fact that a minister is excused from the duty to report child abuse by the availability of the clergy-penitent privilege does not mean that clergy should not report such abuse. They are deemed "permissive" reporters of abuse under such circumstances, meaning that they face no criminal liability for not reporting abuse. But in most cases, clergy should report known or reasonably suspected cases of child abuse even if not legally required to do so. Not only will this contribute to a cessation of the abuse, but it will also protect the minister and his or her church from potential civil liability for not reporting" ("Clergy-Penitent Privilege Protects Pastors," by Richard R. Hammar, July/August 2014 Church Law & Tax Report, ChurchLawAndTax.com).

2. Take some tension out of pay discussions. "Managers need to have frank and open discussions with employees about pay. ... Here are three ways to make [those discussions] better:
  • Talk early and often. There should be no surprises when you sit down to talk about salary.
  • Do performance evaluations separately. Compensation and performance should be discussed separately, so the employee doesn't fixate on the money.
  • Provide context. When people are disappointed, it's often because they lack information. Share the big picture—how the company is performing and the range of raises being offered this year"
("How to Discuss Pay with Your Employees," by Amy Gallo, hbr.org). The 2014-2015 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff provides objective data derived from more than 3,500 churches nationwide on pay and benefits for 14 different positions.

Continue reading Monday Church Management Roundup: 7/21/14...

July 17, 2014

Church Cash Reserves: How Much Is Enough?

Determining the right amount of savings for your congregation

Q: How much should a church have in cash reserves?

A: There is no real right answer to that question. Some people suggest three to six months of operating expenses as a rule of thumb. And it's not a bad rule of thumb. For a church with significant long-term debt outstanding, I generally recommend that the church have at least one year's worth of debt payments in reserve. Such a "debt service reserve" can provide the church with critical breathing room in the event of an unexpected cost or revenue downturn. Without a debt service reserve, such an event could cause immediate default.

Adapted from the ChurchLawAndTax.com article "Four Good Questions for Churches about Cash Reserves."

The September issue of Church Finance Today will cover this topic in greater detail. To subscribe, click here.

July 15, 2014

Four Tips for Handling Zoning Issues

Minimize tension and avoid costly legal battles.

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Jesus once talked about making friends with one's accusers on the way to court (Matt. 5:25–26). Today, he might tell a church to make friends with neighbors before meeting with the local zoning board.

That's because neighborhood residents and municipal officials often view local churches and nonprofit organizations as liabilities rather than assets to a community. Here, then, are four tips for minimizing the tension and avoiding long and costly legal battles:

  1. Meet with city officials and learn their perspective on zoning issues. File all necessary permits and paperwork, and anticipate objections. Talk with an attorney who understands zoning issues.
  2. Know your neighbors and spend time listening to their concerns. Let them know what your church's ministry is all about and how it adds value to their area.

Continue reading Four Tips for Handling Zoning Issues...

July 14, 2014

Monday Church Management Roundup: 7/14/14

Five trends, tips, ideas, and stats to help church leaders manage well this week.

1. Pay-related lawsuits on record-setting pace. The number of federal pay-related lawsuits will set a record again this year, following an all-time high 8,126 cases from April 1, 2013, to March 31, 2014. The number of actions filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act has risen steadily over the past 10 years. In 2004, 3,426 FLSA cases were brought against employers that were accused of not following overtime pay policies. Revised Labor Department rules, which make more white-collar workers eligible for overtime, will bring more cases. Employers will be wise to review pay practices and eligibility decisions ... checking with outside experts, if necessary, to determine if changes need to be made" ("Work Rules," June 6, 2014, Kiplinger Letter, Kiplinger.com). Review your church employee payroll classifications (the IRS is watching, as Church Finance Today notes), then review your church's pay and benefits packages for pastors and staff and compare them with more than 3,500 churches nationwide through the 2014-2015 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff.

2. Discover the power of introverts. "Various sources claim a range of 25 to 50 percent of the American population is introverted. ... When churches recruit for ministry roles, many emphasize extroverted gifts like 'high energy,' 'people person,' and 'outgoing.' We want quick-thinkers, fast-acters, polished communicators, high-energy handshakers, and outreachers. It's easy to see how to plug extroverts into people-oriented ministries, and to assume that introverts fit best in behind-the-scenes roles with little people contact and little obvious connection to ministry strategy and vision. Such tendencies show a fundamental misunderstanding of introversion and the gifts introverts can bring to a ministry. This is a serious and costly mistake. According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, 'The best talker might have the best ideas, but she might not'" ("Confessions of a Ministry Introvert," by Amy Simpson, LeadershipJournal.net).

Continue reading Monday Church Management Roundup: 7/14/14...

July 10, 2014

Think Before You Post

Don't take what's not yours.

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Prior to the Internet, churches that violated the copyright law usually did so in relative obscurity, with few being aware of the violation other than members of the congregation. The Internet has effectively eliminated this obscurity by broadcasting copyright violations to the world.

The present environment makes it more likely that copyright violations that occur in the course of a church's use of the Internet will be detected by copyright owners whose works have been infringed. As a result, church leaders should be especially careful in ensuring that a church's website, or other uses of the Internet, contains no material that might violate the copyright interests of others. Any defenses, such as fair use, should be strictly construed.

Continue reading Think Before You Post...

July 8, 2014

7 Trends in Church Names

A few things to consider when naming or renaming a church.

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The call came from an eager young man starting a new church in Florida. He already had 50 people meeting in homes in Bible studies. They had secured a leased space to launch the church in just a few months. But they were having trouble coming to a consensus on the name of the church. What could I tell him about church names? Were there pitfalls or opportunities where they needed greater awareness for their church's name?

While I could not provide a precise church name for their congregation, I could share with him these seven trends I had seen emerge. I use "trend" loosely, however, since some of these issues have been around for quite a while.

1. Newer churches are consistently using descriptors in their names other than denominational affiliation. Some are focusing on their location. Others are at least implying a distinctive doctrinal leaning. And still others are using more trendy and less common terms. One of the more challenging features of a church name takes place when the church is named for a location, but that location no longer exists. Or, perhaps, the church moved from that location. So if Hickory Avenue Community Church is no longer located on Hickory Avenue, guests may be confused by the name related to the location.

Continue reading 7 Trends in Church Names...

July 7, 2014

Monday Church Management Roundup: 7/7/14

Five trends, tips, ideas, and stats to help church leaders manage well this week.

1. Break the shackles of "performancism." "Every one of us (especially church leaders) is addicted to performancism. Yes, I know that's not technically a word. But performancism is a certain mindset that equates our identity and value with our performance. My appearance, my intelligence, how my kids turn out, my reputation, my achievements—these things become synonymous with my worth. Successes add to my worth; failures subtract. This mindset is wrong. I'm not saying that accomplishments aren't important. There's a big difference between enjoying what we do and depending on it to deliver meaning and worth. ... The answer to this enslaving addiction? The gospel of grace. The gospel is God's announcement that we are now free from having to rescue ourselves by what we do and how well we do it. We are free from the burden to measure up, get it all right, fix ourselves and others" ("Where Are Your Keys," by Tullian Tchividijian, LeadershipJournal.net).

2. Turn interruptions into opportunities. "The laundry list of demands at work keeps growing. Meetings, phone calls, e-mail, texts, videoconferences, and so on. It can feel like there's no time to get 'real work' done. But these interruptions aren't keeping you from work, they are work—and looking at them this way opens up a world of opportunities. Every 'interruption' offers a chance to illuminate an issue, clarify expectations, or resolve a problem. By training yourself to see these moments as real work instead of distractions, you can lead more effectively. When someone interrupts you, listen intently, help frame the issue, and respond with positivity" ("Turn Your Next Interruption into an Opportunity," by Douglas R. Conant, hbr.org).

Continue reading Monday Church Management Roundup: 7/7/14...

July 3, 2014

Beware of Copper Thieves

Protect your air conditioner from damage and costly repairs.

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Every summer, a number of church leaders find air conditioning units damaged by scrap-metal thieves. Often these church leaders are surprised to hear that the worth of the stolen copper from their units is significantly lower than the cost of the thousands of dollars to repair the damage.

If not done already, church leaders may want to consider taking measures to protect church air conditioning units from thieves. One way to help prevent this crime is to place a protective cage around the air conditioner. More tips are listed in a previous article on Managing Your Church.

For more information on protecting church property, a few downloadable resources that cover this topic include: