What I Learned About the Church's Legal and Financial Responsibilities
Five areas that you may not be aware are putting your church at risk
What I Learned About the Church's Legal and Financial Responsibilities

I joined the Church Law & Tax Team of Christianity Today about a year ago. During my time on the team, my eyes were really opened to areas of church responsibility that I was pretty oblivious to before my time here. With that in mind, I wanted to share some areas of concern and resources that I didn’t even think my church needed, but have been thankful to find.

1. Copyright

That cool new song you sung on Sunday, the resource on discipleship at the resource table, the image your pastor used in his PowerPoint during the sermon—these are just a few things your church has to think about when it comes to copyright. Just because a resource can be attained online doesn’t mean you can use it without going through the correct channels. There are many rules and regulations to consider when dealing with copyright. Not following proper copyright law could prove costly for your church. The Essential Guide to Copyright Law for Churches is a helpful resource on this topic for church leaders.

2. Background Checks and Screenings

This one might seem obvious, but repeated news headlines show it isn’t. It seems like every day there is another scandal involving a church member or volunteer who wasn’t property screened. Unfortunately, liability for sexual abuse consistently has been the number one reason churches end up in court. It is easy in a smaller church where “everyone knows each other” to devalue background checks. While things like background checks and screening volunteers might seem like an unnecessary task, it can be the thing that separates your thriving ministry from hurt and pain. Please, let us help you by reading “Answering Church Leaders’ Common Questions about Background Checks.”

3. Your Team

There are many ways to build and manage the team of leaders around you. The leadership team of your church can be a great asset or a huge deterrent to your church. You can build your team from within your congregation as Karl Vaters points out in his blog post for ManagingYourChurch.com. We also have resources to help you asses your practices for hiring new staff as well as what to do when you have a staff member who needs to be let go. There are many elements and moving pieces when it comes to how leaders work together, and our resources can help you get the best out of your staff.

4. Website Addresses and Church Names

What’s in a name, you ask? If you are talking about your church’s domain and trademark, then a lot! When dealing with an organization’s name and web address, there is more involved than just what is available. As Richard Hammar says in the article “What Churches Should Know About Trademarks and Website Addresses,” “Most churches have websites, and they promote their websites to the world by adopting domain names that tell people how to locate those sites. There are important legal issues associated with the use of domain names.” When thinking through the domain name to use for the website of your church, be sure to take into consideration the many other legal protections you need to know, such as the limits of generic names, trademarks, and infringement.

5. Church Finance

I had no idea a resource this comprehensive existed. This book by Richard Hammar and Mike Batts was released earlier this year and is one of the most helpful resources that exists on the matter of church financial management. For those who are new to handling the finances of a church, this book will help you get familiar with some of the basic issues and concepts you’ll need to manage. For the seasoned church finance official this is a great “go-to” reference to keep you up to date with of the complex financial changes that have occurred just in the past few years. If you need a technical guide that covers everything related to church and clergy taxes, check out the Church & Clergy Tax Guide, updated annually.

These are just a few of the areas that my eyes have been opened to since joining the Church Law & Tax Team. The wealth of information and resources I have been exposed to has changed the way I think about church leadership, legal, and financial matters. Be sure to check out our store and multiple resources so that your church is well equipped for whatever may come your way.

Tim Gioia is the Editorial Resident for Church Law & Tax and Leadership Journal.

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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