Editor's Update (5/2/11): The Christian Science Monitor reported this weekend about the mobilization of nonprofits and churches to aid tornado victims in Alabama and elsewhere. The Monitor reports:
In a scene reminiscent of the days following hurricane Katrina in 2005, churches, nonprofit relief agencies, and government supplies are racing toward tornado-raked Alabama to alleviate what Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox described as a "humanitarian crisis."
And then later:
Church groups from Ohio to North Carolina are organizing relief trips and filling semi-trailers with clothing and food to be sent into the storm-struck region.
FEMA reported that "supplies such as meals, water, infant toddler kits and tarps begin to arrive, or are en-route to an incident support base established in Maxwell, Ala. The support base will allow FEMA to move supplies closer to the affected area, in case they are needed."
Slate reported this morning that the toll—both in lives and dollars—from the 164 tornadoes that struck seven states in the South on Wednesday is the worst since Hurricane Katrina.
As we hoped, we're already hearing about churches mobilizing to respond in the relief and recovery efforts. If your church plans to do so, here are two training resources that can help from ChurchSafety.com:
As cities and counties continue to eye possible taxes and fees for churches and religious organizations, interesting new research from The University of Pennsylvania's Ram Cnaan examines the economic value of a congregation to its surrounding community.
Using information from congregations in Philadelphia, Cnaan says churches, on average, provided $476,663.24 of services in 2009 to their surrounding communities.
He's now about to release information from a pilot study of 12 historic churches in Philadelphia, with one estimated to provide $6.1 million of services to the community (nearly 10 times its annual budget). Here's a graphic from the April issue of Christianity Today, our sister publication, detailing how Cnaan's research led to that conclusion.
Something else to note: Cnaan describes himself as "nonreligious," according to Christianity Today.
"Holy Toll" shows Great Recession's effects on 11,000 congregations
More data about church giving last year in the United States has emerged since the release of the 2011 State of the Plate survey results.
The "Holy Toll," based on the 2010 Faith Communities Today research conducted with 11,000 congregations by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research's David A. Roozen, shows some interesting trends, according to this USA Today article:
Editor's Note: April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. As the month draws to a close, here's a piece from Marian Liautaud regarding the need for churches to take the lead on child abuse prevention for the good of people—and the good of ministry:
Thirty-some years ago, someone I love was sexually abused by a trusted adult. Although this incident occurred when we were kids, time has done nothing to heal my friend. All it's done is stolen peace, freedom, and wholeness from him. Harboring hatred has a way of eating away at one's soul.
Child abusers are the most reviled people on the planet. Even hardened criminals view child molesters with particular disdain. And so did I. For years I harbored a deep hatred toward the perpetrator who violated my friend in an unthinkable way.
But then over the course of the last few years, I started to wonder whether all my righteous anger was really just a way for me to withhold forgiveness from someone who most certainly didn't deserve it. Could the blood of Christ cover someone as horrible as a pedophile? And if it could, would I ever bring myself to say to the worst of the worst—child abusers—you, yes even you, are saved by grace!
Questions like these are what drove me to spearhead a research project last year for Christianity Today. For nine months, I delved into the dark world of sex offenders. We conducted a national survey to find out what church leaders think about sex offenders—whether they should be integrated into congregations in a compassionate way, and if so, how they do this so no one is put in harm's way. Sex Offenders in the Pew, the Christianity Today story that grew out of the research, looked at how many churches have registered sex offenders attending their services and what they are doing to safely integrate these individuals into the congregation.
Courts have generally recognized a rule known as the "ministerial exception" when it comes to employment lawsuits in churches. Because of the First Amendment, many judges have considered it inappropriate to rule in these disputes, especially when their rulings may influence who preaches from the pulpit.
However, a case in Michigan involving the teacher of a Christian school--in which a federal court ruled the teacher's disability discrimination lawsuit couldn't proceed because of the ministerial exception--was appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Earlier this month, the Court accepted it. In this short video update below, Richard Hammar explains the significance of this development, and why church leaders will watch closely to see how the Court interprets the scope of ministerial exception:
In the April edition of Church Finance Today, Richard Hammar previewed the possible repeal of the expanded 1099 reporting requirement included with the Patient Protection and Affordable Act (last year's health care reform legislation).
The requirement would have required all persons or entities engaged in a trade or business (including churches and nonprofits) who make payments to a "non-employee" in any year of $600 or more to report it to the IRS on Form 1099-MISC. As Rich explains, the requirement was designed "to improve tax compliance based on the assumption that payees are more likely to correctly report their taxable income if they realize that payors are reporting that income to the IRS."
Controversy erupted because of the requirement, largely because many believed it would "impose a crushing administrative burden on countless nonprofit and for-profit entities as a result of the obligation to file billions of new 1099 forms," Rich explains.
Earlier this month, the Senate passed legislation that included a repeal of the requirement. On Thursday, President Obama signed it into law.
Rich will cover this development more extensively in an upcoming issue. For more updates on the health care reform for churches, join Rich on May 4 through this special live webinar co-presented by Christianity Today International and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
Potentially thousands of dollars available from health care provision.
Editor's Note (September 29, 2011):A church business administrator in Colorado shared the following update regarding his church's application for this credit: "We submitted form 990-T claiming the credit (approximately $7,100) in late April. We received a request for more information from the IRS late August. Yesterday, the IRS told me that they are still working through a massive amount of applications, and it could take up to 60 days from now to receive our refund, if we are deemed qualified. They said they have 5 agents working on the applications, which is taking them longer than expected. So for those of you still waiting like us, it may be awhile before you see your check. The IRS contact said you are welcome to call 877.301.5153, select option #2, to check on your status (the IRS contact was courteous and professional)."
Editor's Note (August 12, 2011):The 11th Circuit ruled today that a key part of Obama's healthcare reform is unconstitutional. Watch for future updates here, onChurchLawandTax.com, and inChurch Law & Tax Report to learn what this means for churches.
Is there really a "tax credit" available to churches based on last year's health care reform? For those offering health care to employees, the answer is quite possibly yes. The deadline for the first opportunity to take advantage is approaching fast, though.
Some churches say they have received more than $10,000 from the provision, so it's worth investigating what it involves. Richard Hammar provides further information in this short video update below.
Results of a survey given by the National Association of Evangelicals to its 100-member board of directors show a minority--42 percent--believe the Bible requires tithing, while the rest do not. Leith Anderson, pastor of Wooddale Church and president of the NAE, said in a prepared statement he was "a little surprised" by the results. In the same statement, David Neff, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today (our sister publication), added, "Anything less [than 10 percent] seems like an ungenerous response to God.”
Not surprisingly, secular media outlets have picked up on the story, ranging from metropolitan newspapers, such as The Denver Post and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, to national news networks, such as CNN.
Dan Gilgoff, CNN's religion editor, wrote a short piece detailing the background of tithing and interviewed Dan Olson, who studies tithing as a sociology professor at Purdue University:
Upcoming event will cover ins and outs of church communication
Cultivate11, a two-day event geared toward helping church leaders think deeper about communications with staff, lay leaders, congregants, and the community, is just around the corner. It's scheduled for May 4 and May 5 in Huntington Beach, California.
Want free tickets? Keep reading this post to find out how you can get them.
I attended Cultivate in 2009 in Chicago. It's a unique experience built around conversations between participants, panelists, and speakers, more so than most conferences I attend. You can read one of my recaps to get a better glimpse of how Cultivate works.
Tim Schraeder, co-director of the Center for Church Communication and a Cultivate11 organizer, explains it this way:
What is Cultivate?
Cultivate is a two-day conversation focused on the space where culture, innovation, and communication connect inside of churches and non-profit organizations. It’s a gathering of like-minded people who are passionate about their Cause and the endless opportunities that lie in new media. Conversations at Cultivate will center around social media, the Web, texting, communication, and how all of these can be leveraged for good.
Several voices weigh in on an important tax benefit for clergy.
The newest issue of Christianity Today poses an interesting question: Should Congress change pastors' housing allowances?
Expect to hear a lot more on the topic in the weeks and months ahead. Since the conclusion of Sen. Charles Grassley's (R-Iowa) financial investigation of six large televangelism ministries, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) has been chosen to lead a commission responding to Grassley's eight remaining questions about ministry finances, including "Should there be specific guidelines controlling pastoral housing allowances?" The current tax code excludes the rental value of a home from pastors' taxable income.
Christianity Todayposed the question to a variety of people involved in theological, nonprofit, and church leadership, including our own Richard Hammar. Read these three responses, then weigh in with yours:
"In the paradoxical Christian spirit that a little sacrifice by some assures a more abundant future for all, reductions could reflect typical mortgage deductions by phasing out the allowance for pastors who make more than the typical American while leaving the allowance for the rest."
—Gary Moore, founder, The Financial Seminary
"I'm all for saving tax money, but I do see the legal complication of giving tax breaks just to ministers, structured the way it is. A lot of ministers depend on it, and I don't want pastors to suffer. I hope it's retained, but at the same time it's hard for me to find reasons why it should be."
—Gene Edward Veith, provost, Patrick Henry College
"The courts have consistently upheld the constitutionality of state and federal grants and loans that flow to clergy and ministerial students attending seminaries. Why? Because the beneficiary is the individual, not 'religion.' The housing allowance is similar."
—Richard Hammar, senior editor, Church Law & Tax Report
There's no substitute for a good screening program.
Editor's Note: April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. For churches, one of the first measures that can make a difference for their children and youth is the proper screening and selection of the paid staff and volunteers who work with them. To that end, we offer this free article by Laura Brown from ChurchSafety.com:
Carefully screening people before allowing them to work with children in your ministry costs little, but it can increase safety greatly. Here's why.
Background screening can:
deter child predators from applying to work in your ministry, reducing the likelihood of child sexual assault.
demonstrate that your ministry has taken reasonable care to safeguard its members.
reduce your liability in court if you should accidentally hire someone who commits a crime.
State of the Plate survey suggests concerns--but are those valid?
One angle covered by secular media during the recent release of the 2011 State of the Plate survey results: The possible affects of a current "federal proposal to reduce tax deductions for charitable donations among wealthy Americans," as CNN.com reported Wednesday.
Cathy Lynn Grossman with USA Today's "Faith and Reason" blog focused extensively on that question and response from the survey in a piece also published Wednesday: