The dangers of distracted driving and inexperienced drivers.
Richard R. Hammar
This video, the third in a series by Richard Hammar on six legal risks for church youth pastors, describes the threats of distracted driving, the use of inexperienced drivers, and the legal liabilities churches may assume by not fully knowing their state's laws. These threats are important to note, especially because so many youth group activities rely upon staff, and upon volunteer drivers, including youth old enough to drive, to drive members to events.
Oklahoma twisters illustrate the need for churches to be ready.
On Monday, a 2-mile-wide tornado touched down outside of Oklahoma City, destroying homes, cars, and buildings. Governor Mary Fallin declared an emergency for 16 Oklahoma counties that suffered severe storms and floods. This tornado was just a part of the heavy, dangerous storms that have affected more than 171,000 individuals during the last three days. There have been an estimated 28 tornadoes in Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma since this weekend, and the storm watch continues. Churches and congregations in all four states have been affected, and they've gathered together to pray and grieve.
Natural disasters are dangerous, and sometimes tragic, but the better prepared your church is, the safer your congregation will be.
Prepare your church for a natural disaster with our resources:
My negligence at a church day camp almost cost a child his life.
I spent my college summers working as a camp counselor at my church. It was a day camp, and a rather large one—we had kids who were there every single week for the entire summer. My twentysomething co-counselors and I spent the summer herding excitable, sunscreen-scented children around our church, churchyard, and pool. I'd bandaged cuts, worked with special needs, sent kids home (we had a biter) and even discovered a tick on the scalp of a five-year-old. By the end of my second summer, I felt like a pro.
That was, until Ryan.
Ryan was one of my first-grade campers. He was sweet, round-faced, and had an incredible laugh. I loved this kid—he had been there every day for two summers. We were buds.
One congregant noticed "something was wrong" earlier in service.
A 24-year-old man went on a stabbing spree during the closing moments of a Catholic parish's morning mass Sunday in Albuquerque, N.M., NBC News reports.
The suspect leapt over pews and lunged at people. Four people went to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Toward the end of the NBC News article, one witness told a local television station "that her husband thought 'something was wrong'" with the suspect after shaking hands with him earlier in the service.
This detail highlights an important reminder for churches of all sizes and backgrounds: Forming church safety strategies now often can help defuse potentially dangerous situations later. In our January interview with Carl Chinn, who tracks violent incidents at churches and ministries, Chinn emphasized how most any church can develop safety and security plans by focusing on people, parts, and processes.
With people in particular, good planning and communication can help coordinate the presence of multiple people casually monitoring the building and grounds during worship services. And, this planning can create dialogue that encourages churchgoers to mention unusual behavior to an usher, staff member, or someone publicly identified as a church security team member.
These additional resources can help get planning underway:
These pitfalls can be avoided with the right preparation.
Last month, Frank Sommerville, CPA, JD, visited Christianity Today and spent time with our team. Frank is one of our Editorial Advisors and he spent time with us discussing some of the top risks churches face each day.
A couple of days later, he spoke nearby at a National Association of Church Business Administration (NACBA) local chapter meeting. Between our on-site visit with Frank and his NACBA presentation, it became abundantly clear that there are critical, ministry-killing pitfalls that threaten every church, and leaders need to be better educated on these risks:
Sometimes Easter morning doesn't go quite as planned.
Two weeks ago, Christian blogger Matthew Paul Turner posted this video of an Easter morning mishap in which the on-stage "tomb" at a church caught on fire while the singer continued his Easter solo. While this video brought out laughter from most of our staff, on second viewing, it caused us each to pause and realize how disastrous this scenario could have been.
Be smart about fire safety. Visit our site to find resources on how to keep your congregation, your building, and the man you choose to dress up like Jesus on Easter morning, safe.
Like it or not, we live in a dangerous world. Protect your church.
Today at the Boston Marathon, two bombs exploded near the finish line, the mile that was devoted to the victims of Newton, Connecticut. The bombs exploded near the viewing stand, and reports of casualties are still coming in. We ask that you lift up these victims and their families, and pray for them in the days to come.
Marathons are a time for great celebration—for crowds to gather together and support those participating, and enjoy community of a shared love. In a lot of ways, they're a lot like a worship service. There's a sense of trust that stems from a spirit of camaraderie amongst those who surround you—a belief that everyone in attendance is there for the same joyful purpose.
But as we've seen today, this is not always the case, and more than that, at times, this sense of trust can become an easy target for those who desire to bring harm to a specific group of people.
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:
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.
What leaders should know about preventing misconduct—and reporting when it happens.
A high-profile case involving the rape of a 13-year-old girl inside a Tulsa, Oklahoma, megachurch and other charges of abuse provides a sobering reminder about the steps churches must take to prevent sexual abuse—and a reminder for leaders to know their legal obligations if an allegation ever arises.
Chris Denman, 20, was recently convicted of raping the 13-year-old and also assaulting a 15-year-old and making a lewd proposal to a 12-year-old while serving as a janitor for Victory Christian Center. He is now serving 55 years in prison. Another janitor, Israel Shalom Castillo, 23, faces charges he made a lewd proposal to a 15-year-old. Both men, who are members of Victory Christian, were fired by the church after the allegations surfaced.
Security expert Carl Chinn discusses how congregations should respond to the latest stats.
Last month, church security expert Carl Chinn updated his statistics on violent incidents at churches and faith-based organizations. He began tracking this information in 1999 by learning of incidents reported by news agencies, which he then independently researches and verifies before categorizing and tabulating them. The result of this work is 14 years of data churches can use to analyze the risk of violence for their congregation.
Chinn works for a security solutions firm serving the private sector, but his ministry background is extensive. Previously, he was building engineer for Focus on the Family, and he also served on the security team at New Life Church in Colorado Springs that responded to a 2007 shooting there. He frequently speaks to law enforcement groups, churches, and ministries nationwide.
His analysis of 2012 revealed 135 "deadly force incidents" and 75 deaths at churches and faith-based organizations—"a bad year for violence," he observed recently in a blog post on his site. Chinn recently spoke via phone with ManagingYourChurch.com to talk more about church security, shootings, and how churches can respond.
Q: Since 2009, the number of "deadly force" incidents surpassed 100 and stayed there. Is that a function of better reporting and information, or was something else going on during the past four years?
Three key areas of safety concern for your church’s outreach ministry.
As Christmas approaches, many churches are directing their attention toward local, national, and international outreach efforts. Christianity Today and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company recently conducted the joint national Outlook for Outreach study, collecting responses from 1,486 church leaders and volunteers involved in outreach. Based on the results of this study, we’ve identified three key tips to help your church safely engage in outreach efforts this holiday season.
Nearly all churches (96 percent) are serving those in their local community, especially in feeding and clothing the poor. The majority of these churches say that one of the biggest obstacles to doing outreach is finding enough volunteers. However, 41 percent of churches report that volunteerism is up for outreach ministries. How can your church minimize risk in selecting and utilizing volunteers?
Take greater precautions with minors. If a minor is injured while volunteering because of the church’s failure to exercise a reasonable degree of care in the selection or supervision of its workers, the church may be legally responsible on the basis of negligence. When screening minors, contact local charities or organizations to see what method they use for screening and selecting students younger than 18.
Know your volunteers. Once you have selected your volunteers, try to get to know them. Communication tends to flow more naturally if there is some history behind the relationship. Help your volunteers warm up to each other by holding an icebreaker before the event.
More than one in four pastors say a faction has forced them out.
Research conducted in recent years by two different organizations paints a disturbing picture about certain conflicts between pastors and small factions within their churches. The in-fighting often festers long enough that many pastors wind up pushed out.
Researchers at Texas Tech University, surveying nearly 600 pastors, say 28 percent of pastors indicated they have been forced out of their congregations at one time or another due to personal attacks or criticism from a small group of members. Separate work from Duke University’s National Congregations Study in 2006-2007 shows 9 percent of congregations had experienced a conflict between a pastor or leader and a group of church members within the previous two years that led to that pastor or leader’s departure.
A full graphic from ChristianityToday.com further illustrates all of the data, including details about which denominations saw more or less of these situations, what types of leadership roles were involved, and how many times a pastor or leader said they’ve experienced such a situation (of those forced out, three-fourths said it has happened only once so far in their careers).
David Briggs from the Association of Religion Data Archives says these factions within congregations are called “clergy killers”—“a small group of members [who] are so disruptive that no pastor is able to maintain spiritual leadership for long.” As the Texas Tech researchers point out, the toll is a heavy one in terms of the stress and dysfunction that carries on for weeks, months, or perhaps even years. A separate study of 55 ministers by Texas Tech and Virginia Tech University showed these dismissed pastors faced higher levels of depression, stress, and health problems, and lower self-esteem, Briggs says.
Beyond the short- and long-term effects on the pastors, which are significant and not to be casually dismissed, is the health and well-being of the congregation left behind. A small faction, for better or worse, has exerted enough influence to force a leadership change. If it was for the worse, the situation isn’t healthy, and the lingering toxicity likely will make it difficult to call a replacement.
How can churches avoid such situations? Or, better yet, how can church leaders respond when one or more individuals bring forward concerns about the pastor? We asked Ken Sande, founder of Peacemaker Ministries and an Editorial Advisor for ManagingYourChurch.com, for guidance.
New "Outlook for Outreach" survey shows where congregations meet needs.
Where would Americans be if churches didn’t make outreach a priority? Many would feel the pain of unmet needs for basics such as food and clothing, not to mention a slow-down in disaster recovery efforts. For many hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, it was churches that provided the first signs of relief. In fact, a new survey—Outlook for Outreach—shows that of the 58 percent of churches in America that provide hands-on assistance for causes throughout our country, 75 percent of them engage in national disaster relief efforts.
To better quantify how churches engage in outreach ministries to provide for physical needs within their local communities and the world at large, Christianity Today (CT) and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company (BMIC) recently conducted the joint national Outlook for Outreach study. Responses collected during the summer of 2012 from 1,486 church leaders and volunteers involved in outreach reveal that nearly all churches (96 percent) are serving those in their local community, especially in feeding and clothing the poor.
As of November 1, estimates of the total financial cost of Hurricane Sandy's damage reached $50 billion, making the disaster the second-most costly in U.S. history, after 2005's Hurricane Katrina. When considered with the profound loss associated with the personal and emotional toll of the superstorm, the needs of affected communities and churches are truly staggering.
Here is a brief overview of donation handling and pastoral care principles to help guide your efforts in the disaster's aftermath.
What should churches do in the wake of a devastating natural disaster?
According to New Jersey news source NJ.com, residents of Rockaway, New Jersey “might have wanted to close their eyes as they passed First Presbyterian Church Tuesday.
“Hurricane Sandy ripped the steeple off the roof, flipped it and stuck it right back in the shingles. The storm also tore into a tree in front of the church, breaking its branches and depositing them on the lawn.”
Rockaway churchgoers aren’t alone. Although many churches affected this week by Hurricane Sandy have not literally had their steeples turned upside down, the aftermath of the largest Atlantic tropical system on record has left pastors and parishioners feeling overturned. Many are confused, grieving, and unsure of the practical steps of what to do next. With this in mind, we have created a two-part article for churches affected by this disaster and those wishing to help in the recovery effort. Part 2 covers donations, emotional needs, and spiritual needs.
What church leaders need to know about a concerning new trend among youth.
Lee A. Dean
“Bullying” and “cyberbullying” are not legal terms, but umbrella phrases that cover a variety of behaviors. As such, there are a range of uses for the terms. Church leaders must know and understand them, particularly in the context of youth ministry.
According to Paula Burns, an agent for Insurance One Agency who studies bullying and other social media risks, these differing definitions of terms agree on key points. With these in mind, it can be said that bullying can include some or all of these elements:
Attack or intimidation with the intention to cause fear, distress or harm.
Physical attacks, such as hitting, punching, or taking property.
Verbal attacks, such as name calling or teasing.
Psychological/relational attacks, such spreading rumors and social exclusion.
The presence of a real or perceived imbalance of power between the bully and the victim.
Repeated incidents between the attacker and the victim.
How would your congregation react if they knew a convicted sex offender was worshipping among them each Sunday morning? This controversial question is something congregations across the country are currently asking themselves.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Experts recommend that staff members proactively address this question by developing a sex offender policy.
Kristen Blanford, partner at Hermes Sargent Bates law firm in Dallas, Texas, understands that liabilities are attached when religious organizations are dealing with sex offenders.
“How it’s handled really comes down to each congregation’s individual faith beliefs and ministries,” Blanford said.
She recommends that leadership teams consider a few critical questions when developing a sex offender policy for their congregation:
New regulations force changes for church nurseries.
Richard R. Hammar
Q: I am a children’s pastor. We have replaced all of our cribs, in light of the new regulations banning certain ones from being used, sold, or donated in this country. We have a missionary we support in South America who runs an orphanage. They have children sleeping on the floor, and they are very interested in our old cribs. They visited several months ago and they have a plan for making the cribs safe with a simple conversion that will not allow the sides to drop. My question is, since they are in another country, is it legal for us to ship these cribs to them?
A: In June 2011, the first of a two-stage process to implement the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act's new regulations for the sale, distribution, and use of nursery cribs in the United States went into effect. On December 28, 2012, the second stage begins.
Church boards, staffs must collaborate for the good of the ministry.
Michael E. Batts
Now more than ever before, church leaders must recognize the importance of risk management as an inherent part of organizational oversight and leadership. But what does proper risk management look like, and whose responsibility is it? Many boards assume that the pastor and staff have the “bases covered” and board involvement is often limited to reacting to flare-ups. Such an approach to risk management is problematic and dangerous for multiple reasons.
Church leaders are typically consumed with day-to-day operating activities and decisions— the “tyranny of the urgent.” As a result, they frequently do not have, or take, the time to step back and proactively assess organizational risks and address them proactively. If that is the case, and the board is operating under the assumption that staff “has it covered,” the church may be a ticking time-bomb for obvious reasons.
Board and staff: a collaborative approach
A key area of responsibility for the board is to ensure that the church maintains an adequate approach to risk management in carrying out its programs. While the actual conduct of risk management activities is the responsibility of staff under the authority of the pastor, the board should evaluate the church’s risk management strategy since the board has ultimate responsibility for oversight.
An effective risk management plan is a holistic one—one that addresses risk in all aspects of the church’s activities. The risk management plan should also be proactive rather than reactive, identifying risks before they become liabilities and taking appropriate steps to mitigate them.
In order to effectively carry out its responsibilities, the board may wish to establish a standing “risk management committee” to oversee the church’s risk management strategy and to provide reports and recommendations to the full board.
The board or risk management committee should work with the pastor and staff to ensure that:
Some tips churches should note before implementing a plan.
When church leaders learn a sex offender is in their midst, their response typically is one of the following three:
Do nothing. They just don’t know what to do.
Total exclusion. They choose a blanket policy prohibiting a registered offender from setting foot on the premise. This is an extreme response, but there may be some cases where this makes sense. For instance, a church may decide not to allow an offender to attend if one or more of their victims also attend. Or a church may decide the offender's crime or crimes are too severe to allow attendance.
Conditional agreements. This means the church allows a registered offender to attend, subject to certain conditions. This is the most common response by churches. It's an attempt to balance safety and ministry, although it's a nuclear-level risk on your premises because it imposes such an extraordinarily high burden of care on your part to become a guarantor for the offender's good conduct. But churches can achieve that high burden by carefully drafting and following a conditional agreement policy.
In a recent free webinar with church leaders by Richard Hammar and Marian Liautaud, Hammar looked more closely at conditional agreements. According to Hammar, a sex offender's attendance agreement can include certain conditions, such as:
Important reminders in the aftermath of a shooting at a Sikh temple.
A shooting at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee this past Sunday morning reminds us that dangerous people can, and sometimes do, walk into places of worship in the U.S. Six people were killed and three injured after a suspect opened fire. This news comes less than a month after a movie-theater shooting left twelve dead and dozens injured in Colorado.
"I think all of us recognize that these kinds of terrible events are happening with too much regularity for us not to do some soul searching and examine additional ways we can reduce violence," President Obama said this week, according to CBS News.
One program models how churches can effectively minister to a despised population.
Clare Ann Ruth-Heffelbower
Sex offenders are feared and despised in today’s world. They are seen as monsters who, at any moment, might pounce upon their unsuspecting prey, especially children. The general perception is that sex offenders are more dangerous than other criminals. As such, they have become pariahs against whom the public seeks to protect itself. They are the lepers of today who live at the fringes of society.
Sex offenders in the criminal justice system
In response to widespread fear of sex offenders, society is using the criminal justice system in a particularly aggressive manner. Many states have passed laws that are intended to inflict punishment and prevent future sex crimes. Some states have increased prison terms for sex offenders. Others have enacted indeterminate sentencing laws with harsh punishment for repeat offenders. When sex offenders are released from prison, they are placed under parole supervision. The intent of parole is to monitor the parolee as well as to provide services to help with his or her reentry into the community.
In recent years, the focus on rehabilitation has diminished, and the main goals of parole have become surveillance and control. Little attention is given to an offender’s needs or rehabilitation during the eventual transition from prison to the community. The result is that risk is increased for both the ex-offender and the community. Reoffense is much more likely without assistance in rehabilitation and in facing the challenges of reentry.
The criminal justice system also neglects to care for the victim of a sex offense. His or her needs are peripheral and are often not addressed throughout the criminal justice process.
Church websites, Facebook pages, electronic fund transfers, online databases with sensitive information—churches using digital tools face new methods for operating, as well as new risks. And like all risks, the potential liabilities associated with technology use require a good risk management plan.
According to Paula Burns, a risk management expert with Insurance One Agency, cyber liability relates to the display, transmission, dissemination, or other use of “matter” in a cyberspace environment.
Computer viruses are one significant vulnerability for churches. For example, if a computer virus infects your church’s network and system, you could face significant loss or corruption of data—a first party loss. If someone on your church staff inadvertently spreads this virus to others outside your ministry, your church could be liable for a third-party loss. In either case, churches’ insurance policies frequently do not provide coverage for cyber liability like this.
“Few insurance companies have responded fully with policy language and coverage that addresses exposures to cyber liability,” Burns says. “Churches need to ask their insurance provider whether or not they offer coverage against first- and third-party loss for computer viruses and other technology-related incidents.”
Investigation also says leaders disregarded safety—here’s what churches should note.
Joe Paterno and other key Penn State officials knew about sex abuse allegations as early as 1998, but actively hushed concerns in fear of repercussions, according to a special investigative team’s report released today. The sweeping independent report notes that the investigation’s “. . . most saddening finding . . . is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and wellbeing of Sandusky’s child victims.”
The report agrees with a recent grand jury’s findings that Penn State officials made no attempt to investigate abuse allegations, identify victims, or protect other children from the continuing crimes.
According to head investigator (former FBI Director Louis Freeh), "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized." Freeh noted a trickle-down effect of organizational fear that arguably resulted in even a school janitor failing to report an incident of abuse he witnessed in 2000 because of concern for his job. In an ironic twist, the lack of action by staff and officials, all to protect jobs and reputations, most likely will carry severe consequences for the university and its staff in the months and years to come.
Church leaders and staff must remember that reported abuse must be investigated seriously and quickly. Liability can be traced not only according to what is (or isn’t) done, but how quickly an organization responds.
An Oregon church says its insurer's restrictions go too far.
Marian V. Liautaud
Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford, Oregon, recently received a letter from its insurance provider that outlines requirements for allowing known sex offenders to attend the church. Stipulations include fully disclosing the identity of sex offenders to the 100-member congregation, allowing offenders to attend only one predetermined service, and requiring offenders to be escorted while on site.
The Medford church, which specifically reaches out to people struggling with addictive behaviors, fears that these proposed requirements may lead to its closure.
Tips for deciding whether to launch this community-wide ministry.
For a church that feels compelled or called to do its part to address hunger in its community, establishing a food pantry might be an effective way to make a difference. Before launching a food pantry ministry though, here are some things to consider:
Does your community need a food pantry? Are there other food pantries in the community? If so, could your church help by volunteering there? What could your church accomplish by creating a new food pantry rather than assisting with an existing pantry? Are there definitely food needs in the community that aren’t being met?
Who would benefit from your church’s food pantry? Would the food go to people within the church, or others in the community? Both?
Christianity Today receives 43 honors for its print and online publications.
Today's post is a little different than the norm because we have some good news to share.
ManagingYourChurch.com received a top honor Friday from the Evangelical Press Association during the organization's 2012 conference.
The site received the Award of Excellence--the highest possible--in the Christian Ministry/Digital category. Judges said: "Top notch writing and editing; touches on SO many relevant, practical topics for church leaders—news, advice, legal, etc.; well-laid-out blog. Pleasing color palette. Easy to navigate; Follows many blog best practices, thus easy for new visitors to intuit; exceptional presentation all the way around."
ManagingYourChurch.com is owned by Christianity Today, a not-for-profit global publishing ministry. Its goal is to help church leaders keep their ministries safe, legal, and financially sound.
Her piece is a beneficial 10-minute read for any church pastor or leader who wonders whether internal controls and other financial best practices are worthy of congregational time, energy, and resources. In short, they are. If standing unblemished before the Lord wasn’t enough reason to justify their efforts—and if the integrity of their witness wasn’t reason enough, either—then let Dagher’s piece provide this additional validation: influential outsiders are watching.
What they say matters, not just in the court of public opinion, but also in the minds of those coming through their doors now or in the future. It’s up to churches to answer the call.
Dagher interviewed a variety of fundraising consultants, financial counselors, investment managers, even a forensic accountant, to learn what ordinary people can do to make sure their tithes go where they should. Five lessons immediately jump out. They should sound familiar, and if they don’t, now is the time to make them familiar:
May 2 event covers what churches must know about reporting laws and prevention.
Allegations of child molestation at Penn State University stunned the nation last fall. Even as the investigation continues, church leaders can learn from the tough lessons of this case, including recognizing abuse, the duties to report suspected cases of abuse, the mandatory reporting laws enforced by each state, and the civil and criminal liabilities associated with a failure to report.
Hammar's background with risk management matters, including his creation of a comprehensive training program designed to help prevent child abuse in churches, makes him uniquely qualified to address the laws that churches nationwide must know, the prevention plans they must make, and the responses they should give if allegations ever arise.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. With state legislatures, such as Georgia's, closely scrutinizing their abuse reporting laws, it's a prime opportunity for churches to assess their current practices and identify potential vulnerabilities. To go deeper on the ways churches can protect the children in their care, check out the following resources:
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month—this video shows how your church can act.
April is Child Abuse Prevention month. Church should be the safest place on earth, where kids can learn and grow in their faith. Sadly, many children have experienced abuse—physical, emotional, and sexual—at the hands of people they trusted at church. The video clip featured here highlights curriculum your church can use for training all staff, volunteers, and board members on best practices for protecting kids at church.
Quick action helped prevent a shooting this past weekend.
A man armed with a shotgun entered worship services Sunday at a church in South Carolina. Quick—and courageous—action by attenders helped prevent a shooting.
The Huffington Postreports churchgoers watched through the church's windows as the 38-year-old assailant approached the building; half a dozen attenders responded when he burst through the doors, the website said.
As the man was led away by police he told reporters his children were recently taken away from him and he was "trying to get someone to listen to him," the site said.
Because of their accessibility, especially on weekends, churches sometimes receive visits from people who are troubled or upset. In a few instances, those people intend to do harm. Leadership teams can prepare ahead, though, to try and defuse a potentially dangerous situation. ChurchSafety.com offers the following preparation tips from its Confronting Gun Violence at Church training resource:
The 12 illegal or false claims that churches and leaders should avoid.
Each year, the Internal Revenue Service releases the top twelve tax scams that individuals, nonprofits, churches, and businesses should watch for and avoid. The newest list, issued by the IRS this month, reveals the latest "dirty dozen":
Return Preparer Fraud
Hiding Income Offshore
"Free Money" from the IRS and Tax Scams Involving Social Security
A ruling against one Florida ministry underscores the complexities.
Churches and ministries that interact with sex offenders face numerous challenges, as our national research in 2010 revealed. A recent case in Florida involving Matthew 25 Ministries, an organization devoted to working with sex offenders, underscores the complex nature of these challenges.
Four years ago, the group leased residences in a development to house recovering offenders, only to quickly learn the state doesn’t allow convicted offenders to live within 1,000 feet of a nearby public school bus stop. The organization attempted to get the bus stop relocated. Then it tried to convince neighboring families to move. Eventually, the management company overseeing leases in the development notified 25 families of possible eviction if they weren't out by a certain date.
Lawsuits followed, leading to a recent decision from a federal judge that “both the ministry and [the leasing management company] were guilty of discrimination on the basis of familial status,” our sister website ChristianityToday.com reports.
What can churches and ministries take away from this story?
What to know—and do—before opening your church to outside groups.
Richard R. Hammar
When a church allows outside groups to use its space, it invites opportunity and risk in too. By sharing your space, you introduce new people to your facility—people who might not otherwise come through your doors. At the same time, you expose yourself to new issues, such as how to protect against property damage, how to manage the potential tax implications of charging rent for the use of your space, and how to ensure that outsiders are safe in the event of an emergency.
Church leaders followed these stories most this year on ManagingYourChurch.com.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m a sucker for lists. And the end of a calendar year always brings opportunities to reflect on the top stories and headlines from the year that was.
So it’s only natural to share the top ten articles for ManagingYourChurch.com in 2011 based on unique page views. Each post is highlighted below, starting with the tenth-most uniquely viewed post and building up to the first-most. Each highlight also includes the post’s title, author, and date, as well as a brief description and, if available, a notable reader comment.
See what caught the interest of church leaders nationwide, and feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on these legal, financial, and management topics:
Social media tools continued to proliferate in 2011, and no new addition created a larger stir than the summer unveiling of Google+. Many early adopters viewed Google+ as the first legitimate threat to Facebook’s status as the social networking site of choice for the masses. Christian author Margaret Feinberg dove in to Google+ immediately and shared her initial thoughts about how it works, and the way its features may be useful for churches.
Notable reader comment: “I definitely see the strengths of G+'s Circles. Love the idea of Hangout, etc all being built in. My concern is that FB would only need to make a few changes to do the same thing. And so far, my Incoming on G+ is DEAD. Very little updating going on.” —Richie Allen
Tips every church office should post for email and Internet use.
Every year, more organizations and people fall victim to cybercrime. Last year, more than 300,000 reported cybercrimes to the FBI with losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Whether it’s simple theft, fraud, or identity theft, this is a significant area of opportunity for criminals. Let’s shed some light on how to protect your church office and those you know from cybercrime.
Where There’s Opportunity …
A new level of crime became possible with the popularity of the Internet on a scale never before imagined! Criminals saw the opportunity to repackage old scams into electronic format and reach the masses in a way that could yield astounding results. That criminal vision has become a painful reality to many naïve victims.
On November 6, 2011, Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State defensive coordinator, was charged with molesting eight young boys between 1994 and 2009. Although he retired from Penn State’s football staff in 1999, he continued to use the school’s facilities for his work with The Second Mile, a nonprofit he founded in 1977 to assist at-risk kids.
Allegations against Sandusky range from sexual advances to touching to oral and anal sex. And even though there were some eye witness accounts of these actions that were brought to university and football staff’s attention in the course of the 15 years in question, Sandusky was never held accountable or reported to the proper authorities for suspicion of child sexual abuse.
Penn State’s scandal bears many of the same traits as clergy abuse scandals—and many similar repercussions. For instance, there are at least eight young men today who are living with the emotional scars of being sexually abused by an adult they trusted. If statistics bear out, there may well be others who were also victimized but are suffering in silence. Penn State will surely be facing years of litigation to find some way to compensate the victims and their families.
So far four Penn State employees have lost their job, and more could follow as details surface. A school’s whose reputation sparkled is now faced with the daunting task of rebuilding its reputation, and The Second Mile faces a similar task.
Given the scope of damage that’s done in a child sexual abuse case, churches would do well to learn from Penn State’s mistakes.
A church in Centralia, Washington, lost nearly $7,000 from its weekly collections recently when a staff member accidentally left the bag containing the collected funds on top of her car and headed to the bank.
Fortunately, a man driving in this small community located about an hour south of Tacoma spotted the bag and picked it up. The man told KomoNews.com, which reported on the incident, he contacted the church and returned the funds because an honest mother and son returned his lost wallet some 40 years earlier.
"I could have done a lot with it, but I couldn't bring myself to do that," he told the outlet.
Until electronic giving and mobile giving options become the dominant methods for transactions among members and visitors, churches of all sizes will handle varying amounts of cash and checks every week. Although the risk is small, the opportunity exists for these offerings to get lost or stolen. If a weekly trip to the bank is necessary, make certain to have two people (preferably unrelated) go together during daytime business hours (in 2009, a couple was robbed while making a night deposit on behalf of a South Carolina church).
Churches also should look into remote-deposit capture technology offered by many financial institutions. A device provided by a bank will scan checks and send the information electronically; churches usually pay for the scanner and a monthly service fee based on volume.
What church leaders can do to protect sensitive information.
A church that meets in the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women says its former administrative assistant, who is also a former inmate, used volunteers’ personal information to steal 40 identities to open credit cards, according to the Des Moines Register. Social Security numbers, birth dates, and other information are required from volunteers to gain entry into the facilities. The church’s leaders believed all documents with personal information were secured.
While few churches meet in correctional facilities like this one in Iowa, this news still serves as an important reminder of the precautions leaders can take to safeguard the sensitive information about their staff and members that churches possess. Identity theft is a major issue in the United States, topping the Federal Trade Commission’s list of consumer complaints in 2010. A nationwide survey by Javelin Strategy & Research reports that 8.1 million adults in the U.S. were victims of identity fraud in 2010. The mean consumer out-of-pocket cost was $631 per incident in 2010, according to Javelin.
Since June, two men in Texas have burglarized multiple churches in a bold way: They visit the churches during daytime hours to steal credit cards and employees’ wallets.
In one instance, they tricked a church employee by creating a distraction. Father Dean Lawrence, pastor of the targeted church, said one of the men walked through the front door inquiring about child care, while the other came through one of the side doors asking about work. Using the diversion, one of the men took the employee’s wallet out of her purse.
"We probably should be more diligent about making sure things are under lock and key," Lawrence told Click2Houston.com.
These burglaries serve as a good reminder for churches to secure their buildings. While it may prove difficult to stop someone with dishonest intentions from walking into your church building during the day, there are steps your church can take to protect the building and your employees throughout the week. Below are eight tips from ChurchSafety.com that can help you control access to your property and deter criminals.
Create policies and procedures to protect older adults in your church.
Many churches create child abuse protection plans to keep kids safe from abuse. Older adults, especially those who are housebound and unable to fully care for themselves, deserve similar protection, too. Seniors who have family members or caretakers that come into their homes to visit and care for them are especially vulnerable to neglect, exploitation, and abuse. Here are three things your pastoral staff should know and do to keep older adults in your church safe.
Do you have volunteers who regularly visit shut-ins? Or a ministry to seniors that requires volunteers to serve one-on-one with the elderly? If so, take precautions to screen these workers carefully. Most abuse claims for churches hinge on the screening and selection process used for staff and volunteers. To reduce the risk of negligent screening, take care to select volunteers with clean background checks, strong references, and at least a six-month history at the church. ChurchSafety.com gives several helpful tips for selecting volunteers for your ministry, including these:
Fill in the blanks. All prospective workers should complete a written application form. An application provides information that can be used to conduct reference checks and an interview.
Obtain asking rights. Your application form should include a liability release, signed by the applicant, giving you permission to contact references and obtain any criminal records. It also should release from liability the person being asked to provide information.
What ministries should note about changing federal rules.
New federal regulations for cribs could lead to substantial penalties and civil lawsuits that may implicate not only your church, but also your church board. It's important your church understands these new regulations and follows them closely to avoid creating a liability for the church. Here are three resources to help you do that:
Football season is underway, and many churches are hosting flag football and touch football events for their youth ministries. In full-contact football, players wear extensive padding and safety equipment. Virtually no protective gear is used for flag or touch football, and yet players still can experience high levels of contact, both intentionally and unintentionally. Here are nine quick safety tips to keep players safe on the gridiron:
Before play begins, inspect the playing area for hazards and make sure the field is clearly marked.
Check that the playing area includes a buffer zone.
Maintain a balance between skill and size when dividing up teams.
Before play begins, explain the rules of the game including what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Church shooting reminds us to create procedures to help protect our staff and parishioners.
This Sunday, a Florida man shot and killed his wife before entering a church a block away. Inside the church, the shooter identified the senior pastor and shot him in the head. He then shot the associate pastor three times, according to WTSP.com, a Tampa news station. Other church members tackled the shooter and held him until authorities arrived.
Sheriff Grady Judd, who was interviewed about the incident, called the intervening parishioners heroes for stepping in like they did. Unfortunately, these parishioners had to react to a horrific and unexpected situation. "If there's one place that you should be able to go on Sunday and worship safely and securely, it should be your church or your synagogue," Judd said. "And, unfortunately, that wasn't the case here this morning."
A bale of fun, or the last straw for church liability?
A church-sponsored hayride turned dangerous in July when a trailer carrying a Seattle area youth group flipped on a steep hill. According to a local news source, the trailer jackknifed on a packed gravel road, seriously injuring three adult volunteers. One lost a finger to amputation, while the other two suffered severe leg and ankle injuries. Several youths were also hospitalized. Investigators are studying the weight of people and objects placed on the trailer and the maintenance of the tractor and equipment.
At the moment, it is unclear if the tractor’s driver (an adult church volunteer) will be cited.
It’s more important than ever to use both common sense and educated legal knowledge to ensure the safety of church-sponsored events. As your congregation plans outdoor events throughout the fall season, do you know your legal responsibilities and liabilities? How can you keep participants – and your church – safe while enjoying traditional events and outings such as hayrides? Legal expert Richard Hammar gives a crash course in caution and savvy planning for hayrides as he fields this question in his Risk Management Handbook:
How to respond to a disruptive—and possibly dangerous—person.
The feature article this week on ChurchLawAndTax.com, a sister site of ours, looks at the delicate balance between ministry and safety. In "Dealing with Dangerous People," we go deeper into how church staff and lay leaders should approach an individual who may pose a threat to the church.
I saw him at a church conference. He lit up the stage. He was one of the most electric worship leaders I had ever seen. Young, handsome, talented. I went after him. I had to be a bit discreet—it felt a bit like stealing. He was, after all, serving at another church. But that just added value to his stock, particularly considering the church he was at. So the covert seduction began.
In the end, I got him. I was elated. Buckle your seat belts, church growth world—it’s time for warp speed! I had just nabbed the up-and-coming worship leader at one of the nation’s most prestigious megachurches.
In less than twenty-four months, he had been removed from ministry and placed under church discipline. He eventually left the ministry, and to the best of my knowledge, he has never served in a church since.
Not long afterward, I interacted with the senior pastor of the church from which I had procured my wunderkind. He graciously asked how my new hire had worked out, and I had to sheepishly tell him that, well, he didn’t.
I told him the whole story. After I was done, he said, “I’m not surprised. We had been having issues with him for months. Just before he left, I had entered into some pretty serious conversations with him attempting to confront the very kinds of things you have had to deal with. I was deeply concerned that he went to another church before we could work through anything.”
And then he said words that have haunted me and instructed me ever since:
A surge in U.S. copper thefts has continued throughout the summer.
“We've had copper robberies since forever, but we've seen a spike so far this summer," says a police officer in a recent Reuters article. Fueling more thefts: the rising value of copper during the summer. Since we last wrote on copper theft in late May, the price of a pound of the industrial metal has gone up around $31—from around $412 to $443.
Churches are a major target for these thefts.
“In the first six months of 2011, we have had 679 claims involving theft of copper,” says Patrick M. Moreland of Church Mutual Insurance Company. “Damage from these claims is approximately $5.6 million.” Compared to the first six months of 2010, this is a 36% increase in claims, and a 30% increase in cost of damage.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vandalism and burglaries are a real threat—prepare your church.
A church business manager told me that two times in the past couple years his church was vandalized. He was grateful the church’s insurance covered most of the cost, but for the most recent case, his church won’t be able to use the sanctuary for more than a month while it’s being repaired.
An Internet search revealed to me that other churches are facing similar problems. The search results showed several news stories of church vandalism, burglary, and robbery throughout the country within the last month. One was a news story of a county in Tennessee investigating at least 23 church burglaries.
One newspaper article in Alabama reported Sherriff Dave Sutton as saying that churches are targets for thieves due to their lack of visibility and their valuable sound systems. The article follows with advice to churches and their communities of how to protect churches:
“(Thieves) are getting a little bit brazen,” Sutton said. “What we ask is people check the churches near you (often), even if you don’t go to church there.”
Sutton said if county residents check on the churches and alert authorities about any suspicious activities, church burglaries could be curbed.
Wayne Russell [a church administrator of a rural church that recently experienced two burglaries] advised staff members at other churches to take even more precautions.
Do you intentionally try to understand your church’s risk profile? Which of the following is most like your church?
A risk-friendly church engages in risky conduct to preach the gospel. Intercity ministry, working with homeless and hungry people, is a good example of this.
A risk-neutral church stays away from many risky activities but has not done any planning to understand its risk profile. This church would need to understand each of its activities to start risk management planning.
A merely risk-conscious church knows that it is engaging in risky activities yet has no policies or procedures to deal with these risks.
Create an evacuation plan as part of your church’s fire preparedness and response plan.
During the past week, the states of Texas and Arizona faced rapidly spreading wildfires. In Arizona, firefighters now battle the state’s third-largest wildfire ever after attempts to contain it this past weekend failed, according to the Associated Press.
The unpredictability of a fire is what makes it so threatening, but there are ways to keep your church safe by creating procedures for both preventing and responding to a fire.
One insurer says it may limit payouts on costly thefts.
Copper remains a hot commodity. On Thursday afternoon, one pound of the industrial metal was worth nearly $412, according to Bloomberg. And because of the metal's increased value, thieves see a prime opportunity to swipe copper from air conditioning units and home and commercial construction sites, then turn around and sell their spoils to scrap metal dealers for quick cash.
Churches remain a primary target.
For instance, Southern Mutual Church Insurance, South Carolina's largest insurer of churches, says it paid more than $707,000 in claims to 113 churches through April. In 2010, it paid $1.2 million to 174 churches for the entire year, according to The State.
Thieves hit one South Carolina church twice, causing more than $100,000 in damages. That church's insurer, unidentified in the article, stopped insuring it altogether, one of the church's leaders says.
Southern Mutual Church Insurance says the problem has grown so large that it may limit payouts on future coverages to any church that suffers damage from a copper theft and refuses to put protective measures in place.
A protective cage around an air conditioning unit is one such measure. Other steps can thwart thieves, according to this ChurchSafety.com article, which also points out that rooftop heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units, gutters, pipes, and electrical wiring are also at risk:
How one church leader became a believer in Twitter.
Editor's Note: Relief efforts continue in Joplin, Missouri, following Sunday's horrific tornado, which killed at least 117 people and left extensive damage in its wake (the area remained on edge during the early parts of the week as predictions of more explosive storms rolled in). Churches and ministries are looking for ways to help. Aside from When Disaster Strikes and Serving as a Disaster Relief Team, two helpful church training resources from ChurchSafety.com, we offer this interesting blog post from Jenni Catron, who uncovered the power of Twitter during her church's response a year ago to flooding in Nashville:
I swore I wouldn't sign up for Twitter. It seemed like a nuisance. I had already given in to Facebook and started my personal blog. I didn't need one more thing!
But I quickly realized that as a leader in a church with a population of primarily Generation X and Y, I needed to engage this medium if I intended to influence them. Little did I know that less than a year later Twitter would become a key tool for responding to one of the greatest tragedies our city has ever faced.
Sunday, May 2, 2010, is a day that will be etched in my memory forever. I'd never seen so much water in my life, and it just continued to rain and rain and rain. I had spent nearly two hours trying to get home, but there was simply no way. My neighborhood and several of those around it were completely surrounded by water. Since going home was not an option, I found my way to a friend's house and camped out in front of the TV, paralyzed by the continuous news footage. Soon I received word of not one, not two, but three of my staff members whose homes were submerged in water. Tears began to flow when one of my staff texted me a picture of the roof of her house—everything else was under water. "God, please make it stop," I begged.
Nashville was devastated and we needed to respond. That evening, Pete Wilson, lead pastor for Cross Point Church, and I brainstormed ways our church might bring the love and hope of Christ to our flooded city. We had no idea what we could do, but we knew we needed to rally Cross Point volunteers and begin to help. Sunday evening Pete and I began tweeting our plans to our combined 60,000 followers and several thousand Facebook friends, asking them to meet Monday morning to help with flood relief.
A reminder of what leaders can do to help prevent headlines like these.
A church bus driver in southern Illinois was arrested and charged last week with sexually abusing a child.
According to the local newspaper, "the arrest came after a Wayne County Grand Jury returned an indictment against him." The driver, 33, was charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a person under the age of 13, a Class 2 felony, the paper reported. He faces three to seven years in prison, and up to $25,000 in fines if convicted.
The article doesn't indicate the circumstances of the alleged abuse—whether it occurred as the man served in his role with the church, during church activities, or on church property. It also doesn't indicate whether the man has any prior convictions.
Without those details, it's less clear as to how his involvement with the ministry could have been handled differently.
However, church leaders still can take away this immediate lesson: Regardless of the role or position within the church, be it paid staff member or volunteer, children's ministry director or bus driver, anyone who will have access to children must go through a careful screening process, including thorough background checks.
These resources can help any church set up policies and procedures, including helpful ways to establish them in a positive way:
Practices church leaders can use to protect funds.
A woman in Missouri pleaded guilty last week to stealing nearly $140,000 while serving as the treasurer of a local church and its denomination’s local governing organization. According to a Kansas City-based news website, the woman wrote checks to herself, overstated various expenses, or received reimbursements for expenses that never occurred. She faces severe penalties, including up to 10 years in prison without parole.
As lawmakers closely study financial accountability in local churches, it’s important to note that these types of cases are the exception, not the rule, across the country (although two more headlines emerged here and here this week, sobering reminders that the threat remains real). Leaders must build healthy practices and procedures at their churches to protect the money entrusted to them by those who attend.
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:
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.
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.
Maryville shooting, Texas murder underscore need for preparation.
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.
Recent Twitter mishap in Indiana underscores the need for clear policy
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:
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:
As we welcome in the New Year, here is a list of the top 10 best-selling ChurchSafety.com 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.
The key law, tax, finance, and safety issues readers cared about this year.
Last week, we took a moment to highlight the Top 10 most-read articles from Your Church magazine's website, YourChurch.net. As we continue to count down the days to 2011, we now offer the Top 5 most-read posts from TheYourChurchBlog.com during 2010:
These Your Church Today articles drew the most traffic.
As 2010 comes to a close, it’s time to get all nostalgic and look back at the year that was. That includes reviewing the articles that interested readers throughout the year. Based on Internet traffic patterns, these 10 articles from YourChurch.net (Your Church Today magazine’s website) led the way:
10. Is My Church Covered? We noticed many church leaders seemed to be taking a hard look at their church insurance policies, their premiums, and any possible savings they could make in light of tightened budgets. Our Summer 2010 cover story reviewed the changing landscape of church insurance, including key coverage changes to note, terms to know, and a brief look at the biggest church insurance providers.
9. State of the Plate Results A detailed look at the results from the 2010 State of the Plate survey, which Christianity Today International conducted with Maximum Generosity to see how 2009 ended for American churches. Among the findings: More churches missed their budgets in 2009 compared to 2008.
8. Debunking the Clergification Myth Respected author and researcher Ed Stetzer examines the prevailing models of church staffing structures and argues for changes that place less emphasis on paid staff and more emphasis on an empowered lay leadership base.
Last month, we highlighted Sex Offenders in the Pews, Marian Liautaud's article in Christianity Today that is based largely on research we conducted earlier this year. This week, Leadership Journal, another one of our sister publications, published "Sex Offenders: Coming to a Church Near You," Marian's article about this topic from the view of church pastors and staff members.
Of particular note: A small church in the Northeast worked hard to integrate a convicted sex offender after his release from prison. After numerous meetings with families, the pastor decided integration could work--and could reinforce the church's redemptive mission. It's a theme that emerged from our research (nearly 8 in 10 church leaders say they're open to a sex offender's attendance, with proper supervision and appropriate limitations in place).
But in the case of this church in the Northeast, such an approach still comes with its costs:
Can churches legally designate medical allowances for pastor health plans?
Question: We are entertaining the idea of changing our health care coverage to a HSA (Health Saving Account)-compatible policy. Presently our three pastors receive a designated amount of medical allowances each year to help them cover the costs of out-of-pocket moneies that go toward their deductible. Is it legal to still set aside a designated medical allowance within our budget if we go to a HSA-compatible policy?
Answer: Health Saving Accounts (HSA's) are medical reimbursement accounts that are regulated through the IRS. An HSA is generally only permitted in conjunction with a high deductible health plan. So, depending on how you use the medical allowance, it may impact whether it is legally permitted.
I'm assuming with your current plan, the pastoral staff submits receipts for medical expenses and then is reimbursed up to a designated amount. When you switch to a high deductible plan, it makes sense to take the designated money and deposit it into their HSA account. This is legal as long as all of the pastors are part of a high deductible health plan (i.e. they don't have a traditional health plan with co-pays somewhere else). One other item to be aware of is that the IRS sets limits on how much may be contributed into an HSA account. The IRS changes these limits each year.
8 in 10 church leaders say registered offenders can attend--with limitations.
Marian V. Liautaud
In April 2010, Christianity Today International (CTI) conducted a national survey of 2,864 people, including ordained church leaders (15 percent), church staff (20 percent), lay members (43 percent), and other active Christians (22 percent). Respondents were drawn from the readers of CTI publications and websites. The purpose of the "Sex Offenders in the Church" survey was to explore attitudes and beliefs on whether to allow sex offenders to participate in faith communities. The survey explored what practices churches use to keep their congregations safe when sex offenders are welcomed.
Pastors, lay leaders, and churchgoers overwhelmingly agree that sex offenders who have legally paid for their crime should be welcomed into churches. In fact, 8 in 10 respondents indicated that registered offenders should be allowed to attend church under continuous supervision and subject to appropriate limitations.
Ian Thomsen, church administrator for Arvada Covenant Church in Arvada, Colorado, says, "If we can reach out to sex offenders, and through our efforts change their lives for the better and take a significant risk away from society, we see this as a tremendous challenge—but what a wonderful challenge. We want to take it on."
"Jesus said there's no unforgiveable sin except blasphemy of the Holy Spirit," says Mark Tusken, rector of St. Mark's Church in Geneva, Illinois. "Now that doesn't mean we want to condone sexual crimes. We're not out to hang a shingle that says Sex Offenders Not Welcome any more than we want to hang a shingle that says Come, Y'All. But my prayer has always been that St. Mark's would be a safe place—a place where people can come because they sense the refuge of Christ here.
"That means parents can come without even giving a thought about something happening to their kids, but also that somebody with a sex offense in their past ought to be able to come and fit in and not be judged." In the 16 years that Tusken has overseen his congregation, he has known of only one convicted sex offender attending.
Click here to continue reading Marian Liautaud's article from the September 2010 issue of Christianity Today.
Where does you and your church land on this subject?
As hard as it may be to believe, churches are not immune from embezzlement. In fact, the widespread belief among church leaders that such a crime "could never happen in a church" makes churches an easy target. Economic downturns make the risk even greater. Here are seven reasons to prevent fraud from happening at your church:
Removing temptation. Churches that take steps to prevent embezzlement remove a source of possible temptation for church employees and volunteers who work with money.
Protecting reputations. By taking steps to prevent embezzlement, a church protects the reputation of innocent employees and volunteers who otherwise might be suspected of financial wrongdoing when financial irregularities occur.
What other church leaders are reading and using to keep their congregations safe.
ChurchSafety.com provides expert guidance and risk management information on a broad range of safety topics. We’ve compiled the Top 10 most-downloaded resources from ChurchSafety.com during the past year. Find out what other church leaders have read and used to train staff and volunteers and to develop a safe environment for ministry:
While the number of incidents involving guns at churches remains small, information and preparation are still vital. Begin by assessing the current security of your church. This download gives helpful advice on how to plan for the unexpected, whether or not your church should hire a security guard, and how to deal with the media in the aftermath of violence.
Children are often the most vulnerable members of our congregations, and their presence also presents some of the most serious liability risks. Most churches use minors to assist in various children's or youth programs. Screening these workers will help prevent youth-peer sexual harassment. Institutions can be found guilty of negligence in these cases for not providing security against such abuse. Learn practical steps to properly screen underage workers and access helpful templates for references and interviews.
8. Creating a Safety Team
When crisis arises, are you prepared? Don’t be taken by surprise next time. Learn to respond appropriately to situations ranging from common medical emergencies to crisis involving gunfire. Every church can benefit from forming a safety team that is trained to respond appropriately to various emergencies. This download will discuss the importance of having a team that can handle situations requiring security intervention, medical response, or evacuation.
The topics that most interested readers like you during the past year.
I love milestones. And I'm a sucker for top 10 lists (thank you very much, David Letterman). Since today is August 26, it means the TheYourChurchBlog.com turns 1. Naturally, I went back and looked at our 10 most popular posts for the first year.
But before I do, a few observations about our past year:
1. Subject popularity appears diverse: 3 of the Top 10 posts fall under the Law Category, with 2 each under Finance and Safety, and 1 each under Staff and Office (the other post was a general one and didn't fall under one specific category);
2. Our highest traffic day came on February 23, on the heels of our post "Oregon Case Provides a Powerful Reminder to Churches," which reviews the implications of an appeals court's ruling that allowed a pastor's victory in a defamation lawsuit against his former church to stand.
3. The post garnering the most comments was "Where You Work Best," which discusses the pros and cons of worshipping at the church where you also work.
Without further delay, here are TheYourChurchBlog.com's Top 10 posts during its first year:
10. Legally Host a Super Bowl Party: If your church is hosting a Super Bowl party this year, you will need to abide by three simple guidelines to avoid violating copyright law ... read more
9. The Top 7 Resources to Combat Church Embezzlement: Earlier this month, we looked at two recent cases of church embezzlement, and the "zero tolerance" stance judges are starting to take against these crimes. Unfortunately, yet another big headline has since emerged ... read more
8. 10 Questions to Ask About Your Church's Communication: As you approach 2010, consider these 10 questions to discuss your church’s communication efforts ... read more
7. What Will the New Health Care Bill Mean for Churches?: Now that President Obama has signed the health care reform bill into law, many churches are wondering what the impact will be on staffing costs. ... read more
How pedophiles exploit churches--and what to do about it.
Like a triple espresso on an empty stomach, some news stories make my hands shake.
In our paper yesterday, I read about a Boy Scout camp director recently arrested for possession of child pornography. The FBI raided the camp to confiscate his computers. This man also worked at a YMCA.
Get ready to tremble with me.
Leadership from both organizations described how he passed extensive criminal background checks. One group performs them periodically and requires annual youth protection training. The suspect worked there for seven years. A senior leader remarked that, unfortunately, no manual exists for them to see exactly what a pedophile looks like.
By now, you likely see the connection between this news story and your ministry. You perform criminal background checks (right?), you conduct child protection training (right?), and the potential still exists for the wrong people to make it into your ministry.
Don't let bad food spoil a good time at your next church potluck.
Bring out the food, and the fellowship is close behind. Church dinners offer an excellent opportunity to bring the community together. Poor food preparation can spoil a good time, though, so use the following precautions before your next church potluck.
Look for warning signs. Don't purchase or use canned goods that are damaged or rusted. These signs indicate the food may not be safe regardless of how you prepare it.
Separate quarters. Keep raw seafood, poultry, and meat away from other foods. Use separate cutting boards and make sure any juices are contained.
These systems can be key to encourage returning visitors.
Parents desire confidence in nursery procedures when they’re visiting churches. One way your church will gain control of a critical piece of the childcare experience is by creating a well-managed check-in and check-out process. You’ll leave parents with a good impression of your church, knowing that their kids are safe.
Make a Good Impression Set the stage. Parents will make key decisions—including where to attend church—based on the needs of their children. Set the stage for their experience at church with a friendly, but professional greeting process.
Ways church leaders can assess vulnerabilities before they're exploited
Editor's Note: A man hired to handle odd jobs at an Oklahoma City church was arrested last week and charged with raping a church employee. The man's background included two prior convictions for burglary, and two prior violations of protective orders, according to KOCO, a local television station.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim and the church during this difficult time.
Churches must think through possible vulnerabilities, whether it's the screening of employees, vendors, and contractors, or situations in which a staff member can become isolated, such as a church office. Below is "Strategic Security," a free article that first published in Your Church and now appears on our sister site ChurchSafety.com. It can help church leaders identify and address vulnerabilities before those vulnerabilities are exploited:
Ministry leaders strive to set an example through their actions at every opportunity. Obeying copyright law should not be the exception. Music ministries and church websites are just a few of the areas where you are at risk for violations. It will be to your church’s advantage to understand copyright law and obey it.
About Copyright Law Ignorance is not bliss. Violating copyright law—whether its done intentionally or not—takes honest wages away from the author. Being unaware of the law is no excuse and violations can be costly.
A camping trip’s only as successful as it is safe.
Editor's Note: With floods hitting a campground in Arkansas today, killing at least 20 people and leaving dozens of others missing, we're pointing to two resources that church leaders can use to prepare for upcoming camps this summer. The first, "When Disaster Strikes," provides preparation guidance for serious situations, including flooding.
The other is a free electronic training resource during the month of June on ChurchSafety.com: "Creating a Safe Camp Experience." Below is an article from this download regarding safety for camping trips. Through the articles in the entire download, you’ll find the insights and advice you need to start planning your next camping trip with safety in mind.
We finally pulled into the church parking lot, the end of a long six-hour trip with our crew of teens. Parents waited, anxious to hear every detail of their child’s last four days of winter camping. And after ice games, tubing, horseback riding, canoeing, snowshoeing, hiking across a frozen lake, and much more—there was plenty to talk about.
One thing no one had to report on: accidents. Between the journey to and from the campsite and all the winter activities that took place in the freezing cold, we certainly had plenty of opportunities for trouble. But thanks to quality preparation and planning—both on our part as youth leaders and on the part of the excellent camp we attended—all we took home were our good memories.
Learn how to create and maintain your ministry employee handbook.
Every ministry, no matter how small, could benefit from maintaining an employee handbook. A proper handbook defines what you expect from employees and what they can expect from you. By following a few simple tips, your ministry handbook can provide valuable legal protection if your policies are challenged in court.
Getting Started Consult an attorney. Your policies and procedures may be subject to federal, state, and local laws. Have an attorney review your handbook before it is distributed to employees.
Keep it simple. Information should be concise and straightforward. An employee handbook is not an employment contract and it shouldn't read like one.
Plan properly, so you can focus on meeting the needs of your neighboring communities.
My last year of college, I had the privilege of overseeing 20-plus weekly outreach ministries to the greater Chicago area. Our programs included a sports ministry, refugee outreach, hospital visitation, tutoring, street evangelism, and soup kitchen ministry. I witnessed the breadth and scope of the impact such ministries can have on the communities they serve.
However, anyone who has participated in outreach ministries also knows how complicated they can be logistically. Outreach ministries expose the local church to unique liabilities, such as transportation. Inner-city ministries like the ones I was involved with required transportation to and from the church, and drivers were nearly always volunteers. How can you provide meaningful service in another community, and yet maintain a level of protection for your volunteers? Use the following simple tips from ChurchSafety.com to help you plan properly, so you can focus on meeting the needs of your neighboring communities.
A special webinar this week covers important financial controls.
Back in December, we ranked the Top 7 Resources to Combat Church Embezzlement. Six months later, I’m reminded of why, and with another unfortunate headline emerging last week, it’s an opportunity for me to highlight a special online event we’re hosting this week that you can attend.
At the time of our December posting, a couple of recent headlines had caught our eye, including the “zero tolerance" stance judges are beginning to take in cases involving embezzlement at churches, and a $1 million embezzlement allegation against an individual who oversaw a Connecticut church’s investments.
In Your Church magazine’s Spring 2010 issue, many of our Editorial Advisors cautioned leaders about the ever-present threat of fraud to church finances, a problem compounded by a reluctance by some to institute stronger financial controls, or by an ongoing presumption that safeguards aren’t necessary because those in their church office are trustworthy.
Last week, we were reminded again of this threat—this time in our own backyard. The pastor of a storefront church in Aurora, Illinois, just minutes from our offices, was arrested, accused of swindling $470,000 from three men, including a member of his congregation, through a church real estate investment scheme.
Consider safety precautions for your building and staff.
Whenever churches open their doors to the public they expose themselves to both opportunity and risk. A well-run event maximizes the opportunity and takes precautions against the risk. Use these simple tips from ChurchSafety.com the next time your church is considering hosting a large event.
Communicate Responsibility Keep accountability. Event and Building Use forms are essential when letting outside groups use your church for an event. It's important that groups are held accountable for things they agree to in your Building Use forms and Event forms.
Tips and resources as flooding hits the Southeast.
As the death toll rises to 18 in the aftermath of the flooding in Tennessee, the water is slowly starting to recede. Many residents are returning to their homes to find damaged possessions and property. Churches are also dealing with the repercussions of the flash flood; many have been forced to reconvene in alternative meeting areas.
The Your Church Blog has compiled a number of resources from our family of sites at Christianity Today International that are available to help affected churches. These resources also are useful for any churches in other parts of the country who are reminded of their needs to plan and prepare for a possible future disaster situation like this one.
Below is a free article from a ChurchSafety.com download, "Serving as a Disaster Relief Team." This article provides simple, effective tips before a church begins to respond to an affected community. Following the article is a list of other resources that can help.
Remote-deposit capture is an efficient way to handle Sunday offerings.
The buzz surrounding electronic giving options continues to grow as online donation capabilities improve and text-messaging campaigns take hold. The American Red Cross, for instance, says it raised $35 million within 48 hours of the January earthquake in Haiti, with half arriving via its website and $5 million through texts.
But a lesser-known technology called remote-deposit capture may provide significant benefits to churches as they sift through the large number of checks still given weekly. A February survey of 750 Christian households by Maximum Generosity, Church Finance Today, and Leadership shows 90 percent still primarily use checks for their weekly offering.
Remote-deposit capture first gained acceptance among retailers wanting to speed the clearing of checks. In recent years, banks like Christian Community Credit Union, Bank of the West, and Evangelical Christian Credit Union began offering it to churches.
(Editor’s Note: April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. We're digging deeper into the issue of "Reporting Child Abuse" with Richard Hammar during a special one-hour live webinar on April 14. Don’t miss out on this important learning opportunity for your church.)
No one likes to acknowledge that child sexual abuse is a reality. The trusting environment of the church makes it a prime target for abuse to occur. Recognizing the signs of child sexual abuse and responding quickly can make all the difference in the victim’s life. Learn how with a few tips from ChurchSafety.com.
How do we protect our members from known sex offenders?
Richard R. Hammar
(Editor’s note: Since this post first published, Christianity Today International completed "Sex Offenders in the Church," a comprehensive research project exploring the attitudes and beliefs among church leaders regarding integrating sex offenders into the faith community.)
There is a female, registered sex offender who wants to attend our Sunday services. We want her to attend, but what guidelines should we have in place to safeguard our children?
Answer by Richard Hammar:
When the senior pastor, or any member of the church board, is informed that a registered sex offender is attending the church, there are steps that can be taken to manage risk. These include the following:
A pastor's worst nightmare leads to a new beginning.
Ralph Neighbour III, with Jim Wilson
My lawyer said, "Just follow my lead and answer the questions he asks, and everything will be okay." I clung to his advice as I entered the smartly decorated boardroom lined with towering bookshelves. The first thing I noticed was the videographer and stenographer setting up their equipment. Then the opposing counsel, who to me represented evil incarnate, walked into the room.
"Please state your full name for the record." His tone and mannerisms suggested this was strictly routine. For the others in the room, this was just another work day. They pushed buttons on the camera, they typed on the stenograph machine, they served coffee, they represented their clients—this was a 9-5 job for everyone in the room. Everyone, that is, except me.
I cleared my throat and said, "Ralph Webster Neighbour III."
"I am sure your lawyer has explained to you the deposition process, but let me explain it again for the record …"
There was that phrase again—"for the record." I thought: This is high stakes. The church's reputation and my future are on the line here! I also knew this deposition was just the beginning; we would walk at least another year through this legal maze.
I couldn't believe this was happening to me—a seventh generation pastor. But here I was, giving a deposition in a sexual misconduct lawsuit. This was not what I signed up for!
This article first appeared in Leadership journal. The full version is available atLeadershipJournal.net. For additional resources on embezzlement and sexual misconduct issues for churches, please visit:
Resources to help churches prepare for the unthinkable.
Marian V. Liautaud
On Sunday morning, a gunman walked into New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ in Richmond, California. Flanked by two hooded companions, the three men scanned the pews, possibly searching for specific targets. Church members attempted to approach the men to ask them to remove their hoods, but before they reached them, one man began firing into the pews. The five shots made a popping sound, according to witnesses. Caught in the fire was a 14-year-old, who was hit in the shoulder, and a 19-year-old, who was struck in the leg. Both were hospitalized and are expected to survive.
Although the shooter acted too quickly for church members to respond, they correctly identified that these men posed a potential threat to the congregation. A free article on our sister site, ChurchSafety.com, outlines a basic strategy for recognizing and dealing with dangerous people.
CTI invited well-known and well-respected members from church legal and financial circles to an Editorial Advisory Board to bring authoritative and qualified eyes to its work.
The 14 advisors will regularly contribute to the church management division’s publications, websites, and resources, and also will regularly provide ideas, thoughts, and feedback, shaping the articles, videos, books, blog posts, and other resources that guide church leaders on important legal, financial, safety, and administrative decisions.
Noted church and business leaders who will lend their expertise include:
Looking back at the articles you read most this past year.
Last week, we wrote about the Top 10 most-read posts on TheYourChurchBlog.com during 2009. This week, we're taking a look at the Top 10 most-read articles from YourChurch.net, the website for Your Church magazine.
For a year riddled with bad economic news, there are a few surprises in these results (hint: Our No. 1 ranked story has nothing to do with the economy, or finances for that matter). What can we conclude from this? Probably not much. Except the fact that church administrators, executive pastors, pastors, and lay leaders wrestle with a variety of challenging, and often complicated, questions on a wide array of topics.
A look at the hottest topics facing pastors and administrators.
As 2009 draws to a close, here's a fun look back at the year's 10 most-read posts on TheYourChurchBlog.com. Doing this kind of review often helps us understand the most pressing issues facing church administrators, executive pastors, pastors, and leaders.
And, it's a nice way to showcase topics that you may have missed the first time around.
Best practices and guidance to protect your church's money.
Earlier this month, we looked at two recent cases of church embezzlement, and the "zero tolerance" stance judges are starting to take against these crimes.
Unfortunately, yet another big headline has since emerged—this time, the leaders of a 150-member Greek Orthodox Church in Connecticut discovered someone potentially embezzled more than $1 million. Federal authorities investigated the claims, and in an arrest made Tuesday, authorities say the suspect, who oversaw the church's investments (including managing the building fund and endowment) allegedly used the money for his businesses, according to the New Haven Register. The church's attorney, and federal documents released with the arrest, allege the 50-year-old man stole more than $2 million from three parishoners, and potentially millions more from the church, the paper reported.
As incidents such as these continue to spring up, we've compiled the Top 7 resources church leaders should use to prevent embezzlement opportunities and combat individuals who might attempt to steal:
Because our team produces Reducing the Risk, a comprehensive training program that churches use with staff and volunteers to minimize the risks of child abuse in their ministries, we pay a great deal of attention to the issue of sex offenders in the church.
For example, this fall, we looked at the case of a Kentucky church that chose to ordain a registered sex offender. Last year, we surveyed churches about their child protection programs, and every year, Richard Hammar writes an exhaustive report on the child-abuse reporting laws for all 50 states.
So we took special notice this month when Christianity Today, a sister publication of ours, published "Modern-Day Lepers." The article clearly demonstrates the ongoing tensions church leaders, administrators, and volunteers face when it comes to balancing between the needs of protecting children and the needs of ministering to sex offenders.
At your church, how have you found a balance, if at all?
A sad story emerged last week out of Indiana, where a 37-year-old woman accused of stealing more than $350,000 from a church while working there as an employee received the maximum sentence allowed by the state.
According to an article in the Greencastle Banner-Graphic, the local paper, the woman was convicted on six counts of Class C felony charges and six counts of Class D felony theft, resulting in 10 years in the state jail, followed by 5 years of probation.
The woman began stealing from the church shortly after getting hired in late 2004 as the church's financial and administrative secretary, according to the article. She forged signatures on 192 checks, doctored bank receipts to cover it up, and also made unauthorized charges on church credit cards, the paper said.
This case is similar to one covered by Richard Hammar in November's Church Finance Today in which a woman employed as a church office manager for seven years stole $450,000. She received a 15-year sentence, which included an upward adjustment "for misrepresenting that she was acting on behalf of her church," according to the article.
What's the takeaway for church leaders from these cases? Aside from the need to implement strong financial controls, if such controls aren't already in place, Richard explains three reasons why church leaders should learn from cases like these:
Copper remains a popular target for thieves because of the metal’s potential re-sale value.
Thieves steal anything containing copper in order to turn a quick profit. Air conditioning units, gutters, electrical wiring, pipes—all of these items are ripe for the picking. Even rooftop heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are being vandalized.
In the recent past, one Alabama church had its air conditioning units stolen twice in 10 days. Each time, thieves got about $300 worth of copper, and the church had to pay more than $3,000 for replacements. A church in Detroit, Michigan, spent more than $50,000 to replace heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units damaged by copper thieves.
In October 2009, thieves stole copper downspouts three times in a two-month span from a Massachusetts church. An article in the local paper said the value of scrap copper has diminished in recent months, but the article indicated copper thefts remain an option of choice, especially “to someone who’s obviously desperate,” the town’s chief of detectives said.
Here are some practical steps to protect church property from copper thieves:
Current legal trends that can help your church assess its vulnerabilities.
Richard R. Hammar
For many years, I've closely reviewed litigation involving churches to identify patterns that pastors and leaders can use to assess their own risks and potential vulnerabilities. In 2008, the following five types of cases brought churches to court more than any others:
1. Sexual Abuse of a Minor (15 percent of cases). Sadly, this type of case is typically the No. 1 or No. 2 reason churches wind up in court every year.
2. Property Disputes (13 percent of cases).
3. Zoning (10 percent of cases).
4. Personal Injury (9 percent of cases). This is a Top 4 issue every year.
5. Tax (7 percent of cases).
Based on this ongoing analysis, churches should note the following major risk categories they face and work to evaluate (and to minimize) their own risks:
As a ministry leader, you may be wondering what you can do to keep your congregation healthy. Here are some important steps you can take to reduce the spread of the flu within your own faith community.
Read through the tips below, then take our free online assessment to see if your church is ready to communicate to staff and congregants during a pandemic.
The Post’s piece recounts several recent, high-profile shooting incidents, including one that took place in February, when a man arrived at a Maryland church’s Sunday services toting a Bible and .38 caliber revolver, confronted his estranged wife in the parking lot, and shot her five times. She died on the scene. He recently received a life prison sentence.
A small Kentucky church recently did. What are the implications?
A church in Louisville, Kentucky, generated local and national media attention earlier this month, not because it allowed a convicted sex offender to attend its services, but because the church pastor decided to hire and ordain one.
WHAS-TV, a local television station, as well as CNN and newspaper wire services, covered the story when it first emerged. On Wednesday, the story picked up new steam when the Associated Press wrote its second piece about the situation (it was picked up here by MSNBC.com). During the past week, I’ve left three voice mails for Pastor Randy Meadows on the church’s main phone line, hoping to learn more about his decision, and the circumstances surrounding it. My calls haven’t been returned.
We know the following facts:
• The City of Refuge Worship Center, a small, independent congregation based in downtown Louisville, ordained Mark Hourigan on September 13. The church’s website shows he is the music minister and leader of the church’s “Pride Committee.”
• Hourigan, 41, is listed on the Kentucky State Police’s Sex Offender Registry. The site lists Hourigan’s offense as “Sexual Abuse 1st Degree,” and also notes he faced two counts. His victim was an 11-year-old boy, according to the site.
• Media reports indicate the abuse took place in 1993 and 1994. The AP’s first story, quoting an interview between Hourigan and CNN, said Hourigan told the cable network he completed a sex offender treatment program and was upfront with Meadows regarding his criminal past.
• According to the AP, “ ‘I don’t take anything lightly when it comes to someone’s past,’ Meadows told CNN. But he added, ‘God gives everyone a second and a third and fourth chance.’ ” Meadows also told the network that Hourigan will sign an agreement not to minister to children.
• The ordination drew protests from at least one abuse victims group, and the departure of at least one church deacon, who disagreed with the decision, according to media reports.
Undoubtedly, a church faces numerous challenges when a sex offender begins to attend. In ChurchSafety.com’s “Dealing with Dangerous People,” an electronic training resource, the tension that arises with a sex offender’s attendance at a church is best summed up in this way:
When you need to ask someone to leave your church.
Richard R. Hammar
Does a church have a legal right to keep people from accessing its property or attending services? For example, let's say that a church has an encounter with a disruptive person, and asks him not to return. What if he shows up again the next week? How should ushers respond?
This issue has been addressed by a number of courts. Generally, the courts have been sympathetic to attempts by churches to deny access to disruptive individuals. To illustrate, one court ruled that a church could bar a disruptive individual from entering its premises. It noted that the person had been clearly informed and understood that his privilege to attend the church had been revoked. The court rejected the person's claim that a church is a public place that cannot deny access to anyone. To the contrary, a church, like any property owner, has the right to determine who can access its premises.