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."


Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments


January 05, 2010  5:04pm

On p. 224 of the 2009 Church & Clergy Tax Guide, Rich addresses housing expenses to include when computing your housing allowance exclusion, and local telephone charges and internet access fees are included on this list. Cable expenses do NOT appear on the list, nor do cell phones. Given the strict substantiation rules about deducting cell phone expenses, I do not believe they are allowable as part of a housing allowance, although according to p. 292 of the CCTG, many churches opt to raise their employees' salaries slightly so employees may use the extra income to purchase their own cell phone. In this case, it is up to the employee to determine whether they will go through the hassle of substantiating their cell phone calls for a business expense deduction.

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December 01, 2009  11:12am

Is there any way you can be more specific in describing exactly or as best as possible what IRS considers legal expenses for Housing Expense for a parsonage when the church provides a parsonage, pay all utilities, maintenance and provide for other expenses . i am told that cable and cell phones are allowable now, I've re read your 2009 book but can't find it. We are doing budget and being ask for a dollar increase for Housing Expense in addition to all the items we pay.

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November 23, 2009  8:55am

Sally, Our team publishes the 2010-2011 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff ( Your question depends on a number of factors, including whether the pastor is solo, what the pastor's education level involves, the pastor's experience level, and so on. The handbook is extremely valuable because it will help you break down that information in ways that are specific to your situation. I highly recommend you purchase one to make the best decision possible. Bearing that in mind, here are some general data points that may begin to help you: * Solo pastors with average weekend worship attendance of about 90 people earned, on average, total compensation and benefits (including housing allowance) of $52,427, according to our most recent data. * In the Middle Atlantic region, which includes Pennsylvania, the average is $61,059. Best, Matt

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sally collett

November 21, 2009  6:39pm

Can you supply the following information....or where to find it.......: Compensation for Pastors in Western Pennsylvania, congregations of 100 or less....we are working on our budget for 2010 and would like to know that we are paying our Pastor a comparable salary. Thank you for replying....I wasn't sure that I could email you used this means following a email from you. Treasurer

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