?To many the church represents a safe haven from the troubles of the world. Along with this belief usually comes the perception that nothing bad will ever happen at the church because it is a safe place affording spiritual, emotional and physical protection. It is our experience that, unfortunately, this belief is generally just not true. While the church should be a safe haven, it is important to remember that the church is not immune to the troubles of the world.
The following list contains areas of recurring liability for churches. Each of these areas can be prevented with proper planning, training and oversight. Acknowledging that these issues may occur in your church is the first step to preventing them from occurring.

Child Abuse
Today it is universally accepted that one sign of a healthy church is the strength of its children’s programs. But until a children’s ministry is prepared to prevent abuse and to respond in the event that child abuse should occur, it will not be as healthy as it must be to minister effectively to the children in its care.

Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse and impropriety can occur anywhere in the church. However, there are certain areas that are particularly vulnerable. Sexual abuse typically occurs in your nursery or youth departments or in pastoral counseling programs. While protecting the children in your church is of utmost importance for the sake of the children and for the vitality of your church, many churches overlook the risks associated with providing counseling.

Fight for Control of Organization
Unfortunately, dissension occurs, individuals disagree and churches can be destroyed in the process. Often church splits occur when there is a struggle for leadership. A church can prevent such a fight from taking place by making sure that it has proper governance documents in place, including articles of incorporation and bylaws, and by operating in accordance with these documents. In the unfortunate situations where control of the church is at issue, the church’s rules and how they were followed can determine who retains control of the church and its assets.

Financial Impropriety
Regrettably, financial misconduct is not uncommon in the church. Typically, such issues arise when there is the misappropriation of money or a situation in which church officers or directors personally invest in the same investment opportunity as the church. Churches also can become victims of financial schemes. In an effort to be good stewards, churches have begun to consider investments they would not have under better economic conditions; and they unwittingly become involved in fraudulent investment schemes, generally referred to as “Ponzi schemes.” To prevent becoming ensnared in financial schemes, churches should consider the following protections:
(a) Officers and directors of the church who approve its investments or have some say in how they are made should never
personally invest in those same investments.
(b) As with all investments, consider diversification. If you believe the investment opportunity is legitimate, it is still better to only commit a certain percentage of the church’s resources rather than risk a larger loss for the church. Having pre-established investment rules in this regard is a good idea.

David O. Middlebrook, a senior partner with Anthony & Middlebrook, P.C., is licensed to practice law in Texas, Colorado and the District of Columbia. He serves with the Church Law Group. You can contact them at www.churchlawgroup.com.

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