All posts from “October 2010”

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October 28, 2010

How One Church Responded to a Sex Offender

An open-door policy still comes with its costs.

Last month, we highlighted Sex Offenders in the Pews, Marian Liautaud's article in Christianity Today that is based largely on research we conducted earlier this year. This week, Leadership Journal, another one of our sister publications, published "Sex Offenders: Coming to a Church Near You," Marian's article about this topic from the view of church pastors and staff members.

Of particular note: A small church in the Northeast worked hard to integrate a convicted sex offender after his release from prison. After numerous meetings with families, the pastor decided integration could work--and could reinforce the church's redemptive mission. It's a theme that emerged from our research (nearly 8 in 10 church leaders say they're open to a sex offender's attendance, with proper supervision and appropriate limitations in place).

But in the case of this church in the Northeast, such an approach still comes with its costs:

Continue reading How One Church Responded to a Sex Offender...

October 26, 2010

Endorsing Political Candidates from the Pulpit

A new LifeWay survey shows pastors strongly oppose endorsements.

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A majority of pastors believe churches should not publicly endorse political candidates, a new LifeWay Research survey shows.

Phone interviews conducted randomly in early October with 1,000 church pastors, ministers, and priests revealed 70 percent strongly disagreed and 14 percent disagreed with the statement, "I believe pastors should endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit."

The results reinforce LifeWay's finding in October 2008 that less than 3 percent of Protestant pastors had publicly endorsed candidates for public office that year.

Even with pivotal races for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate coming to a head in two weeks across the country, it appears most pastors aren't willing to publicly weigh in.

"We know that pastors have strong feelings when it comes to political candidates and their job performance," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay, in a prepared statement. "But each week when they step into public pulpits in front of sometimes thousands of congregants, the vast majority of those pulpits remain silent on advising others how to vote. They may not approve, but they do not plan to tell."

The reasons for this silence aren't exactly clear. One possible explanation may be a fear of jeopardizing tax-exempt privileges. While churches and religious organizations have heavily involved themselves in political campaigns in the past, the IRS has heightened its scrutiny of such activity during the past decade.

Continue reading Endorsing Political Candidates from the Pulpit...

October 21, 2010

The Green Wave

The church has a level of responsibility when caring for creation.

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Walmart placed an ad in the New York Times stating, "every company has a responsibility to reduce greenhouse gases as quickly as possible." Walmart recently began green retrofits of hundreds of older buildings and is incorporating wind turbines, wildflower meadows, and many other techniques in new stores.

They are not alone. In fact, many of the world's 500 largest corporations want to build and occupy real estate reflecting environmental care and sustainability.

Three key reasons include market demand, financial return, and corporate responsibility. Churches should consider parallel motives for going green.

Market demand / Cultural relevance

Years ago corporations realized customers frustrated by pollution, sprawl, and traffic were open to marketing messages conveying some level of environmental responsibility. For example, hotels found they could avoid replacing and laundering towels daily by mentioning reduced water consumption and chemical use.

More recently, The National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education indicated homebuyers will pay a premium of 16 percent to live in a "New Urbanist" community which preserves open space by increasing density and decreasing house/lot size.

As the debate on global warming shifts from "if" to "how fast," a staid politician has become a rock star (Al Gore) and rock stars have dabbled in politics (Bono, among others—U2 concerts combine rock and roll, church, awareness of the AIDS crisis in Africa, and Greenpeace calls to action).

Because environmentalism has been identified with both the New Age Movement and the liberal left, evangelicals tend to respond with suspicion, ambivalence, or both. We may be losing evangelistic opportunities by placing yet another unnecessary barrier between culture and Christ. Pursuit of sustainable church design not only helps the planet, it lends credibility to the Christian message.

Continue reading "The Green Wave" at our sister site BuildingForMinistry.com.

October 18, 2010

30% Discount on Church Law, Tax, and Finance Resources

Sale in honor of church administration day on October 21.

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Our friends at the National Association for Church Business Administration have designated Thursday, October 21, as "National Church Administration Day." As NACBA explains it on its website:

"The idea behind National Church Administration Day is for seasoned church leaders to share their expertise with anyone – whether clergy or laity – performing administrative duties in any congregation, with the goal that all churches become more effective and responsible."

In appreciation of church administrators, Christianity Today International’s YourChurchResources.com store is offering a 30% discount from now through October 21, 2010, in honor of National Church Administration Day. Customers can apply the 30% off promotion code “cad30off” when they place their orders for any products at YourChurchResources.com.

YourChurchResources.com continues to be the trusted source for financial, legal, tax, safety, risk management, and employment products specifically tailored for churches. Top sellers include the 2011 Church & Clergy Tax Guide, the Essential Guide to Church Finances, The 2010-2011 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff, the Essential Guide to Copyright Law for Churches, and the 2011 Church Office Planner.

Additionally, YourChurchResources.com offers hundreds of church and ministry assessments, training tools, and downloads.

October 14, 2010

One Church, Many Congregations

One movement reminds us that church collaboration doesn't have to be hard.

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A recent article from our sister publication, Leadership Journal, covers the rapid growth of Christ Together, a network that developed in the Chicagoland area after pastors of several different congregations saw an opportunity to partner with each other to pursue ministry opportunities.

As the article states:

"Scott Chapman has been part of this group from the beginning, when he began to feel his church was called to make a greater impact among its neighboring communities. Around 2002, Chapman explains, 'The Chapel began to understand that we were supposed to live like Jesus: to go into our community, feed the hungry, comfort the hurting, and lead the lost back to him. In other words, we were not called to be a church in our community so much as to be a church for our community.' The trouble was, the church quickly became overwhelmed by the need they encountered. With 6,000 people meeting in several locations, The Chapel is a large church with substantial resources. But it wasn't enough. Chapman soon realized that 'no one church, no matter how large and influential, can reach their community alone.' To truly reach the entire city with the Good News, it would take more than one church. It would take the Church.

Continue reading One Church, Many Congregations...

October 12, 2010

Medical Allowances and Health Savings Accounts

Can churches legally designate medical allowances for pastor health plans?

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Question: We are entertaining the idea of changing our health care coverage to a HSA (Health Saving Account)-compatible policy. Presently our three pastors receive a designated amount of medical allowances each year to help them cover the costs of out-of-pocket moneies that go toward their deductible. Is it legal to still set aside a designated medical allowance within our budget if we go to a HSA-compatible policy?

Answer: Health Saving Accounts (HSA's) are medical reimbursement accounts that are regulated through the IRS. An HSA is generally only permitted in conjunction with a high deductible health plan. So, depending on how you use the medical allowance, it may impact whether it is legally permitted.

I'm assuming with your current plan, the pastoral staff submits receipts for medical expenses and then is reimbursed up to a designated amount. When you switch to a high deductible plan, it makes sense to take the designated money and deposit it into their HSA account. This is legal as long as all of the pastors are part of a high deductible health plan (i.e. they don't have a traditional health plan with co-pays somewhere else). One other item to be aware of is that the IRS sets limits on how much may be contributed into an HSA account. The IRS changes these limits each year.

Continue reading Medical Allowances and Health Savings Accounts...

October 7, 2010

Small Churches = Big Impact

Ed Stetzer interviews Brandon O'Brien about his book, "The Strategically Small Church"

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Brandon O'Brien, associate editor for our sister publication Leadership Journal, has written a new book, The Strategically Small Church. In this work, he seeks to demonstrate how small churches are uniquely equipped for success in today's culture. Ed Stetzer interviewed O'Brien about his book and why being small may be more missionally strategic.

Ed: What do you mean by "strategically small church"? Is this a new church model, like "simple" or "organic" church?

Brandon: A "strategically small" church is one that has learned to recognize and leverage the inherent strengths of being small. Being strategically small means that instead of trying to overcome your congregation's size, you have learned to use it to strategic ministry advantage.

In other words, I'm not advocating a new model of doing church. Instead I'm hoping that by telling the stories of some truly innovative and effective small churches, other small congregations will stop viewing their size and limited resources as liabilities and begin thinking about them as advantages.

Ed: What keeps small churches from becoming "strategically small?"

Brandon: Many small churches try to operate like big churches. The idea seems to be that if we imitate what the megachurches are doing--if we do ministry like them--then we'll grow like them. The trouble is, operating like a big church can undermine the inherent strengths of being small.

For example, as I explain in the book, research suggests that one of the factors that contributes to whether or not young people stay active in church after high school is intergenerational relationships. The students who have more and deeper relationships with adults other than their parents are much more likely to remain in the church in college and beyond. Now, smaller congregations offer tons of opportunity for developing these intergenerational relationships. But the hallmark of large churches is age-segmented ministry, programs designed to separate children from youth, youth from adults, young adults from seniors. When small churches imitate this model, they undercut their advantage for fostering intergenerational relationships.

Ed: So are you arguing that small churches are more effective than larger ones just because of their size?

Continue reading "Small Churches = Big Impact" on our sister blog, Out of Ur.

October 5, 2010

Legislation Drops Cell Phones from "Listed Property"

But churches shouldn't make changes until the IRS issues its guidance.

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The small business tax relief legislation just passed by Congress and signed by the president includes a long-awaited provision removing cell phones from "listed property" under federal tax law effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2009. As a result, the stringent record-keeping requirements that have applied for decades will no longer apply to cell phones or similar devices.

"We expect that the practical impact of the legislation will be that employers will be able to provide employees with cell phones primarily for business use on a tax-free basis, with little requirement to document the actual business vs. personal use," said Mike Batts, managing shareholder of the accounting firm Batts Morrison Wales & Lee, P.A.

Continue reading Legislation Drops Cell Phones from "Listed Property"...