Pastor, Church & Law

Organization and Administration

Chapter 6

Chapter 6 is a study of the legal aspects of church organization and administration. It’s one of the most important chapters in this text. The chapter begins with a review of both the unincorporated and incorporated forms of organization. Should a church be incorporated? What advantages are there? Are there any disadvantages? These are issues of fundamental importance.

Church records raise a number of important legal questions. For example, under what circumstances can church members inspect church records? What church records are subject to their inspection? Can the IRS inspect church records? If so, what protections are available to churches?

Churches also may have a number of reporting requirements under state and federal law, including the filing of an annual corporate report, applications for exemption from various taxes, payroll tax reporting obligations, and the annual certification of racial nondiscrimination (for churches that operate a preschool, or an elementary or secondary school). Chapter 6 addresses these reporting requirements.

The selection, authority, removal, and personal liability of church officers, directors, and trustees present complex legal questions.

The selection, authority, removal, and personal liability of church officers, directors, and trustees present complex legal questions. For example, who are the legal members of a church? Can members lose their church membership through non-attendance or lack of support? How may a church remove a director prior to the expiration of a term of office? When may church directors or trustees be personally liable for their actions on behalf of a church?

Each of these problems will be analyzed in detail, along with the topic of church business meetings. How should a church give notice of its business meetings? What is a quorum? Who can vote? What is the effect of procedural irregularities? What body of parliamentary law applies?

You also will study the nature and extent of a church’s legal authority, and the procedures employed in merging, consolidating, and dissolving churches.

Chapter 6 provides an in-depth legal perspective on the organizational and administrative issues that significantly impact a church’s effectiveness in ministry. For this reason, it’s worth spending a considerable amount of time studying its contents.

More than one hundred years ago, the United States Supreme Court observed that “the right to organize voluntary religious associations to assist in the expression and dissemination of any religious doctrine … is unquestioned.”1 Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 679 (1872).Generally, churches have organized themselves as either corporations or unincorporated associations. This chapter will explore the main features of both forms of organization, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each, and summarize the incorporation process. This chapter also will address several issues of church administration, including reporting requirements; the protection of church names; the selection, authority, and personal liability of officers and directors; the selection and dismissal of church members; annual and special membership meetings; and dissolution.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold 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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