All posts from “January 2011”

« December 2010 | Home | February 2011 »

January 25, 2011

Top 5 Reasons Churches End Up in Court

Richard Hammar reviews the top five reasons churches went to court in 2010.

January 19, 2011

Small Groups, Confidentiality, and the Law

What are the legal parameters for confidentiality in church small groups?

One of the benefits of working on the team at Christianity Today International is that I sometimes get "insider information" from some of the other resources in our corporate family.

For example, the following question was recently sent to the editors over at

"An issue has come up in our church about peoples' legal obligations regarding confidential matters discussed in small group meetings. We strive to maintain strict confidentiality on things discussed in our small group settings. We want them to be a 'safe place' where people can share their troubles and not have to worry about group members spreading gossip or the information somehow ending up in a courtroom.

One woman we heard from was in a small group in another church and group members were called in to testify against her in court. Before joining one of our small groups she wanted to be assured that sort of thing would not happen.

So my question is, how private are small groups really? We typically get information second-hand and are not usually witnesses to things that happen in people's homes or in their personal relationships."

To continue reading this post on the blog, click here.

January 18, 2011

What Churches Should Know about the Tax Relief Act

How Social Security taxes, other benefits are affected.

On December 17, Congress passed the "The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010." After President Obama signed it into law, numerous tax provisions that were about to expire were kept alive. And a significant benefit for many employees--a lower Social Security tax rate for 2011--also became reality.

In this short video, watch Richard Hammar cover some of the significant developments from the Tax Relief Act, and what it means for church leaders as they prepare for 2010 returns and plan for 2011. From there, pick up the 2011 Church & Clergy Tax Guide. This must-have reference includes all of the latest information and forms, including items affected by the Tax Relief Act, as well as Rich's unparalleled analysis.

January 13, 2011

The Top 10 Church Safety Downloads of 2010

Helpful resources for the coming year.

As we welcome in the New Year, here is a list of the top 10 best-selling downloads of 2010. We commend you on all the ways you sought to protect your church—from keeping your congregation's personal safety a priority to understanding the complex side of ministry, like church and clergy taxes and copyright law. If you missed out on any of these topics in 2010, you may find one or all of them beneficial as you move into 2011.
  1. Managing Church Facility Use
  2. Internal Controls for Church Finances
  3. Dealing with Dangerous People
  4. Screening Underage Workers
  5. Creating a Safety Team
  6. Protecting Your Church from Crime and Violence
  7. Preventing Top Tax Pitfalls
  8. Understanding Wage and Hour Laws
  9. Copyright Law: What Every Church Must Know
  10. Lay Counseling Safety

January 11, 2011

Tax Ruling May Help Pastors Who Own Two Homes

What churches should note for 2011 housing allowances.

Late in 2010, the United States Tax Court ruled a pastor could apply a housing allowance toward expenses incurred from a primary residence and a vacation home.

What are the implications for church leaders? Well, while many may not own a vacation home, many may find themselves in positions where they answered calls to ministry in other communities, only to fail selling their former homes. For pastors in these situations, and others, the decision may have significant relevance.

Watch as Richard Hammar explains the important ramifications of this ruling:

January 7, 2011

National Commission to Examine Church Financial Practices

ECFA will lead independent inquiry at Sen. Grassley’s request

Examine Church Financial Practices

Editor's Update (12/8/11): The Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations is now taking public comments on the various issues it is studying.

Editor's Update (4/27/2011): The ECFA has announced the initial members of its commission. The list includes several clergy, as well as Richard Hammar, senior editor of Church Law & Tax Report and Church Finance Today.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has asked the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to head an independent commission that will obtain feedback about the financial practices and oversight of churches and religious groups nationwide.

The goal is to help determine best practices and changes that encourage compliance with federal tax laws and maintain financial integrity within the religious community while avoiding new laws mandating such behavior. But those involved say it’s too early to tell how the commission’s work will affect any changes—or whether it can prevent any new laws—and how long it will take.

In a press conference called this morning in Washington, D.C., ECFA leaders outlined requests made by Grassley, who yesterday released his final report of a three-year inquiry into the financial activities of six high-profile media ministries. The issues to be explored “could potentially affect every house of worship and every member of the clergy in America,” said Michael Batts, an ECFA board member who will chair the special commission.

Grassley’s office contacted the ECFA three weeks ago to indicate its report of the six ministries—in which only two fully cooperated with investigators and no ministry received a penalty—was imminent.

In the course of its investigation, Grassley’s office uncovered what it believes to be eight areas of concern related to financial practices and oversight for churches and religious groups. The newly formed Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations, funded entirely by the ECFA, will examine:

Continue reading National Commission to Examine Church Financial Practices...

January 6, 2011

Should Churches Accept Credit Cards for Tithing?

How different churches are responding to plastic for giving.


As more churches embrace electronic giving for their congregations, a number find themselves asking an intriguing question: Should they use e-giving options that allow people to tithe with credit cards?

We asked a number of church leaders whether credit cards are appropriate due to the debt people take on when they use them. Many said they didn't see the issue as a problem, citing a number of reasons. Chief among them: A belief that many people in their congregations responsibly use credit cards; that they pay balances off fully every month as a means of pocketing the points and other incentives offered by banks (and, in many instances, they pocket these rewards and donate them to the church, such as airline miles for missions trips).

But we also found a couple of examples of where church leaders said credit cards were unacceptable.

In an informal, unscientific poll conducted on, 44 percent said credit cards were an acceptable option for church giving, while 34 percent said debit cards were fine, but credit cards were not, and 18 percent said plastic of any kind was a no-no.

How does your church treat this topic?

January 4, 2011

Upcoming Webinar: Key Tax Changes to Understand

Richard Hammar and Dan Busby tackle key questions for churches.


Members of Congress passed a sizable tax-cut package late on December 17, and it barely hit President Obama’s desk the next day before he signed it into law. According to one media report, the package extends, adds, or modifies nearly 25 significant tax benefits for a wide range of Americans. Not surprisingly, the package has implications for churches and clergy, including a lower Social Security tax rate for non-ministerial employees who earn up to $106,800 in 2011, which means churches need to adjust their payrolls accordingly now.

Richard Hammar detailed at least 64 changes in tax law for the 2010 filing season that churches and clergy should note in his January/February Church Law & Tax Report. He’s now created an updated document regarding these most recent developments that will become available later this month on, where you can also find his 2011 Church & Clergy Tax Guide, a must-have reference throughout the year ahead.

In the meantime, as you work to make sense of it all, you should take advantage of a unique opportunity at 1 p.m. EST on January 12. That’s when Rich, along with Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, will co-present a live webinar titled Congregation Filings Issues for 2010 Data. Rich and Dan will present key informational updates, plus take participant questions. You won’t want to miss it!