All posts from “March 2013”

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March 28, 2013

What's Next: Transparency is the Order of the Day

Churches must handle finances in "the light of day."

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of guest posts from Dave Travis' book, What's Next?:2012 Edition. The first post addressed how much--or little--the economy is to blame for church failures. Travis is CEO of Leadership Network.

Here is the issue: Do church leaders make decisions and handle money "in the light of day," or do things happen behind closed doors?

The degree to which this is an issue can vary, but it will increase in importance as an authenticator--not only for prospective members, but for the community at large and its local government.

Once upon a time, church members simply trusted their leaders. Some still do. But in the world we now inhabit, trust depends to some extent upon reasonable transparency. In the future, it could become a critical issue.

U.S. churches exist in a legal gray area. They are required to follow not-for-profit regulations in many areas, without being required to file reports and returns in the way other not-for-profit organizations do. They must follow rules on political activity, compensation, insider dealings and the like, but they are still given considerable leeway in the matter of financial reporting.

Even when denominations require their churches to file reports, the results may not be shared outside denominational offices.

Going forward, we feel that voluntary transparency will bolster churches in the eyes of the public--members and outsiders alike. Younger adults will insist upon it, being accustomed to detailed reports from other charitable organizations.

Areas of impact:

Continue reading What's Next: Transparency is the Order of the Day...

March 25, 2013

Survey: Most Churches Provide No Estate Planning

Only 16 percent received an estate gift in 2011, too.

According to a new study by LifeWay Research, the majority of Southern Baptist churches believe that Christians should provide for their church in their will, but 86 percent of churches provide no help or assistance for estate planning.

In fact, 84 percent of all Southern Baptist churches receive no estate gifts in 2011, and just one percent received three or more of these type gifts.

According to Warren Peek, the president of the Southern Baptist Foundation, “Two practical steps pastors can take to cultivate this type of thinking are to put a process in place to accept and dispose of gifts of non-liquid assets and to make available information on estate planning.”

Excerpted from the March 2013 edition of Ministry Briefing, a monthly, downloadable digest of headlines for church pastors and leaders edited by Matt Steen and Todd Rhoades. Used with permission.

Go deeper on law and tax matters for estate planning and wills with the 2013 Church & Clergy Tax Guide.

March 21, 2013

What's Next: It's the Economy—or Is It?

The reasons a church fails often go beyond money problems.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of guest posts from Dave Travis' book, What's Next?:2012 Edition. Travis is CEO of Leadership Network.

The recession has left its mark everywhere--on our friends, our families, our cities, our churches. Leadership Network clients have not been immune, but we believe the damage has been greater elsewhere. We've heard the reports of foreclosure, layoffs, and other cutbacks.

In fact, the global financial crisis presents a ready scapegoat for failures of every kind. If a market segment struggles, blame the economy; if a church stumbles, same explanation. The truth is often a bit more complex. Looking a bit deeper into a specific situation, we might find church division, moral failure, or simply bad leadership decisions as the root issue. To our knowledge, we have no clients in foreclosure trouble.

Unfinished construction--churches as well as condo units--has been a sign of the times. We've heard of churches suspending building programs due to the lender's inability to fulfill commitments made to the church. Those driving by would assume the church was struggling, but it might well have been the bankers, who have, in fact, been hit the hardest during this recession.

Most of our clients seemed to reach the bottom of the trough in 2009, with conditions steadily improving since then. A board member explained it this way: "Seven fat years, followed by seven lean years." Looking back, he would appear to have it right, as we all enjoyed the go-go economy of 2002-2008, and the recession may end up matching it in length.

Continue reading What's Next: It's the Economy—or Is It?...

March 19, 2013

Fraud in the Church: Lessons from ACFE Data

Association report provides three important reminders to leaders.


While preparing recently for a presentation to seminary students, I came across some interesting statistics from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiner's 2012 Report to the Nations. The information is particularly insightful for church leaders who are focused on minimizing the risks of fraud and embezzlement with church money.

ACFE releases its report every other year. Of note from the latest one:

Between January 2010 and December 2011, ACFE tracked 1,388 cases of "occupational fraud" worldwide:
  • Of the cases, 10.4 percent occurred within a not-for-profit organization, up from 9.6 percent in 2010, but down from 14.3 percent in 2008;
  • The median theft involved with the cases was $100,000, up from $90,000 in 2010, but down from $109,000 in 2008;
  • Of all the cases, 87 percent involved first-time offenders with no prior criminal records.
These details are interesting because they validate several things we consistently observe in the church world:

Continue reading Fraud in the Church: Lessons from ACFE Data...

March 14, 2013

Seven Digital Tips in a "Post-Website World"

How the right communications "streams" can aid churches.

David Bourgeois, a professor at Biola University, is author of the forthcoming book, Ministry in the Digital Age: Strategies and Best Practices for a Post-Website World. He recently presented a webinar with the Christian Leadership Alliance on several topics covered in his book.

The following seven insights shared by Bourgeois may prove particularly helpful for churches trying to sort out their digital strategies:
1) It's a post-website world--but you still need a website. A church website is still essential, but the primary ways your church will interact with people are through numerous streams of communication, including e-mail, texting, and social media, Bourgeois says. Some will find your church through its website, but more than likely, they'll find it through a friend on Facebook or Twitter who recommends the church, points to a video or story on the church's website, or some other form of word-of-mouth communication.
Every church needs a strategy that decides which streams it will use to reach beyond its website. Researching preferences within the congregation is the first place to start. Understanding your church's demographics in relation to those preferences should then help you choose the two or three it will pursue (you can't do them all, he adds).

Continue reading Seven Digital Tips in a "Post-Website World"...

March 12, 2013

LifeWay Research on Gay Marriage and The Church

New survey shows attitudes on how pastors, churches respond.

The results of a new LifeWay Research poll released this morning reveal some interesting attitudes among American adults when it comes to how pastors and church leaders handle the topic of same-sex marriage.

In November, LifeWay received 1,191 completed online surveys. Responses were weighted by region, age, ethnicity, gender, and education to represent the adult population of the United States, LifeWay said. Some specific highlights (you also can read the full recap from LifeWay and additional coverage from our sister site

Continue reading LifeWay Research on Gay Marriage and The Church...

March 11, 2013

The Four Levels of Scrutiny of Pastoral Search Committees

Church leaders evaluate numerous factors, making clear priorities a must.


In a previous post I noted different trends among pastoral search committees. As I stated then, I am using the phrase “pastoral search committee,” even though it does not apply to every congregation. Some churches receive pastors through an appointment system from denominational leadership. Some pastors are chosen from a body of elders. The methods of pastoral selection are numerous.

Every church, however, searches for a pastor in the course of its history. After speaking with dozens of search groups, I’ve noticed a pattern in how they are evaluating prospective pastors. There is nothing new in what they are evaluating. What is new is how they are evaluating.

In a significant number of searches, perhaps a majority, the pastor search process takes place in four layers or levels. While each is important, the church assigns the greatest value to the first. The process is more subjective than objective, but the result is a clear definition of priorities in how a church evaluates a prospective pastor.

Continue reading The Four Levels of Scrutiny of Pastoral Search Committees...

March 7, 2013

New Study: Churches Say Giving is Up, But So are Costs

Sixty percent say giving isn't keeping up with inflation.


Our colleagues at Christianity Today just posted a quick analysis of new research on giving at churches conducted by the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, the Alban Institute, the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, the National Association of Church Business Administration, and Maximum Generosity.

The study was based on responses from more than 3,100 congregations about giving between the first half of 2011 and the first half of 2012. The analysis concludes:

The majority of U.S. congregations reported increased giving throughout the economic recession ... But it's not all good news: Most congregations also reported significant spending increases—and less than half said their revenue kept up with inflation.

The analysis also indicates representation of mainline Protestant churches skewed heavy in the study while Catholic churches and black churches appear underrepresented. Representation of evangelical churches appears "close enough," according to Christianity Today.

Read more about the 2013 Congregational Economic Impact Study and more from the analysis.

Results from the 2013 State of the Plate, a constituency survey on giving trends of more than 2,000 Protestant churches for all of 2012, are expected to release soon. Christianity Today's, Maximum Generosity, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and ECCU co-sponsored the 2013 State of the Plate.

March 7, 2013

Transgender Activities in Churches

What churches should note as Colorado case, California bill challenge access.

A news story involving a Colorado family's battle with a school district has garnered national attention after a school in the district said the family's six-year-old boy, who believes he is a girl, can use a clinic bathroom or a gender-neutral staff bathroom—but no longer can use girls-only bathrooms.

The public discussion of "transgender" people is one church leaders should follow, since it's possible questions will eventually arise about what accommodations churches do—or don't—provide to individuals who identify themselves as the opposite gender.

In Denver, the child was born with male genitalia. The parents also say the child is a girl, and say consultations with professional counselors have confirmed their child's "gender identity" is female. In February, after the school's decision, the family filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Agency; the agency, citing the state's anti-discrimination laws, sent a formal charge requiring a response from the school district within 30 days.

Last week, the family took the situation public, appearing on local television news broadcasts, Katie Couric's television show, and CNN, according to the Denver Post.

Rights for transgender individuals "will be America's next great civil rights struggle," the executive director of a legal defense fund said in a news conference last week with the family, according to the Post.

Continue reading Transgender Activities in Churches...

March 5, 2013

What Churches Should Know in 2013 about the Health Care Act

Act mandates changes to FSAs, potentially affecting church cafeteria plans.

In March 2010, Congress enacted the 2,500-page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “Act” or “Affordable Care Act”) in order to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance and decrease the cost of health care. Since being signed into law, it has been difficult for churches to navigate this new legislation, especially since new portions of the Act are being implemented each year.

In 2013, the main provision that will affect churches is the new limitation on health flexible spending arrangements under cafeteria plans. A flexible spending arrangement for medical expenses under a cafeteria plan (“Health FSA”) is health coverage in the form of an unfunded arrangement under which employees are given the option to reduce their current cash compensation and instead have the amount of the salary reduction contributions made available for use in reimbursing the employee for his or her medical expenses. The health reform legislation made the following change in Health FSAs effective for tax years beginning after 2012.

Continue reading What Churches Should Know in 2013 about the Health Care Act ...