All posts from “July 2011”

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July 28, 2011

Scammers 'Phishing' for Your Money

If free money sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Editor's Note (August 15, 2011): Naomi Martin, a reporter with The New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote this article for the newspaper on Sunday. It provides additional details on how some of these scams approach church leaders.

In July, the IRS urged its Twitter followers to be leery of tax scams convincing taxpayers to apply for rebates or credits. And Forbes reported that there’s been a recent “flurry of schemes in the South and Midwest” targeting local churches. Scammers convince churches that free money is available from the IRS through large tax credits or rebates, requiring minimal paperwork—a substantial reward for little effort and an offer truly too good to be true.

Unfortunately, churches are falling for it.

In 2008, Richard Hammar cautioned churches about several scams included in the IRS’s annual “Dirty Dozen,” a list of common tax scams all taxpayers should be aware of. Out of the twelve, Hammar focused on five that were relevant to churches. These five are still relevant, according to the IRS’s 2011 Dirty Dozen. Read about the five below, and view the complete list at irs.gov.

Five To Watch

Phishing. Identity thieves use this technique to acquire personal information in order to gain access to the financial accounts of unsuspecting consumers, run up charges on their credit cards, or apply for loans in their names.

Continue reading Scammers 'Phishing' for Your Money...

July 26, 2011

Keeping Kids Safe at Camp

How sex offenders infiltrate church ministries

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Sometimes our best ministry activities attract the wrong people. Church summer camp, for instance, is often the highlight of a church’s summer ministry. Sadly, sex offenders know this too. According to John McLaughlin, an officer with the police department of Keene, New Hampshire, offenders may target and use activities common to children and youth ministries to find their next victims. For churches during the summer months, this can mean camps, Vacation Bible School, and other children’s programs.

In a recent webinar by Safe Hiring Solutions, McLaughlin described how child sex offenders select, seduce, maintain, and dump their victims. Here are tips that every church leader (and parent) should know for keeping kids safe from sexual abuse.

When offenders are selecting victims, they look for opportunities where children will be wearing limited clothing, changing clothes (such as in swimming), available for one-on-one contact with adults, and staying overnight, said McLaughlin. Offenders also try to identify who the most vulnerable children are, such as children with bad home lives or who aren’t fitting in at school, and they seek to build trust and respect through a courting-like seduction phase.

Continue reading Keeping Kids Safe at Camp...

July 21, 2011

The Proposed Charitable Deduction Change

Differing views on whether a change will affect giving to churches.

The president has proposed a 2012 budget that will decrease the value of itemized tax deductions, including deductions for charitable contributions, for individuals making $200,000 or more and families making $250,000 or more per year. Also in the proposed budget is a tax increase for those in that income level.

Some say both of these changes could mean a decrease in the amount of charitable contributions to churches. Others suggest the affects may not amount to much.

In the 2011 State of the Plate, a survey of more than 1,500 church leaders, 91 percent say that this type of change would affect future giving at their church. Of the 91 percent, 31 percent characterize the potential damage as “significant.”

Continue reading The Proposed Charitable Deduction Change...

July 19, 2011

The "Whole Life Offering"

Giving is a part of discipleship—and many churches miss out.

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Just as a major error in discipleship is focusing discipling conversations on the needs and interests of the student, an especially common—and major—error in discipleship related to financial giving involves focusing conversations on the giving interest and passions of the student rather than on the curriculum of Christ embodied in the lived experience of the teacher—that is, if discipleship conversations on financial giving happen in the first place.

Of all the Works of Mercy and Piety, discipleship conversations related to financial giving are, regrettably, the most rare. Western Christians in particular consider it a kind of virtue or personal courtesy not to talk about money. Some cite Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6:3, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” as reason enough to stay quiet about the specific nature of their generosity. But this overlooks the fact that the passage in question is indeed a sterling example of Jesus having a discipleship conversation about giving practices with his students.

Giving, like every other Work of Piety or Mercy, is learned through explicit teaching and guided practice, especially in reflection on the body of lived experience of Christian teachers who are growing to full maturity in Christ in their financial generosity.

The discomfort related to conversations about money typically stems from a reluctance to name actual numbers, amounts, and percentages. But discipleship conversations on financial giving should emphasize the point stressed repeatedly throughout this book, namely, that the Scripture itself dwells surprisingly little on questions related to specific numbers, amounts, and percentages. Instead, it dwells on the hows and whys of giving. The focus is on the presentation of the Christian’s whole life as an offering. God is less concerned about the total dollar amount of one’s donations and more about who one is becoming as one makes them.

Continue reading The "Whole Life Offering" ...

July 18, 2011

The Pluses of Google+ for Church Leaders

How churches can benefit from Google’s latest social media tool.

Google+ is the latest entry in the ocean of social media. As a church leader, you need to know the potential this has for your leadership and church.

The interface has drawn a number of comparisons to Facebook, and while they look like they’re from the same family, you’d never mistake them for twins.

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Sure, you’ll find a profile page where you can add photos, a bio, links and videos. And you can share your whims and thoughts just like Facebook. But the most unique aspect of Google+ is its Circles, which enable you to review updates from different groups, such as “Work,” “Friends,” “Family,” “Foodies,” “Fans of America’s Got Talent,” or whatever categories you’d like to develop for the people you know.

The amazing thing is that you develop Circles like, “Loves Rob Bell” or, “Would Vote for Palin in 2012,” and keep those people as close or as far away from you depending on your preferences. But the whole concept of Circles becomes more helpful (and less tongue-in-cheek) when you think about the natural circles of involvement in your life, whether it’s “Church Staff,” “Small Group,” or “Outreach Event.”

Why is the Circles feature so important to you as a church leader? Because it streamlines who you communicate with and the way you do it. Instead of choosing between an e-mail, a blog post, or a tweet, you now have one place to communicate and an easy way to get the word out. The following has been observed:

Continue reading The Pluses of Google+ for Church Leaders...

July 18, 2011

Get $1,000 for Your Church's Communications Campaign

Site offers three prizes for current and future projects.

Our friends over at ChurchJuice.com are offering three $1,000 grants to churches planning--or already doing--unique, interesting, and effective communications work.

The deadline to apply for "The Juicys" is August 5, 2011.

As ChurchJuice.com puts it:

We want to recognize and reward those churches who’ve worked to improve their church communications in some way during the last year. It’s about looking back but also looking forward. In addition to giving Juicys to churches who have done something great during the last year--and are ready to start their next project--we also want to help a church who has a great idea but hasn’t found a way to make it happen.
Tell us what you did, or wanted to do, over the last year and you could receive $1,000 towards your next communications project. (Cue The Price is Right music.) That’s right, we want to give you $1,000 to jump-start your next project.

ChurchJuice.com will select three churches--one small, one big, and one "making it happen." More details, and an application, are available here.

July 14, 2011

Letters to Potential Donors of Mission Trips

Wording is more important than you might think.

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In the excitement of planning a mission trip, it’s possible to overlook the importance of carefully worded support letters that meet IRS guidance. The IRS indicates what would be helpful to include in letters requesting charitable contributions, according to Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

Busby co-hosted a webinar late last month that included a discussion on the importance of the wording in these letters. The IRS says the following elements, clearly stated in fundraising letters, meet its guidance:

  1. The trip is church-sponsored;
  2. Ministry will be performed on the trip;
  3. Gifts are preferenced for the individual’s trip expenses. (Leadership Journal further examines the question of designated gifts for short-term missions trips in the article “Tripped Up”);
  4. The church will exercise discretion and control over the funds (which implies that there are no refunds to donors if the individual doesn’t go).

Although unlikely, church mission trips may be canceled; therefore, it is good to mention in the letter what will happen to the donated money in that situation.

Continue reading Letters to Potential Donors of Mission Trips...

July 13, 2011

'Most Significant Religious Case in 20 Years'

The 'ministerial exception' rule faces its day with Supreme Court.

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A news article from the July edition of Christianity Today covers the U.S. Supreme Court's April decision to accept a teacher's appeal regarding an unfair firing claim against a Michigan elementary school run by a church.

At stake: How far a rule known as "ministerial exception" will go in matters of employment within churches and religious groups. Lower courts have stayed out of employment disputes between clergy and churches based upon this exception. What's unclear is how widely the rule can apply to nonordained staff members. The Supreme Court's decision to intervene likely will answer that question.

Richard Hammar again highlighted this case last week during his annual law and tax presentation to the National Association of Church Business Administration (he also explained the importance of this development in this short video update).

Hammar told Christianity Today he doesn't expect the Supreme Court to limit the exception to "ordained pastors performing pastoral duties." Other observers are wary. Rick Garnett, associate dean of the University of Notre Dame Law School, says the case is the country's most significant one to religious freedom in 20 years, giving church leaders nationwide good reason to monitor its progress throughout the next year.

July 12, 2011

Cyber Crime: Coming to a Church Near You?

Hackers steal $680,000 from Iowa church.

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The St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, Iowa, became victim to an apparent cyber crime last month when unidentified hackers stole $680,000 by luring away critical electronic information.

CBS News, reporting on the incident, quotes law enforcement and cyber security experts about how the hackers did it:

The heist begins with a technique known as spear phishing. In it, hackers lure an organization's financial officer with an email--a note that appears to be from a friend or the IRS-- enticing them to click on a link.
That click opens the door to a malicious software infection that allows vital information, like bank passwords, to be captured.
Criminal groups can then wipe out the account--ultimately transferring the cash to their own accounts, in places like Russia or the Ukraine--leaving victims high and dry.

CBS News also highlights other recent victims from around the country, including one public library in Florida, and two local governments in New York and New Jersey.

That makes these types of crimes all the more troublesome, said Verne Hargrave, who presented "Fraud in the Church: High-Tech Style," last week at the National Association of Church Business Administration's annual conference in Washington, D.C.

It means hackers are aware of financial sources big and small all over the country, including churches, he said.

“These guys in Eastern Europe know about you guys," said Hargrave, a certified public accountant and author of Weeds in the Garden. "They know about what’s going on, and know it may be an easy target.”

Hargrave offered these six tips for avoiding an attack like the one in Iowa:

Continue reading Cyber Crime: Coming to a Church Near You? ...

July 7, 2011

Creating a Disaster Relief Ministry

Churches care for those facing disasters in their communities.

Few will argue that 2011 has been a tragic season for natural disasters. The U.S. has been hit hard by tornadoes, fires, and floods. States like Missouri, Arizona, and North Dakota are recovering from (and still facing) the worst natural threats to their land in decades. Local churches have been quick on their feet to care for their overwhelmed communities during this time.

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In June, Mike Johnson, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Minot, North Dakota, quickly responded to his community by helping townspeople evacuate their homes in the flood zone, according to FoxNews.com. And the Baptist Press reported that in Arizona, where a forest fire rages, the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention developed a disaster relief station, which included showers and a kitchen crew, for evacuees.

Continue reading Creating a Disaster Relief Ministry...

July 5, 2011

Social Media Agreements—A New Normal?

One conference’s policy shows how serious some churches view Twitter, Facebook, and other sites.

The Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has an interesting rule for the clergy in its member churches: We see something questionable on your social media pages, we retain the right to affect your ordination process.

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Not only does the KAC’s social media disclosure statement require staff to befriend the denomination on Facebook, but it also secures accountability and monitoring rights.

Social media and online use policies are becoming a common staple in church employee handbooks. Potential liabilities concerning copyright law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), discrimination, privacy, and defamation have forced churches to consider the potential problems caused by their staffs interacting with others online.

Continue reading Social Media Agreements—A New Normal?...