Top 5 Reasons Churches Wind Up in Court

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:

1. Sexual misconduct. For more resources and help on preventing child sexual abuse, turn to our "Reducing the Risk, 3rd Edition." To learn more about sexual misconduct issues in churches, see Your Church's article and Executive Report.

2. Property. I cover issues of church property law extensively in Volume 2 of "Pastor, Church, & Law, 4th Edition."

3. Employment. I cover employment law issues extensively in Volume 3 of "Pastor, Church, & Law, 4th Edition."

You can also find helpful resources related to employment law on, where I serve as an "expert" advisor:

4. Zoning. Be sure to see my exhaustive coverage of this topic in Volume 3 of "Pastor, Church, & Law, 4th Edition."

5. Personal Injury. For resources that can help with limiting liabilities for incidents of personal injuries on church property, visit ( and check out our risk management resources and checklists located here.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.


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