Part 2 of 4: Managing Meeting Motions

Knowing how to make—and manage—a motion is a crucial aspect of a successful church business meeting.

Editor’s Note: Managing motions during a church business meeting is essential to ensuring the meeting accomplishes its intended purposes. Continuing her look at effective business meetings through the hypothetical lens of Liz Jones, an experienced business administrator at First Church, Sarah E. Merkle explains how to plan, draft, and make a meeting motion.

This four-part series is offered in support of Merkle’s Mastering Meeting Basics.”


Liz Jones spent months preparing the agenda for First Church’s annual business meeting. As her work progressed, it became apparent that the facilities committee’s report would suggest more potential work would be needed than just repaving the church’s parking lot.

One motion—and possibly more—would likely come up for facilities-related needs.

Cindy Martinez, the facilities committee’s chair, sent an email to Jones several weeks prior to the meeting warning her as much.

Martinez detailed the parking lot project. She also relayed desires from some individuals to repaint the children’s ministry wing, as well as preliminary concerns from others about the church’s aging HVAC system (though some contend the concerns are premature).

The primary tension point? Next year’s proposed annual budget doesn’t account for the expenses to do all three.

“We already know there will be differing opinions about which projects need to be addressed, and which should get priority,” Martinez wrote to Jones. “At least a few also believe the church should borrow some money now and do all three projects, with the goal to have the loan paid off in two years.”

Planning the motion

Working through Sarah E. Merkle’s article on motions, Jones decides the smart approach will be to have Martinez present the facilities committee report, including the three possible projects. But Jones gets nervous about the ensuing discussion and how things might bog down in the meeting.

She again reaches out to Merkle with an email. Merkle replied soon after, reminding her she couldn’t provide legal advice but could generally help.

“In general, it’s smart to come to a meeting with a proposed motion drafted,” Merkle wrote. “You don’t want all the information presented about all the projects, say all three need to happen, and stop there. At that point, someone will just present a motion that isn’t well-crafted.”

Jones confers with the finance committee chair, Alex Armstrong, about how next year’s annual budget is taking shape. He tells her a potentially reasonable budget amount for the developing projects based on current financial projections, pending bids for the projects.

Jones then proceeds to help Martinez craft a draft motion that reads as follows:

RESOLVED, that the Facilities Committee obtain bids to begin the following capital projects during the next fiscal year:

  • Repave the parking lot;
  • Replace the HVAC system;
  • Repaint the children’s ministry wing; and,

that the Facilities Committee be authorized to proceed with these projects, provided they do not exceed a combined total cost of $200,000.

Making the motion

The annual business meeting day arrives and 300 voting members show up, more than enough to satisfy the quorum requirement for First Church’s annual business meeting.

As planned, the agenda begins with the ministries, financial health, and facilities reports.

The ministries report includes exciting developments for First Church, such as big growth in its children’s ministry and a new missions opportunity in Ecuador.

Armstrong’s financial health report reads mostly positive, too. First Church’s only debt is the loan it received to purchase its building and property from another church about seven years ago. Giving over the past year remained steady, a welcome development after years of local and national economic uncertainty.

Then it’s Martinez’s turn to provide her committee’s report on the facilities. She references the packet of information sent out to members a couple of weeks before the meeting.

Martinez uses the PowerPoint that Jones helped create to provide descriptions and photos detailing the parking lot’s rapid deterioration, which was already evident when First Church bought the property seven years ago. She also explains the children’s ministry’s growth, and the children’s ministry director’s desire to freshen things up. Then she discusses some of the HVAC system’s recent problems, including an unexpected breakdown last winter that left the building colder than usual for worship one Sunday.

Martinez finishes and makes the motion that Jones helped her prepare. Since it comes from the committee, the motion doesn’t require anyone to second it.

“Is there any discussion?” asks Terry Christensen, the church’s board chairwoman.

Jones shifts uncomfortably in her first-row seat. This would be the first opportunity for the meeting to go off the rails.

Lively discussion

The discussion was as lively as Jones and Martinez anticipated. Thankfully they warned Christensen ahead of time so that presiding over it wouldn’t surprise her.

Some members express immediate opposition to the repainting. “The wing doesn’t look that bad, and the money should be used for the HVAC,” an older man opines.

Another member jumps in: “I move we strike the children’s ministry wing repainting from the motion.”

“Is there a second to the amendment?” Christensen asks. Since the amendment didn’t come from the committee, a second to this motion is needed. The older man seconds the motion.

“Is there discussion about the amendment?” Christensen asks.

A young mother raises her hand. “I know repainting may seem unnecessary. But we’ve heard about how the children’s ministry has grown,” she says. “Anyone who serves downstairs knows how dingy everything looks.”

Other members speak up. Some support the repainting. Others oppose it. One suggests doing all three but borrowing money, which elicits a somewhat snarky response from a longtime member who boasts how the church has historically avoided debt beyond its mortgage. Eventually, a majority votes to adopt the amendment.

Discussion then resumes on the motion as amended. Nearly 20 minutes pass. Sensing it’s time to move things along, a longtime member makes a motion to close debate that gets seconded and then approved by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast.

Now it’s time to see if enough support exists to approve the motion as amended with the children’s ministry project removed. Another voice vote must be done, but this time, only a majority is needed to approve it.



Sarah E. Merkle is a professional parliamentarian and presiding officer. One of five lawyers worldwide to have earned the credentials Certified Professional Parliamentarian-Teacher (CPP-T) and Professional Registered Parliamentarian (PRP), she helps boards, associations, corporations, and public bodies navigate rules applicable to governance and business meetings.

Four Steps Needed For An Effective Church Meeting

Parliamentarian Sarah E. Merkle partners with Church Law & Tax to show church leaders how to hold an effective church meeting.

Church Law & Tax Senior Editorial Advisor Sarah E. Merkle understands the importance of planning and holding an effective church meeting.

“Many church members and leaders don’t know the risk to churches that do not understand parliamentary procedure or carefully follow it,” Merkle says. “There can be legal implications for not keeping minutes of actions taken by the church. Churches that don’t think through quorum or are careless about voting or the election of officers will often find themselves in a procedural mess. And spiritually, a congregation may experience strife and contention if there is a lack of good leadership or poor member involvement in church business. Avoid problems by following principles of parliamentary procedure and good governance.”

In this companion to “Mastering Meeting Basics,” Merkle offers this hypothetical case study, a four-part series on how to plan, hold, and document an effective church meeting. From planning the meeting to making motions, and from taking votes to capturing minutes, this series can offer valuable insights.

Any church leader responsible for planning and holding effective church meetings should bookmark this resource.


Recommended Reading

Church Disruptions and How to Respond

Church disruptions are top-of-mind for many faith leaders in today’s fractured landscape. Read on for valuable tips, insights and recommendations.

Dealing with church disruptions is not a normal part of the weekly worship experience. But in today’s climate, faith leaders must plan for them.

As Rich Hammar notes in Pastor Church & Law, 5th Edition, churches are under no obligation to let people disrupt worship services. And, in reality, church leaders have the law on their side when it comes to church disruptions:

Churches do not have to tolerate persons who disrupt religious services. Church leaders can ask a court to issue an order barring the disruptive person from the church’s premises. If the person violates the order, he or she may be removed from church premises by the police and may be found to be in contempt of court.

Bookmark this recommended reading list (and subscribe to Church Law & Tax today for full access) for help navigating these situations.

Learn how to ask a disruptor to leave your church to picking. Pick up a few tips on diffusing a potentially dangerous situation in “Responding to a Dangerous Person“, and hear from the head of security at Saddleback.com on what matters most in mass shooting response plans inside “Mass Shooting Preparation is All About Planning—Not Panic.”

Key Tax Dates June 2023

Key tax dates in June include housing allowance designations, quarterly payments, and monthly or semiweekly requirements.

Monthly requirements

If your church or organization reported withheld taxes of $50,000 or less during the most recent lookback period (for 2023 the lookback period is July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022), then withheld payroll taxes are deposited monthly.

Monthly deposits are due by the 15th day of the following month. Note, however, that if withheld taxes are less than $2,500 at the end of any calendar quarter (March 31, June 30, September 30, or December 31), the church or organization need not deposit the taxes.

Tip: The 2023 Church & Clergy Tax Guide is available—order a print copy today (while supplies last) or download the .pdf version now.

Instead, it can pay the total withheld taxes directly to the IRS with its quarterly Form 941. Withheld taxes include federal income taxes withheld from employee wages, the employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes (7.65 percent of wages), and the employer’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes (an additional 7.65 percent of employee wages).

Semiweekly requirements

If your church or organization reported withheld taxes of more than $50,000 during the most recent lookback period (for 2023 the lookback period is July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022), then the withheld payroll taxes are deposited semiweekly.

For paydays falling on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, the payroll taxes must be deposited on or by the following Wednesday.

For all other paydays, the payroll taxes must be deposited on the Friday following the payday.

Large employers having withheld taxes of $100,000 or more at the end of any day must deposit the taxes by the next banking day. The deposit days are based on the timing of the employer’s payroll. Withheld taxes include federal income taxes withheld from employee wages, the employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes (7.65 percent of wages), and the employer’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes (an additional 7.65 percent of employee wages).

June 15, 2023: Quarterly estimated tax payments for certain employees and churches

Filing for certain ministers and self-employed workers

Ministers who have not elected voluntary withholding and self-employed workers must file their second quarterly estimated federal tax payment for 2023 by June 15. A similar rule applies in many states to payments of estimated state taxes.

Nonminister employees of churches that filed a timely Form 8274 (waiving the church’s obligation to withhold and pay FICA taxes) are treated as self-employed for Social Security. They are subject to the estimated tax deadlines with respect to their self-employment (Social Security) taxes unless they ask their employing church to withhold an additional amount of income taxes from each paycheck that will be sufficient to cover self-employment taxes (use a new Form W-4, Step 4(c), to make this request).

Payments for unrelated business income tax liability

A church must make quarterly estimated tax payments if it expects an unrelated business income tax liability for the year to be $500 or more. Use IRS Form 990-W to figure your estimated taxes. Quarterly estimated tax payments of one-fourth of the total tax liability are due by April 15, June 15, September 15, and December 15, 2023, for churches on a calendar-year basis. Deposit quarterly tax payments electronically using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS).

June 30, 2023: Review housing or parsonage allowance designations

Now is a good time to review the 2023 housing or parsonage allowances designated for all ministers on staff. If an allowance designated for 2023 is clearly below actual housing expenses, then the church board should consider declaring a larger portion of the minister’s remaining compensation as a housing or parsonage allowance.

A church is free to designate any portion of a minister’s compensation as a housing allowance but remember that clergy who own their home cannot claim a housing allowance exclusion greater than the fair rental value of the home (furnished, including utilities).

Therefore, the allowance ordinarily should not be significantly more than this amount.

Note: If a date listed for filing a return or making a tax payment falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday (either national or statewide in a state where the return is required to be filed), the return or tax payment is due on the following business day.

Note: You must use electronic funds transfer to make all federal employment tax deposits. This is generally done using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, a free service provided by the US Department of Treasury. If you don’t wish to use EFTPS, you can arrange for your tax professional, financial institution, or payroll service to make deposits on your behalf. Failure to make a timely deposit may subject you to a 10-percent penalty.

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

IRS Again Alerts Employers to Improper ERC Claims

Third parties are using aggressive tactics and lucrative promises related to ERC claims.

Editor’s Note: On September 14, 2023, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced it has immediately stopped processing new Employee Retention Credit (ERC) claims “amid [a] surge of questionable claims.”

Concerns raised by tax professionals, coupled with aggressive marketing to ineligible applicants, “highlights unacceptable risk to businesses and the tax system,” the agency said.

The IRS will continue processing previously filed claims and pay out claims it approves, it said, but processing times will take longer as the agency applies more scrutiny to address fraud concerns.

The IRS also said it is finalizing details to help entities victimized by “aggressive promoters” who have used repeated advertising and direct-contact methods to entice claim applications without carefully evaluating whether an entity truly qualifies for the credit.

Taxpayers who already have a claim submitted, but fear they were misled–including churches and small businesses–will be eligible for a special withdrawal option as well, the IRS said. It plans to announce details for the option soon.

The IRS said more than 600,000 claims remain unprocessed.

Church Law & Tax will continue to monitor developments.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is again warning employers, including churches, to exercise caution if they’re contacted by a third party regarding the Employee Retention Credit (ERC).

The ERC is legitimate. However, third parties are using aggressive tactics to try and entice employers to seek it, and sometimes, the third parties aren’t carefully evaluating an employer’s eligibility, putting the employer in jeopardy with the IRS.

In other instances, the third parties have fraudulent intentions altogether.

Church Law & Tax began warning churches about illegitimate or fraudulent activities surrounding the ERC in February.


A bit of background reading:


Many churches may be eligible for the ERC, a provision providing employers relief due to hardships experienced in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specific criteria must be met, however.

“The aggressive marketing of the Employee Retention Credit continues preying on innocent businesses and others,” said IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, in the agency’s latest alert. “Aggressive promoters present wildly misleading claims about this credit. They can pocket handsome fees while leaving those claiming the credit at risk of having the claims denied or facing scenarios where they need to repay the credit.”


Join Church Law & Tax today for access to thousands of helpful articles, resources, expert analysis and live webinars.

The IRS provided a list of “warning signs” that employers should look for when dealing with a third party about the ERC, including:

  • Unsolicited calls or advertisements mentioning an “easy application process.”
  • Statements that the promoter or company can determine ERC eligibility within minutes.
  • Large upfront fees to claim the credit.
  • Fees based on a percentage of the refund amount claimed. This is a similar warning sign for everyday taxpayers, who should always avoid a tax preparer basing their fee on the size of the refund.
  • Aggressive claims from the promoter that the business receiving the solicitation qualifies before any discussion of the group’s tax situation. The ERC is a complex credit that requires careful review before applying.
  • Wildly aggressive suggestions from marketers urging businesses to submit the claim because there is nothing to lose. Those improperly receiving the credit could have to repay the credit—along with substantial interest and penalties.

“These promoters may lie about eligibility requirements,” the IRS added. “In addition, those using these companies could be at risk of someone using the credit as a ploy to steal the taxpayer’s identity or take a cut of the taxpayer’s improperly claimed credit.”

Advantage Members

WATCH: The Dangers of Raising Money For One Thing—And Spending It On Another

Church leaders would do well to pay attention to this fraud lawsuit against a Michigan archdiocese.

In this update, Church Law & Tax Editor and Attorney-at-Law Matthew Branaugh highlights a fraud lawsuit out of Michigan to explain the risks of churches raising money for one thing, only to spend it for something else.

The key lesson centers on the idea that a legal doctrine known as “ecclesiastical abstention,” may not always shield churches and church leaders from lawsuits, particularly in financial matters.

Meanwhile, search our state-by-state database of latest and most impactful legal developments affecting church leaders, nationwide.

Matthew Branaugh is an attorney, and the content editor for Christianity Today's Church Law & Tax.
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Part 4 of 4: The ‘Discovery Rule’ and What It Means for Abuse Victims and Churches

The discovery rule is an exception to the statute of limitations with far-reaching implications for both abuse victims and churches.

Editor’s Note: Child abuse scandals continue to garner widespread media attention as well as the attention of lawmakers nationwide. As more victims come forward, often years or decades after suffering alleged abuses, they learn their state’s statute of limitations prevent them from seeking damages from the perpetrator or, when relevant, the perpetrator’s employer through civil lawsuits. These time bars have become subject to changes—and in some instances, outright removals—by state legislatures in an effort to help victims.

This four-part series focuses on this continuing trend, helping churches and church leaders understand the potential ramifications. This part looks specifically at the “discovery rule,” an exception to statutes of limitation long available to victims—and especially relevant to churches in states where extensions or removals of statutes of limitation have not occurred. This rule also applies in states where extensions have been granted, but deadlines still exist.


Some states have adopted, either through legislation or court decision, a limited exception to the statute of limitations known as the discovery rule.

Under this rule, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until a person “discovers” that his or her injuries were caused by a particular event or condition, or, with the exercise of reasonable vigilance, should have discovered the connection. It does not matter how long ago the injury occurred.

The discovery rule has been applied most often in the following three situations:

1. Medical malpractice. In some cases, medical malpractice is difficult, if not impossible, to recognize until after the statute of limitations has expired. To illustrate, if a surgeon inadvertently leaves a scalpel in a patient’s body during an operation, and the patient does not discover this fact until after the statute of limitations for medical malpractice has expired, the patient should not be denied his or her day in court. Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations begins to run not when the malpractice occurred, but when the patient knew or should have known of it.

2. Child molestation. Some courts have applied the discovery rule in cases of child sex abuse. These courts have concluded that young children may “block out” memories of molestation and not recall what happened for many years. The statute of limitations does not begin until the victim’s eighteenth birthday, or until the victim knew or should have known that his or her emotional or physical injuries were caused by the acts of molestation. Some courts that have applied this rule have limited it to victims who were very young at the time of the molestation. Adults who claim that they repressed memories of abuse occurring when they were adolescents often have a difficult time convincing juries that they are telling the truth.

3. Seduction of adult counselees. Some courts have applied the discovery rule in cases of sexual contact between a minister and an adult counselee. These courts have concluded that adults who engage in such acts with a minister may attempt to repress their memory of them or be so intimated by the authority of the minister that they lack the capacity to file a lawsuit.

Key point. Any rescission or extension of the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases, or any “revival” of child abuse claims barred under prior law, presents extraordinary difficulties for a church that is sued as a result of an alleged incident of sexual misconduct that occurred many years ago. In some cases, church leaders cannot even remember the alleged wrongdoer, much less the precautions that were followed in selecting or supervising this person.

Several courts have been reluctant to apply the discovery rule in cases of child abuse because of the difficulty of repressing knowledge of such events, especially for victims who were adolescents at the time the alleged abuse occurred. As one court noted, “The discovery rule does not generally apply to claims from a violent assault because the plaintiff is usually aware of the assault.” Doe v. Jesuit College Preparatory School, 2022 WL 2352953 (Tex. App. 2022).

Example. A federal court in Vermont ruled that an adult who claimed to have been sexually abused by a nun some 40 years earlier could sue a Catholic diocese for his alleged injuries. 

An adult male (the plaintiff) began receiving intensive psychotherapy for what he alleges were severe emotional problems. As a result of this therapy, the plaintiff claimed that he discovered he was the victim of “childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse and psychological abuse” allegedly occurring 40 years ago when he was a resident of a church orphanage.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against “Sister Jane Doe,” the alleged perpetrator (whose identity was unknown) and various religious organizations allegedly responsible for hiring and supervising Sister Jane Doe.

The plaintiff alleged in his lawsuit that he had “used all due diligence, given the nature, extent, and severity of his psychological injuries and the circumstances of their infliction, to discover the fact that he has been injured by the sexual abuse.” The diocese urged the court to dismiss the case on the ground that the statute of limitations had expired long before.

Under Vermont law, when a plaintiff sues to recover damages for injuries “suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse,” the lawsuit must be brought within “six years of the act alleged to have caused the injury or condition, or six years of the time the victim discovered that the injury or condition was caused by that act, whichever period expires later.”

The diocese claimed that since the alleged abuse occurred over forty years ago it is reasonable to assume that the plaintiff should have discovered the cause of his injuries long ago. It also argued that forcing it to defend against an alleged injury occurring so long ago violates the very purpose of a statute of limitations—relieving defendants of the difficult if not impossible task of defending against such claims.

The court rejected these arguments and ruled that the statute of limitations had not expired on any of the plaintiff’s claims (except for assault and battery, which the court deemed to be unrelated to childhood sexual abuse). The court observed that under Vermont law, the test is when the plaintiff in fact discovered that his injuries were caused by childhood abuse, and not when he reasonably could have made this discovery. Barquin v. Roman Catholic Diocese, 839 F. Supp. 275 (D. Vt. 1993).

‘Active Concealment’ and fraud can also extend statutes of limitations

Some courts have permitted the statute of limitations to be suspended in limited circumstances, including fraud or the “active concealment” of the existence of a civil claim against a wrongdoer.

Example. A Tennessee appellate court ruled that in a lawsuit alleging that church entities were negligent regarding the sexual abuse of minors by a pastor, the trial court erred in dismissing the complaint based on the statute of limitations when the victims alleged that efforts were made by certain of the church defendants to hide the sexual abuse and a “whitewash” ensued because the victims alleged fraudulent concealment, and that statute of limitations did not begin to run until after the lawsuit was filed. Doe v. Presbyterian, 2022 WL 1837455 (Tenn. App. 2022).

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

Part 3 of 4: A New Federal Law May Expand Abuse Victims’ Rights to Pursue Damages

The Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act of 2022 places no time limits on when victims can sue.

Editor’s Note: Child abuse scandals continue to garner widespread media attention as well as the attention of lawmakers nationwide. As more victims come forward, often years or decades after suffering alleged abuses, they learn their state’s statute of limitations prevent them from seeking damages from the perpetrator or, when relevant, the perpetrator’s employer through civil lawsuits. These time bars have become subject to changes—and in some instances, outright removals—by state legislatures in an effort to help victims.

This four-part series focuses on this continuing trend, helping churches and church leaders understand the potential ramifications. This part looks specifically at changes made by Congress as a way to offer victims a path to seek legal remedies if their states’ statutes of limitations have not been extended.


In 2022, Congress enacted the Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act. This Act provides that “there shall be no time limit” for filing civil lawsuits for any of the following federal sex offenses:

Federal offenseCitation
Forced labor18 USC 1589
Trafficking for forced labor18 USC 1590
Sex trafficking18 USC 1591
Aggravated sexual abuse18 USC 2241(c)
Sexual abuse18 USC 2242
Sexual abuse of a minor18 USC 2243
Sexual exploitation of children18 USC 2251
Selling or buying children18 USC 2251A
Certain activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of minors18 USC 2252
Certain activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of minors18 USC 2252A
Production of sexually explicit depictions of a minor for importation into the United States18 USC 2260
Transportation generally18 USC 2421
Coercion and enticement18 USC 2422
Transportation of minors18 USC 2423

It remains to be seen how effective this legislation will be since most sex abuse claims are brought in state court. However, it likely will benefit victims of child sexual abuse whose claims are barred by state statutes of limitation.

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

Part 2 of 4: Is Your Church Prepared for a Decades-Old Abuse Claim?

Pastors, church boards and everyday church members should understand the liability that can come with a decades-old abuse claim.

Editor’s Note: Child abuse scandals continue to garner widespread media attention as well as the attention of lawmakers nationwide. As more victims come forward, often years or decades after suffering alleged abuses, they learn their state’s statute of limitations prevent them from seeking damages from the perpetrator or, when relevant, the perpetrator’s employer through civil lawsuits. These time bars have become subject to changes—and in some instances, outright removals—by state legislatures in an effort to help victims.

This four-part series focuses on this continuing trend, helping churches and church leaders understand the potential ramifications. This part looks specifically at the legal, financial, and administrative tolls a church may face if a civil lawsuit dating back years or decades moves forward in the courts.


Church leaders must understand that their church is probably not in a financial position to respond to an abuse claim reaching back several decades, and that in some cases, liability for an abuse claim could extend to board members or even individual members.

The motivation behind states extending victims’ rights when it comes to abuse involving churches is both understandable and laudable: Legislators want to “give voice” to persons sexually abused as minors who, for whatever reason, were reluctant or unwilling to bring their claims in court.

After all, several studies have demonstrated that most child abuse victims find it difficult to seek remedies for their claims in civil court. This is often due to one or more of the following factors:

  • Repressed memory of the abuse.
  • Shame and embarrassment.
  • An unwillingness to publicly disclose in court the details of the abuse.
  • An unwillingness to testify in court regarding the details of the abuse.
  • An unwillingness to confront one’s abuser in court.
  • A reluctance to disclose the details of the abuse to family and friends who may know nothing about it.

But church leaders need to understand that if a church’s assets are below the amount a victim is seeking in court, and a church’s insurance coverage is insufficient to cover the claim, then the victim’s attorney may seek to recover damages against the personal assets of church board members.


Churches are financially ill-prepared to meet new claims

But many churches, schools and other defendants are not adequately positioned to answer for abuse that happened before current staff and members were born.

Unfortunately, insurance policies that are several years or decades old are often discarded by church staff who see no point in keeping them and adding to the general “clutter” in the church office, and most churches do not have liability insurance providing coverage for claims of sexual abuse alleged to have occurred years or decades in the past.

Even if liability insurance is available and no exception applies, the policy often will provide low limits of coverage for providing a defense and paying toward any damages awarded.

In any event, if a liability insurance policy for the year that a case of child abuse occurred is not available, then bankruptcy must be considered. This would involve identifying all church assets that are available to pay a sex abuse claim, including buildings, vehicles, bank accounts, and so on.

Furthermore, liability might extend to board members or even individual members if a church’s assets are far below the amount a victim is seeking in court.

Federal law and the laws of most states protect volunteers and uncompensated board members of tax-exempt corporations (including churches) from personal liability for their decisions as members of the board.

However, there are exceptions.

  • In most states, the immunity of uncompensated church board members does not extend to willful and wanton acts or gross negligence, or to board members of unincorporated churches. To illustrate, if an old claim of child abuse occurred because of a failure by the board to institute reasonable protective policies and procedures, it is possible that this will constitute gross negligence. This will expose the board members to the personal liability exception.
  • Immunity statutes providing limited relief to church board members only apply to uncompensated directors. This is an important point for church leaders to understand. Some churches provide limited amounts of compensation to board members. These may include a gift or stipend at Christmas, or non-accountable expense reimbursements. Even limited forms of compensation jeopardize the significant protection that uncompensated directors enjoy from personal liability, making it important for church leaders to review any future examples of compensation provided by the church to its board members.

Also note that some courts have suggested that members of an unincorporated church may be personally liable for the acts and obligations of other members, or the church itself, opening the door for victims to recover damages from individual members if the church cannot pay out of its own assets and insurance.

Understanding insurance is key

Clergy and church leaders evaluating possible abuse claims past or present need to understand the insurance coverage their churches possess (or possessed in the past). Of particular importance is whether a church secured an occurrence policy or a “claims made” policy.

Claims made and occurence insurance policies

“Occurrence” policies only cover injuries that occur during the policy period, regardless of when a claim is made.

Advantages to an “occurence” policy:

  • Covers any injury that occurs during the policy period, regardless of when a lawsuit is filed
  • No “prior acts” coverage needed if a church maintains a succession of “occurrence” policies

Disadvantages:

  • Does not cover lawsuits filed during the policy period for injuries occurring prior to the policy period.
  • Insurance premiums usually higher than for a “claims made” policy.

A “claims made” policy covers injuries for which a claim is made during the policy period if the insured has continuously been insured with claims made policies with the same insurer since the injury occurred.

Advantages to a “claims made” policy:

  • Covers any lawsuit filed during the policy period, regardless of when the injury occurred
  • Coverage limits are the current limits, not the limits in effect when the injury occurred
  • Insurance premiums often are lower than for an occurrence policy  

Disadvantages:

  • Must have carried “claims made” insurance continuously with the same insurer from the date of the injury to the date of the claim, or have purchased “prior acts coverage,” which can be costly.
  • A brief lapse in insurance coverage for any reason can result in no “claims made” coverage
  • Coverage for prior claims is lost if a church switches from a “claims made” to an “occurrence” policy
  • When a policy expires or is terminated, for any reason, coverage ceases (even for claims that are later made for injuries occurring during the policy period)
  • Claims for injuries occurring in more than one year may be filed during the same year, meaning that the policy’s “aggregate” coverage limit is more quickly reached (the aggregate limit is the total amount the insurer will pay out during that year for all covered claims)
  • Claims must not only be made during the policy period to be covered—they also must be reported to the insurer (a technicality that is sometimes overlooked)

“Prior acts” coverage, available for an additional cost and at the insurer’s discretion, covers claims made during the current policy period for injuries occurring in the past when the insured carried insurance with another insurer.

Example: A church purchases “claims made” counseling insurance from Company A each year for several years. It switches to an “occurrence policy” with Company B this year.

A lawsuit is brought against the church this year for an alleged act of counseling malpractice that occurred three years ago. The church’s policy with Company A will not cover this claim since the claim was not “made” during the policy period (even though it occurred during the policy period). Had the church not switched insurers this year, the claim would have been covered. Does the policy with Company B cover the claim? No, since the injury did not occur during the policy period.

As a result, there is no coverage for this claim. Note that the result would have been the same had the church purchased a claims made policy from Company B, unless it also purchased “prior acts” coverage.

This example illustrates an important point. Churches should not switch from a claims made to an occurrence policy (with the same or a different insurer), or switch claims made insurers, without legal counsel.

Church leaders should ensure that liability insurance policies are never discarded. Policies often are the only means of establishing the existence and availability of insurance for old claims—both now and in the future.

Church leaders should periodically review the policies and procedures the church has adopted to address the risk of child abuse and ensure both their adequacy and consistent application.

Insurance ‘archeology’

If a church cannot locate an insurance policy covering a case of child abuse occurring many years in the past, the services of an “insurance archaeologist” may be helpful. Insurance archaeologists are trained to locate missing insurance policies. Even if successful, conditions may apply. Further, the coverage limits under old policies often will be far below the damages sought, making the services of an archaeologist of limited value in many cases.

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

Part 1 of 4: More States Expand Victims’ Rights to Sue for Abuse

New laws extend, and in some cases, eliminate statutes of limitations for filing civil lawsuits in connection with abuse cases.

Editor’s Note: Child abuse scandals continue to garner widespread media attention as well as the attention of lawmakers nationwide. As more victims come forward, often years or decades after suffering alleged abuses, they learn their state’s statute of limitations prevent them from seeking damages from the perpetrator or, when relevant, the perpetrator’s employer through civil lawsuits.

These time bars have become subject to changes—and in some instances, outright removals—by state legislatures in an effort to help victims.

This four-part series focuses on this continuing trend, helping churches and church leaders understand the potential ramifications. This part looks specifically at how many states are changing statutes of limitation, and court cases illustrating how those changes affect the legal process.


Most states have several statutes of limitations specifying the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit seeking a legal remedy (such as compensation) for an injury that can range from a breach of contract to a personal injury to property damage. Different deadlines apply for different types of claims.

Key point 10-16.4 The statute of limitations specifies the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit. Lawsuits cannot be brought after this deadline has passed.

There are a few exceptions that have been recognized by some courts:

(1) The statute of limitations for injuries suffered by a minor begins to run on the minor’s eighteenth birthday.

(2) The statute of limitations does not begin to run until an adult survivor of child sexual molestation “discovers” that he or she has experienced physical or emotional suffering as a result of the molestation.

(3) The statute of limitations does not begin to run until an adult with whom a minister or church counselor has had sexual contact “discovers” that his or her psychological damages were caused by the inappropriate contact.

(4) The statute of limitations is suspended due to fraud or concealment of a cause of action.

Persons who do not file a lawsuit by the deadline specified by law generally have no legal recourse.

But state lawmakers, federal lawmakers, and courts have come up with a variety of ways to extend the statute of limitations for injuries to minors, particularly as it relates to sexual abuse and molestation.

A report released in 2022 by CHILD USA notes:

  • 50 states have eliminated the statute of limitations for child abuse criminal claims.
  • 18 states have eliminated a statute of limitations for some or all child abuse civil claims.
  • 27 states have enacted “revival statutes” that “revive” child sex abuse claims that expired under prior law.

Case Studies

North Carolina

An adult male sued a religious denomination in 2022 for injuries he sustained as a result of being sexually abused by a house parent at a denomination–run orphanage. A North Carolina appeals court observed:

The Sexual Assault Fast Reporting and Enforcement Act (“the Act”) was enacted in 2019 to “strengthen and modernize” our sexual assault laws. Among other revisions, the Act extended to ten years the statute of limitations for a civil action based on sexual abuse suffered while a minor.

Further, it provided that “a plaintiff may file a civil action within two years of the date of a criminal conviction for a related felony sexual offense against a defendant for claims related to sexual abuse suffered while the plaintiff was under 18 years of age.”

The Act also contained a provision, effective from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2021, that revived “any civil action for child sexual abuse otherwise time-barred under [prior law] as it existed immediately before” the Act’s passage. Doe v. The Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, 871 S.E.2d 877 (N.C. App. 2022).

New York

Example 1: The plaintiff, a 69 year old male, sued a church and others for sexual abuse from 1960 to 1964 by two persons associated with his Boy Scout troop, the suit was not time-barred because the Child Victims Act … extended the statute of limitations to bring a civil action based on sexual abuse until the child victim reached the age of 55, and … created a one-year revival window for time-barred claims, which was later extended by the Governor for an additional year regardless of the victim’s age. LG 67 Doe v. Resurrection Lutheran Church, 164 N.Y.S.3d 803 (N.Y. App. 2022).

Example 2: A federal district court in New York made the following comments regarding a sex abuse case:

On February 14, 2019, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Child Victims Act. … The Child Victims Act allows individuals who were sexually abused as children to assert civil claims that had previously been barred by the statute of limitations. Specifically, the CVA extends the statute of limitations for actions against ‘any party whose intentional or negligent acts or omissions are alleged to have resulted in the commission of child sexual offenses.’

Those actions must be brought before the plaintiff reaches the age of 55. The CVA also created a ‘window of time’ during which previously time-barred claims alleging child sexual abuse could be brought. … After the CVA became law, more than 200 previously time-barred actions alleging child sexual abuse were brought against the Diocese and certain individuals and organizations affiliated with the Diocese.

Together, these suits allege acts of sexual abuse dating back more than six decades. The Diocese provided notice to its former insurers and requested that they defend and indemnify the Diocese in accordance with the requirements in the individual policies. The filing of more than 200 claims, and the possibility of additional claims, led the Diocese on October 1, 2020, to file for bankruptcy protection pursuant to Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Ctr. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, 2021 WL 4027020 (S.D.N.Y. 2021).

Old abuse claims pose challenges for both victims, churches

While the motivation behind such laws is understandable, churches will likely struggle to defend themselves against claims arising from decades-old abuse cases.

This is due to several factors, including:

  • memories have faded,
  • witnesses are dead,
  • alleged living witnesses have no recollection of the abuse,
  • few, if any, church members have any knowledge or recollection of the abuse,
  • no documentary evidence exists pertaining to the alleged abuse,
  • the victim has no corroborating physical evidence pertaining to the abuse, such as letters, email, social media posts, and photographs,
  • the victim cannot identify the alleged perpetrator,
  • a lack of evidence that the victim reported the abuse to parents, friends, or church staff.

Some courts have noted that the following factors tend to corroborate claims of child abuse occurring many years or decades ago:

  • an admission by the abuser,
  • a criminal conviction for the abuse,
  • a victim’s documented medical history of childhood sexual abuse,
  • contemporaneous records or written statements of the abuser, such as diaries or letters,
  • photographs or recordings of the abuse,
  • an objective eyewitness’s account,
  • evidence the abuser had sexually abused others,
  • “… proof of a chain of facts and circumstances having sufficient probative force to produce a reasonable and probable conclusion that sexual abuse occurred. …” Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 534 S.E.2d 672 (SC 2000).
Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

4-Part Series: Expanding Abuse Victims’ Rights and What It Means for Churches

As state and federal lawmakers understandably expand abuse victims’ rights, Church Law & Tax examines what it all means for churches.

Child abuse scandals continue to garner widespread media attention as well as the attention of lawmakers nationwide. As more victims come forward, often years or decades after suffering alleged abuses, they learn their state’s statute of limitations prevents them from seeking damages from the perpetrator or, when relevant, the perpetrator’s employer through civil lawsuits. These time bars have become subject to changes—and in some instances, outright removals—by state legislatures in an effort to help victims.

This four-part series focuses on this continuing trend, helping churches and church leaders understand the potential ramifications.

Part 1: More States Expand Victims’ Rights to Sue for Abuses

Part 2: Is Your Church Prepared for a Decades-Old Abuse Claim?

Part 3: A New Federal Law May Expand Abuse Victims’ Rights to Pursue Damages

Part 4: The ‘Discovery Rule’ and What It Means for Victims and Churches

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

Key Tax Dates May 2023

Along with monthly and semiweekly requirements, May includes several quarterly filings and forms for churches, ministries, and church-run schools.

Monthly requirements

If your church or organization reported withheld taxes of $50,000 or less during the most recent lookback period (for 2023 the lookback period is July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022), then withheld payroll taxes are deposited monthly.

Tip: The 2023 Church & Clergy Tax Guide is available—order a print copy today (while supplies last) or download the .pdf version now.

Monthly deposits are due by the 15th day of the following month. Note, however, that if withheld taxes are less than $2,500 at the end of any calendar quarter (March 31, June 30, September 30, or December 31), the church or organization need not deposit the taxes.

Instead, it can pay the total withheld taxes directly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with its quarterly Form 941. Withheld taxes include federal income taxes withheld from employee wages, the employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes (7.65 percent of wages), and the employer’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes (an additional 7.65 percent of employee wages).

Semiweekly requirements

If your church or organization reported withheld taxes of more than $50,000 during the most recent lookback period (for 2023 the lookback period is July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022), then the withheld payroll taxes are deposited semiweekly.

This means that for paydays falling on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, the payroll taxes must be deposited on or by the following Wednesday. For all other paydays, the payroll taxes must be deposited on the Friday following the payday.

Note further that large employers having withheld taxes of $100,000 or more at the end of any day must deposit the taxes by the next banking day. The deposit days are based on the timing of the employer’s payroll. Withheld taxes include federal income taxes withheld from employee wages, the employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes (7.65 percent of wages), and the employer’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes (an additional 7.65 percent of employee wages).

May 10, 2023: Employer’s quarterly federal tax return—Form 941

Churches having non-minister employees (or one or more ministers who report their federal income taxes as employees and who have elected voluntary withholding) may file their employer’s quarterly federal tax return (Form 941) by this date instead of April 30 if all taxes for the first calendar quarter have been deposited in full and on time.

May 15, 2023: File forms 990, 990-T, and 5578

Information return—Form 990

An annual information return (Form 990) for tax-exempt organizations is due by this date for tax year 2022. Form 990 summarizes revenue, expenses, and services rendered. Organizations exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code must report additional information on Schedule A.

Note. Churches, conventions, and associations of churches, “integrated auxiliaries” of churches, and church-affiliated elementary and secondary schools are among the organizations that are exempt from this reporting requirement. Organizations not exempt from this reporting requirement must file Form 990 if they normally have annual gross receipts of $50,000 or more.

Unrelated business income tax return—Form 990-T

An unrelated business income tax return (Form 990-T) must be filed by this date by churches and any other organization exempt from federal income tax that had gross income from an unrelated trade or business of $1,000 or more in 2022. Learn more about unrelated business income on this Recommended Reading page.

Certificate of racial nondiscrimination—Form 5578

Annual certification (for calendar year 2022) of racial nondiscrimination by a private school exempt from federal income tax (Form 5578) must be filed by this date by schools that operate on a calendar-year basis.

This form must be filed by preschools, primary and secondary schools, and colleges, whether operated as a separate legal entity or by a church.

Richard R. Hammar further explains Form 5578, including the steps for filing one, in this article.

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

Part 4 of 5

Taking Minutes at a Church Business Meeting

How to properly document the official actions taken at a meeting.

If you’re reading this article, you’ve likely found yourself in a position where you need an explanation of business meeting minutes.

That’s where this article will come in handy. Here you’ll find answers to four common questions related to taking minutes.

What are business meeting minutes and why do they matter?

Business meeting minutes are the official record of a group’s action. Taking minutes is important for at least two reasons.

First, the law expects that organizations will keep an official record of the proceedings of a group’s members, committees, and governing bodies.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires tax-exempt organizations that file a Form 990 to verify that, as an organization, they have documented their actions. Even though the IRS does not require churches to file a Form 990, state nonprofit laws often include a requirement that nonprofit organizations located in that state keep an official record of actions taken.

Second, and arguably more important on a practical level, properly taken minutes eliminate confusion and disagreement about what occurred at a meeting.

Ask most church members what occurred at a business meeting and the odds are low that they will remember the actions taken with any precision. They may remember topics discussed and comments made, especially if there was any controversy, but their memory of the wording of motions made and adopted will not be reliable. Carefully taken minutes provide clarity when a member cannot remember what happened.

Who should take business meeting minutes?

In general, it is important to have a designated minutes-taker. Most commonly, this responsibility falls to the individual elected or appointed to the office of secretary, and this person may be different than the individual employed as the church secretary.

The minutes-taker has two important duties: (1) to ensure the minutes actually get taken, and (2) to ensure that the minutes are stored in a designated place that’s easily accessed by those who need them now and in the future.

So, if achieving these goals means that someone other than the elected or appointed secretary takes the minutes, that is completely allowable. It is better to go this route than to have no minutes taken at all or to be unable to find them later.

What should business meeting minutes include?

Very simply, business meeting minutes should include a record of what was done, not what was said. In other words, minutes should include a record of the actions taken on various items of business, but they need not (and should not) include a record of which individuals discussed those items of business or what those individuals said.

Even with the best of intentions, any attempt to summarize the comments made tends to result in inaccuracies or biased presentation. If there’s a reason for the church to have a record of the discussion on various items, the best course of action is to hire a court reporter so that you have a reliable transcript.

If you are the person charged with taking minutes, the first part of the record should include a paragraph containing the following information:

  • the type of meeting (e.g., regular, special, continued);
  • the name of the group that is meeting;
  • the date, time, and place of the meeting;
  • an acknowledgement that the person in charge of the group (e.g., chairman, president, pastor) and the secretary were present; and
  • an acknowledgement that a quorum was present, and in a smaller group (a dozen or fewer), a list of the members who were present.

Here’s an example:

A regular meeting of the Deacon Board of the One and Only Church was held on January 15, 2022, at 7 p.m. at the church building. Chairman Smith and Secretary Brown were present. A quorum was present.

After the opening paragraph, the minutes should follow the same order as the meeting agenda and should contain a separate paragraph for each item on the agenda.

  • If the agenda item is a report, the minutes can state under the report heading that a certain individual presented a report.
  • If the agenda item results in a main motion or several, the minutes should state the final wording of the motion as stated just before the vote, and then note whether the motion was adopted, defeated, or otherwise disposed of (e.g., referred to a committee or tabled).
  • If the motion was amended before it was put to a vote, the minutes can say as much, but they only need to state the final wording of the motion and do not need to include all the iterations that occurred from the time the motion was initially proposed until the vote. It is generally wise to include the name of the individual who made the motion in the minutes, but there’s no need to include the name of the person who seconded it.

Here’s an example of an action recorded in meeting minutes:

After presenting a report on the status of the church property, Deacon Dave, Chairman of the Building Committee, moved on behalf of the Building Committee that the church request proposals from three architecture firms for the design of a new addition to the sanctuary. The motion was adopted as amended.

How are business meeting minutes approved or corrected?

Minutes become the official record of a group’s actions when that group approves them. Typically, minutes are presented for approval at the next regular meeting after they were taken, and they are circulated to the group in a reasonable amount of time before the meeting so that the members can review them ahead of the meeting if they choose to do so.

At the meeting where the minutes are presented for approval, there’s generally no need to read them aloud to the group unless someone specifically requests that they be read. Instead, the chairperson should simply ask, “Are there any corrections to the minutes from the January 15, 2022, meeting as distributed?” If there is no response after a brief pause (three to five seconds), the chairperson should say, “Hearing no corrections, the minutes are approved as distributed.”

If there’s a correction to fix the minutes so that they accurately reflect what occurred during the previous meeting, the chairperson should ask if there is any objection to that correction. If not, the chairperson should state that the correction will be incorporated into the circulated draft.

As long as any requested correction is truly that—meaning, it is an adjustment that fixes the minutes so that they are an accurate reflection of what occurred during the meeting—then, objections to that correction should be rare. But if there is disagreement, the group should take a vote on the proper wording.

Note. It is important to remember that making a correction to the minutes is not a way to change what occurred during the meeting where the minutes were taken. What happened at the meeting is in the past, and changing the action taken there can happen only if the group takes a vote to that effect. Approving the minutes is simply a way to confirm that the record of what happened is accurate.

Return to the series homepage.

For related infographics and downloadable resources from the author, visit The Law of Order blog at civility.co.

Sarah E. Merkle is a professional parliamentarian and presiding officer. One of five lawyers worldwide to have earned the credentials Certified Professional Parliamentarian-Teacher (CPP-T) and Professional Registered Parliamentarian (PRP), she helps boards, associations, corporations, and public bodies navigate rules applicable to governance and business meetings.

Part 3 of 5

Voting at a Church Business Meeting

Four primary methods of voting that members and leaders should understand.

Whether you’re casting a vote, taking a vote, or calculating a vote at a church business meeting, it is valuable for both members and leaders to understand the voting process and feel confident about how the result of a vote is determined.

To equip you with the skills needed to take and count a valid vote, this article will explain the four primary voting methods and define three important terms.

What are the different methods of taking a vote?

There are four primary methods for taking a vote: general consent, voice, raised hand or standing, and ballot. No one voting method is inherently better than another although some tend to work better than others in certain circumstances.

First, it is important to understand that no vote must be counted or be secret unless a group has decided that a count or a secret ballot should be used for a specific vote or category of votes.

  • For example, a church’s bylaws may include a provision that requires all elections to be conducted by ballot. If so, all election votes will necessarily be counted and secret, even if only one person is running.
  • Or, a church may decide at a business meeting that it wants (or needs) a record of the number of votes in favor of or opposed to a specific motion rather than simply a record of whether the motion passed or failed.In that case, the members would need to take a vote directing that the vote on the substantive motion be counted. Unless the members give that type of directive, votes do not need to be counted, even if they are taking a vote by raised hand or by standing.

The rationale here is that counting votes takes time, and a group’s time shouldn’t be used to count votes unless the group has agreed to it.

Here, then, are the primary methods for voting.

Voting Method #1: General or unanimous consent vote

A general consent or unanimous consent vote is a vote used for decision-making on noncontroversial matters. The goal of taking a vote by unanimous consent is efficiency. This type of vote skips the discussion portion of the motions process and eliminates the need for the chairperson to say, “All those in favor. … All those opposed. …” Instead, the chairperson can simply ask if there are any objections to the action proposed by the motion.

For example, if the proposed action is approval of the meeting agenda, the chairperson would ask, “Are there any objections to approving the meeting agenda as distributed?”

After pausing briefly (three to five seconds) to listen for any objections, the chairperson would then say, “Hearing none, the agenda is approved as distributed,” and would move to the next item of business. If there is an objection, the chairperson would say, “There is an objection,” and would move to the discussion portion of the motions process as described here.

Voting Method #2: Voice vote

A voice vote asks members to state whether they are in favor of or opposed to a motion by saying “aye” or “no.” When taking this type of vote, the chairperson determines the winner by listening to which side is louder.

Sometimes, there is need for clarification of the results of this type of vote.

  • If the result is not clear to the chairperson, he or she can retake the vote by asking the members to raise their hands or stand (the next voting method listed in this article). If necessary, the chairperson can take a count of the vote.
  • If the result is clear to the chairperson but not to one or more of the members, a member can call out, “Division,” which is the parliamentary procedure term for requesting that the chairperson retake the vote by another method that more clearly indicates the result.

This scenario is not uncommon, especially in a large group, because an individual may be sitting in a section of the room in which the side (ayes or noes) that is louder differs from the side that is louder overall.

As discussed above, calling out “Division” does not require a counted vote—a raised hand or standing vote can clarify the result.

Voting Method #3: Raised hand or standing vote

A raised hand or standing vote is a good way to take a vote if the results are too close to call through a voice vote, or if a counted vote is needed or required. This is also a helpful method for taking votes when individuals with voting privileges are seated together with individuals who do not have voting privileges.

For example, some churches allow visitors or regular attenders to stay for business meetings or may allow families to attend business meetings even if not all of them are members. Taking a voice vote in this type of setting may not allow for confidence in the result, especially if the result is close. A raised hand or standing vote can provide a good alternative.

A raised hand or standing vote can be easily counted by having the members count off, starting at the front of the room and working row by row to the back. The chairperson or a teller (a designated vote counter) can cue the first person in the front row to say “1” and lower their hand or sit down, and then cue the person next to them to say “2” and lower their hand or sit down—working all the way through the room until all votes have been counted.

This may sound time consuming, but it doesn’t take much, if any, more time than having a teller go row by row and count all of the votes. The advantage is that the members are involved in the counting and are less inclined to question whether the votes have been accurately tabulated.

Voting Method #4: Ballot vote

A ballot vote is a secret vote by default unless the bylaws require that a ballot be signed. Ballots are generally used for elections and votes on very consequential matters (e.g., a vote to consider a large expense, dissolve a church, merge with another church, or ask an individual to be a pastor, and so on).

When ballot votes are counted, at least two tellers should work together to count them. In the case of an election, each candidate may appoint one representative in addition to the tellers to oversee the counting.

After the ballots are counted, the tellers should prepare a report that includes the total number of ballots cast, the number of votes necessary for election or for adoption of a motion, and the number of votes received by each candidate or votes in favor and opposed to a motion.

The tellers should give the report to the chairperson for announcement of the results and give the ballots to the secretary or a designated person to keep until the time for ordering a recount has passed.

What do the terms majority, two-thirds, and plurality mean?

Various terms are commonly used within bylaws to describe the number of votes needed for a motion to be adopted or for an individual to be elected. It’s important to know the requirements for each vote taken and how to calculate results for that type of vote.

Majority vote

In voting contexts, the term majority is defined as more than half. If a church’s governing documents or rules use the term majority without qualification, the baseline or denominator from which a majority is calculated is the number of votes cast. For example, if 120 individuals are present, but only 100 individuals cast a vote, at least 51 votes would be required for the adoption of the proposal.

Qualifiers can be added to the term majority, however, to change the calculation. For example, to adopt any proposal or to adopt proposals on certain topics, governing documents can require a majority of those present or a majority of the entire membership.

Two-thirds vote

In voting contexts, the term two-thirds generally means at least two-thirds of the individuals present and voting. But as with the term majority, two-thirds can be qualified to mean at least two-thirds of the individuals present or at least two-thirds of the entire membership.

It is also important to understand that two-thirds is not necessarily the same as 66.6 percent or 67 percent. The best way to calculate two-thirds is to multiply the total number of individuals of which two-thirds is needed times 2, then divide that number by 3, and then round the result to the nearest whole number.

Plurality

The term plurality means more votes than any other option but not enough votes to constitute a majority. Here’s an example of a plurality vote calculation: Three candidates are running for office. There are 100 members present and voting. Candidate #1 receives 40 votes; candidate #2 receives 41 votes; candidate #3 receives 19 votes. If bylaws specify that the winning candidate must receive a plurality of the votes, candidate #2, in this case, would be the winner.

Return to the series homepage.

For related infographics and downloadable resources from the author, visit The Law of Order blog at civility.co.

Sarah E. Merkle is a professional parliamentarian and presiding officer. One of five lawyers worldwide to have earned the credentials Certified Professional Parliamentarian-Teacher (CPP-T) and Professional Registered Parliamentarian (PRP), she helps boards, associations, corporations, and public bodies navigate rules applicable to governance and business meetings.

Part 1 of 5

Preparing for a Church Business Meeting

How to structure effective, legally sound meetings—and set their agendas.

It’s probably safe to say that business meetings are not a church calendar highlight for most staff and church members. Perhaps you view them as necessary but burdensome, and maybe the thought of preparing for one makes you cringe or even panic. Well, be encouraged.

This article aims to help leaders simplify business meetings and streamline the preparation. Let’s dive in by considering three key questions.

Church business meetings take place any time church members, boards, or committees get together to conduct official church business—from annual member meetings to weekly or periodic board or committee meetings where votes are taken and decisions are made.

What documents and rules govern a church business meeting?

The first step in preparing for a church business meeting is understanding the documents and rules that apply to the timing and format of a church meeting, as well as the specific matters to be covered.

Consider the following three points:

  • The law in your state that governs nonprofits likely includes certain rules about how often the board and members should meet, how to give notice of meetings, and how to take votes.These rules can be mandatory, or they can apply only if not contradicted or qualified by a church’s bylaws. In some states, they apply only to churches that are incorporated. The laws vary from state to state, but every church would do well to designate at least one staff member or church member to become familiar with the law that applies.
  • After state law, your church’s constitution and bylaws are the authority for business meetings.
  • Where the church’s constitution and bylaws are silent, the parliamentary authority that your church has chosen applies next.Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised is the most common parliamentary authority used by churches, and it covers topics such as the process for making, discussing, and voting on proposals, and the methods by which nominations are made and elections are conducted.If your church has not chosen to follow a specific parliamentary authority, it should consider doing so, or it should adopt a set of its own rules that address the details of how business is conducted at a meeting and how elections occur.

What should a church business meeting agenda include?

The contents of the agenda should be guided by the church bylaws. First, do the bylaws outline quarterly business meetings or an annual meeting only? What do the bylaws say about when a church budget is approved or how deacons, elders, and other church leaders are elected?

Becoming familiar with the bylaws is the first step in determining the timing of business meetings and the necessary topics that should be covered.

Outside of matters specifically designated for member input and voting, a church business meeting agenda should include the following items:

  • approval of the minutes from the last meeting
  • a financial update
  • reports on key areas of focus for the quarter or year

How should a church business meeting agenda be organized?

There are three main categories in a business meeting agenda: preliminary items, reports, and substantive business.

  • Preliminary items include adoption of the agenda and approval of the minutes from the previous meeting.
  • Reports include updates from individuals, task forces, focus groups, and committees on the topics assigned to them.
  • Substantive business includes the consideration of any proposals brought by an individual or group.

Unfortunately, business meeting agendas are often created by following a template of sorts from previous meetings, without much strategic thought as to the priorities of the church or the attention span of the individuals attending the meetings. Here is some guidance for improving your business meeting agendas.

  • Putting preliminary items at the beginning makes sense because the group needs to agree on the agenda and the record of what has happened at previous meetings before proceeding further.
  • After preliminary items are dealt with, however, the remainder of the agenda should be structured according to the church’s priorities as a whole and for that specific meeting. The following scenarios describe possible processes for considering and deciding on agenda priorities:

Scenario 1. Are finances generally top of mind for leadership because of recent giving trends? Or have there been some unexpected, significant expenses for the church in the last quarter? Or is there an ongoing giving campaign for a certain special fund? If finances take precedence over other areas of concern, you might consider putting the financial update at the beginning of the agenda.

Scenario 2. On the other hand, maybe there’s no notable financial update, and instead, the church needs to hear from the building or facilities committee about plans to expand or make updates to the property. If so, then this would be placed high on the agenda.

Scenario 3. Or perhaps the pastor search committee should provide a report first since this is a next big step for the church this year, and the church property concerns are not imminent. If so, the search committee update would come ahead of the property one.

The point is that the order of the agenda should be driven by the present needs of the church, not by what’s been done in the past.

Key point. There is a tendency in many organizations to save the most important topics for the end of the agenda. Maybe this is done in an effort to ensure people stay to the end or to help members focus on the important items by taking care of everything else first.

Whatever the reason, this agenda order typically does not serve the group well because members are often too tired or unable to stay the full length of the meeting to actually participate in that critical part of the church’s business. Putting the important topics at the top of the agenda can help ensure the church makes headway on matters of priority.

Return to the series homepage.

For related infographics and downloadable resources from the author, visit The Law of Order blog at civility.co.

Sarah E. Merkle is a professional parliamentarian and presiding officer. One of five lawyers worldwide to have earned the credentials Certified Professional Parliamentarian-Teacher (CPP-T) and Professional Registered Parliamentarian (PRP), she helps boards, associations, corporations, and public bodies navigate rules applicable to governance and business meetings.

Should Your Church Get Political?

If your church wants to get political, it’s important to understand the legal, theological, and pastoral considerations.

Pastors and churches in America have struggled for decades to determine whether their church should get political. How much political involvement should they engage in? Which activities might jeopardize tax-exempt statuses?

What about the theological questions regarding whether churches should participate in the public square?

There are also pastoral questions regarding when or how the engagement of political issues is necessary to disciple congregants.

Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax and Big Tent Initiative hosted a virtual roundtable in which respected and trusted voices in the fields of law, pastoral leadership, and theology gathered to educate and inform pastors and church leaders nationwide on how God is calling them to lead in the face of the current political climate. Watch now to learn more

Before your church gets political

Watch this video, and discover more on this topic by reviewing the handful of articles and coverage in our Churches and Political Activities collection.

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Church Formation Basics

Church formation basics gives leaders insights into how a church is formed, why it matters, and how it guides future decisions.

Last Reviewed: October 23, 2023

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Church formation basics is important because how a church is legally formed directly affects how it operates.

From articles of incorporation to bylaws to tax status, church leaders must understand how their church is formed and how that formation shapes the decisions they make, and the ways they make those decisions.

In this helpful, hands-on video, attorney Lisa Runquist, a longtime advisor for Church Law & Tax, delves deeper into the formation processes for churches and explains how the pieces that are essential to formation become instrumental to how those churches function, both internally and externally for years to come.

Download the presentation slides to follow along and take notes as you watch.

Editor’s Note. This video is exclusive to Church Law & Tax members only. However, you can sign-up here to watch this video for free.

Lisa A. Runquist has more than 40 years of experience as a transactional lawyer, both with nonprofit organizations and business organizations.
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On-Demand Webinar

Church and Nonprofit Ministry Finance: Planning for the New Normal

Discussing how the pandemic has challenged church and nonprofit ministry finance, finding the new normals, and more.

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Churches and nonprofit ministries have grappled for a year with unprecedented change affecting their overall operations, including financial matters.

Nationally renowned CPA Michael Batts joined Church Law & Tax editor Matthew Branaugh to discuss the changes and provide insights on how leaders should approach this “new normal.”

Highlights include:

  • Defining the “new normal” for churches and nonprofit ministries
  • How mission and purpose should drive budgets and financial management
  • Maintaining good internal controls
  • Adopting an investment strategy

For more guidance, check out Church Finance and the forthcoming Nonprofit Finance written by Batts.

Q&A: What’s the Best Way to Cut Our Budget as We Weather the Effects of the Pandemic?

This Q and A will help your church address the budget in the best way to weather the financial strain created by the pandemic.

Q: With the financial strain created by the ongoing pandemic, our church must make some difficult decisions to stay financially afloat right now. Should we lay off staff? Should we look for less-expensive service providers? What are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to cutting costs?


One very tempting thing to do is to cut staff and to pare down operations. But here is a cautionary word of advice: Do not reduce the operational and financial administration to a crippling level that hampers your ability to make wise financial management decisions. This is certainly not the right time to terminate the people who are gifted and talented in—and capable of—making such decisions.

When it comes to cost reduction, reducing costs by going to cheaper vendors is not a real solution. You’re only going to save a limited amount of money by changing vendors for copier paper and office supplies or getting a competitive bid on lawn maintenance. That’s not where real financial change happens.

Real financial change takes place when you conduct what I call a mission-based impact assessment. Such an assessment begins with having a clearly articulated expression of your church’s mission and purpose.

What exactly is your church called to do? For example, churches have varying degrees of focus on and commitment to ministry areas such as:

  • their local community;
  • foreign missions;
  • education;
  • helping the needy;
  • Sunday school and children’s education.

Every church is as unique as the people who make it up. Every church has its own unique calling. So, the first and foremost exercise here is to define and articulate your mission and purpose.

Then, the next exercise is to identify and carefully evaluate every single initiative, every single program, every single activity, and every single ministry your church conducts in light of your mission and purpose. Determine what initiatives, what activities, and what ministries you really need to conduct in order to be most effective at carrying out your mission and purpose. That is, which of these initiatives, activities, and ministries have the most impact where it really matters? Adjust as necessary—and eliminate the programs, ministries, and initiatives that you are conducting that have the least impact in accomplishing your specific mission and purpose. That’s where real financial change happens.

In the 2008–2009 Great Recession, churches experienced significant declines in giving then, too. I remember distinctly one church told us that it cut its budget by 30 percent and the church’s leaders told their congregation that they had done so. But what was very interesting was that even after that budget cut, members of the church started looking around and saying, “We don’t really see or notice anything that’s very different.” And that may be an indicator that about 30 percent of the church’s budget had been going to programs, ministries, and activities that were not central to its mission.

For additional details on this concept and other expense reduction strategies, see chapter 1 of my book Church Finance: The Church Leader’s Guide to Financial Operations.

Michael (Mike) E. Batts is a CPA and the managing partner of Batts Morrison Wales & Lee, P.A., an accounting firm dedicated exclusively to serving nonprofit organizations across the United States.

Q&A: Adopting a New Budget During Extraordinary Times

If your fiscal year begins July 1, budgeting during the pandemic presents unique challenges—but there is a way forward.

Q: We have a fiscal budgeting year that ends on June 30 and starts on July 1. According to our bylaws, our congregation is supposed to meet in June to adopt a new budget. The current economic dynamics created by the pandemic means that we won’t be ready with a new budget in time for the meeting—which we might not even be able to have. Without being able to follow our historical budgeting model, what’s the best way to put something together that can be reviewed for accruable?


You are not alone. Although most churches begin their budgeting year on January 1, it’s estimated that about a third use a non-calendar fiscal year for budgeting purposes. Like yours, many of those churches have a year that starts July 1 and ends June 30. They are no doubt dealing with a situation similar to your own.

You certainly want to be respectful of your governing documents. Your bylaws may stipulate what the budgeting process is supposed to look like. But at the same time, we’re dealing with a very unconventional situation. Even if you were to comply exactly with your bylaws and create an annual budget, it would be largely irrelevant as a useful document.

While being respectful to your historical budgeting model, you should also consider alternatives that may be available to you. You’ll want to talk with your church’s governing body, perhaps your legal counsel, about the possibility of having your members or your elders, depending on how your church is governed, waive the current requirement for an annual budget and look at the possibility of doing a quarterly rolling budget. Existing policies should govern the approval of incurring indebtedness at all times.

Along with possibly shifting your budgeting process, you should also conduct regular cash-flow forecasting. I would suggest that your cash-flow forecast look out at least six months and that it be updated semimonthly in the current environment. Such forecasting will help your various ministry teams plan better and make needed adjustments in their spending going forward.

I must stress that I am not suggesting you disregard your own governance requirements. But, at the same time, those requirements were designed for normal circumstances. Look for the proper way to do something different in the current environment and, perhaps, waive the requirements for this budget go-round.

Michael (Mike) E. Batts is a CPA and the managing partner of Batts Morrison Wales & Lee, P.A., an accounting firm dedicated exclusively to serving nonprofit organizations across the United States.
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