All posts from “March 2011”

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March 30, 2011

Church Giving Begins to Rebound?

6 in 10 churches held—or gained—ground in 2010.

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Since the recession in 2008, many U.S. churches have seen a decline in giving. But the tide may be changing. The third annual State of the Plate constituency survey of 1,507 churches revealed that 43% of these churches experienced an uptick in giving this past year (up from 36% the previous year). Overall, 6 in 10 churches reported giving that was flat or up in 2010—encouraging results given the nation’s stalled economy.

Smaller churches (under 249 people in worship attendance) saw giving declines (40% in churches under 100 people and 43% in churches with 100-249 people). Giving dipped most in Southeast states, rather than among Pacific Coast states as it did in previous years.

Continue reading Church Giving Begins to Rebound?...

March 28, 2011

Handling Leases for Car Allowances

Accounting for this type of option for vehicles.

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Question: Our church provides an auto allowance budget line item for vehicle expenses for our pastor. The pastor leases a vehicle that he uses for church-related business. He has asked to use the budget line for reimbursement of the expenses associated with the leased vehicle's use.

The pastor submits receipts for expenses associated with the leased vehicle for reimbursement (i.e. lease payments and maintenance). What are the IRS guidelines in such an instance?

Answer: “If you lease a car that you use in your ministry, you can use the standard mileage rate or actual expenses to figure your deductible car expenses. You can deduct the part of each lease payment that is for the use of the car in your business. You cannot deduct any part of a lease payment that is for personal use, such as commuting. You must spread any advance payments over the entire lease period. You cannot deduct any payments you make to buy a car, even if the payments are called lease payments. If you lease a car that you use in your business for a lease term of 30 days or more, you may have to include an inclusion amount in your income for each tax year you lease the car. To do this, you do not add an amount to income. Instead, you reduce your deduction for your lease payment.

Continue reading Handling Leases for Car Allowances...

March 24, 2011

Should Churches Avoid Discipline for Legal Fears?

Ken Sande explains how to confront a member's sin.

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The March/April issue of Catalyst Leadership focuses on the topic of "Crisis," and features an interview with Ken Sande, president of Peacemaker Ministries. Ken is also an editorial advisor for Christianity Today International's Church Management Team. The interviewer asks Ken whether churches should be concerned with any legal dangers when it comes to matters of church membership and church discipline:

"We hear from pastors all the time who are considering disciplining a member for egregious behavior, but before anything can be done they get a phone call from an attorney threatening a lawsuit if the church says anything publicly about the member's behavior. The average pastor tends to back off, and that is the end of that.
The church may have avoided a lawsuit, but they will have done nothing to restore the brother or sister in sin or to protect the church from further problems."

The interviewer then asks:

"What are some things church leaders can do to overcome the dangers of using discipline?"

Sande responds:

Continue reading Should Churches Avoid Discipline for Legal Fears?...

March 22, 2011

Confronting Violence at Church

Maryville shooting, Texas murder underscore need for preparation.

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The current issue of Leadership Journal revisits the fatal shooting of Pastor Fred Winters as he preached one Sunday morning at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois. The piece recounts—in chilling detail—his final moments on March 8, 2009, as the suspect approached the pulpit while hiding a .45 caliber Glock pistol underneath a church bulletin:

Pastor Fred Winters was in the early moments of his sermon. He looked at the man standing in the aisle and asked, "May I help you?"
At that moment the stranger removed a church bulletin covering the gun and began shooting. The first shot hit Pastor Winters's Bible, shredding it into what people perceived as confetti. The reality of what was happening didn't register with anyone yet, in fact some later commented they thought it was a drama sketch.
Pastor Winters yelled, "It's real, this is real!" and moved toward the side of the stage.
The second and third shots each missed Pastor Winters. He jumped off the stage toward the gunman and grabbed the gun. It was there the fourth and final shot hit the pastor in the chest, piercing his heart and killing him."

The article goes on to share how the church has worked to heal from the trauma in the two years since, including interviews with the church's ministers of worship and pastoral care, as well as Winters' wife. While the suspect remains in custody awaiting trial, one disturbing fact remains:

To this day, there is no understanding of why the shooter picked this church on this day. He had no prior connection with First Baptist. No motive has been discovered. It was a random act of violence.

Considering the number of Christian churches in the country (most estimates usually put the figure at about 300,000) and the number of services that take place every week at those churches, random acts of violence like this one are a rarity. These incidents serve as reminders that, though rare, church leaders still must work to prevent them—or know what to do if a potential situation begins to unfold.

Sadly, another such reminder arose earlier this month.

On March 3, police say two men entered the offices of NorthPointe Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, where Pastor Clint Dobson and his office assistant worked.

They began to rob Dobson and his assistant—and then did the unthinkable.

Continue reading Confronting Violence at Church...

March 17, 2011

When the Bank Says No

The first "no" is not the end.

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Rejection is no fun under any circumstance. It can be especially disheartening for a church when a lender rejects its initial loan application for a capital construction project. But the first "no" does not necessarily doom your chances to finish the project. Your church can pursue another lender, adjust the project, improve its financial situation, or a combination of the three.

Lenders will refuse a church's loan proposal in more subtle ways than an outright "no." Instead, a lender might reduce the amount it is willing to offer. In other scenarios, the lender has more clear reasons for the rejection, and the unsuccessful church should ask for reasons why.

"Listen. As that lender is telling you no, they are really saying 'not that way' or 'not now' or 'not that much.' If you can hear them out, they will usually give you some clues about what to do next so that your future request might be approved," says David Van Winkle, vice president of sales for the Evangelical Christian Credit Union.

Continue reading When the Bank Says No...

March 15, 2011

Illegal Immigrants in the Church

Walking a 'fine line between compassion and conformity'

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Late last year, we released "Illegal Immigrants in the Church," from Church Law & Tax Report. In it, Richard Hammar and Ann Buwalda, an immigration attorney, review the details on what churches need to know about immigration law as it relates to welcoming undocumented immigrants into church and recruiting them to work or volunteer. They explore commonly asked questions by churches, and provide information to help churches understand their legal responsibility towards undocumented immigrants in church.

In February, this question surfaced again when Christianity Today asked three distinguished voices about how churches should respond to illegal immigrants who are in their midst.

Below are excerpts of the responses from Mark DeYmaz (directional leader at Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas and coauthor of Ethnic Blends: Mixing Diversity into Your Local Church), M. Daniel Carroll Rodas (distinguished professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible), and Matthew Soerens (U.S. church training specialist for World Relief and co-author of Welcoming the Stranger), as well as links to their full responses.

Read their takes, then tell us how your church is addressing this question.

Continue reading Illegal Immigrants in the Church...

March 10, 2011

Why the National Church Compensation Survey Matters

Radio interview touches on pay, benefits for pastors and staff

John Clemens with IRN USA Radio recently interviewed Matt Branaugh about Christianity Today International's National Church Compensation Survey. In this six-minute clip (which aired on more than 1,100 stations nationally), you'll hear more details about the importance of this survey, and why every church leader should care, including:

  • How boards can effectively use the data gleaned from this survey to set pay packages;
  • How pastors and others can use the data to understand their own pay situations;
  • How churches possess a unique opportunity to set examples in their communities regarding fair pay.

March 8, 2011

Can Social Media Get a Church Sued?

Recent Twitter mishap in Indiana underscores the need for clear policy

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Recent incidents involving alleged misuses of social media in both the public and private sectors have government officials and business executives scrambling to implement social media policies for employees.

Church leaders should take the opportunity to do the same before a situation arises, casting negative light on their congregations, or worse, landing them in court.

Indiana's deputy attorney general was fired after making controversial remarks through his personal Twitter account and blog, according to a USA Today article (The Nonprofit Quarterly also blogged about it last week). Jeff Cox "tweeted 'use live ammunition' in response to a Mother Jones tweet that riot police had been ordered to remove union supporters from the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison," the USA Today article explains.

The article continues:

"Corbin, the attorney general's spokesman, said the agency has no formal rules on social media but is developing them. He said the employee handbook, however, is clear that employees should conduct themselves in a professional manner during and after working hours."

A few days later, Inc. magazine's website published "How to Avoid a Social Media Lawsuit," which includes links to resources and books that can help organizations craft effective social media-use policies. Some of the more notable liabilities, according to Inc., include:

Continue reading Can Social Media Get a Church Sued? ...

March 3, 2011

The Fall-Out from 'Natural Decrease'

How the economy, and dying counties, may hamper church-building plans.

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Editor's Update (4/26/2011):The Nonprofit Quarterly pointed this morning to a Boston Globe article reporting 40 of the city's largest nonprofits, with property valued at $15 million or more each, have received letters from the city "requesting them to make regular and voluntary tax payments based on the value of their holdings.

"Boston is not alone is seeking to raise revenues from nonprofits ... In Boston, nonprofits are especially tempting targets, because as the Globe notes, they own about 52 percent of the city’s land area," the Nonprofit Quarterly continues. "Under the new plan payments would rise from $15 million, which they paid this year, to $48 million over the next five years."
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Editor's Update (4/4/2011): The Nonprofit Quarterly pointed this morning to a Times-Picayune article covering the recommendations of a mayor-appointed "Tax Fairness Commission" in New Orleans. One of the three recommendations:

"...changes to the state’s constitution that would allow cities statewide to collect taxes from nonprofits as part of a larger effort to bring in more revenue from untaxed property ...
... If adopted by lawmakers and voters statewide, the most sweeping of those changes, according to The Times-Picayune, “would allow local governments to collect taxes on as much as half the assessed value of properties that long have paid nothing because their educational, religious, cultural, fraternal or other missions qualify them for exemptions.”

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Up until last week, there's a good chance most people hadn't heard of "natural decrease." But newly released U.S. Census data reveal a near-record number of counties in the country are dying, and the term describing the phenomenon has quickly gone mainstream.

The Associated Press reports:

"In all, roughly 760 of the nation's 3,142 counties are fading away, stretching from industrial areas near Pittsburgh and Cleveland to the vineyards outside San Francisco to the rural areas of east Texas and the Great Plains. Once-booming housing areas, such as retirement communities in Florida, have not been immune.
West Virginia was the first to experience natural decrease statewide over the last decade, with Maine, Pennsylvania and Vermont close to following suit, according to the latest census figures. As a nation, the U.S. population grew by just 9.7 percent since 2000, the lowest decennial rate since the Great Depression."

What's the significance for church leaders? Well, beyond the obvious ministerial needs and challenges that churches located in dying counties can help meet, there's another separate-but-significant connection. The AP says two primary reasons for "natural decrease" are an aging population and a poor economy.

It's the second reason that church leaders should especially note. As municipalities--dying or not--continue to struggle with shrinking tax revenues, and aggressively look for ways to survive, churches and nonprofits will only find it tougher to avoid taxes and tougher zoning restrictions.

A year ago, we saw the question of taxing churches unfold publicly in places like Utah, Ohio, and Indiana.

On the zoning front, challenges with ordinances appears, as one attorney puts it, to be "heating up" for churches because of the economy (and that's saying something--zoning issues are already one of the top five reasons churches go to court each year).

Continue reading The Fall-Out from 'Natural Decrease'...

March 1, 2011

Concealed Weapons in Church

Rich Hammar discusses an important Georgia ruling for churches.

In 2010, the state of Georgia enacted a law prohibiting a person with a concealed weapons permit to carry a concealed weapon into a place of worship. A lawsuit was filed challenging the constitutionality of the law. Hear what the state's court decided, and Rich Hammar's analysis of that decision and its implications for churches and church leaders: