Incorporation Can Protect Church Members

When an organization becomes incorporated, it gains the same legal rights and responsibilities as an individual. That’s true for churches and ministries, just as it is for businesses. Incorporation takes the weight of responsibility off the shoulders of individuals and instead, places it on the organization. In contrast, a court may find all members of an unincorporated church legally responsible for negligent or criminal actions committed by one church member.

Incorporated churches and ministries have several advantages

Churches and other ministries should consider incorporation for a variety of reasons. The most important is to protect individual members from personal liability associated with the negligent actions of fellow members.

Incorporated ministries also enjoy other benefits:

  • Incorporation can help an organization clarify its purpose, procedures, and vision.
  • Only incorporated ministries may apply for and receive grants through federal or faith-based organizations and foundations.
  • Incorporated groups may be eligible to receive special mailing rates and other discounts from vendors.

Complete incorporation at the state level

Incorporation takes place at the state level, often through the Secretary of State’s office. When incorporating, first contact an attorney who is familiar with not-for-profit laws in your state. The attorney will prepare a document known as Articles of Incorporation and help you establish your corporation’s unique name, a statement of organizational purpose, and operational bylaws.

According to Michael Allison, vice president and chief counsel at Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, church bylaws should include the following elements:

  • Statement of purpose.
  • Structural organization (the relationship between members, pastors, and leaders).
  • Election process for church leaders.
  • Guidelines for church membership meetings.
  • Definitions distinguishing leadership and membership decisions.
  • Committee roles and responsibilities.
  • Process required for amending the bylaws.

Once you establish your church’s bylaws, use the bylaws as a guide by which your ministry operates. Doing otherwise can create legal problems, especially if church leaders reach major decisions in a manner inconsistent with your bylaws.

Review bylaws regularly

Your ministry should appoint a task force to evaluate its bylaws at least every two years. This group should operate strictly within the established rules for changing bylaws and should consult an attorney before finalizing official changes. Many states also require incorporated ministries to submit annual paperwork, such as an annual report to the Secretary of State’s office.

Are You Covered If You're Injured Overseas?
Are You Covered If You're Injured Overseas?

Recently, we learned about two major overseas incidents involving pastors on mission trips. The first incident involved a pastor being hit by a motorcycle while running. The second was a bus accident involving two pastors. The runner and one of the two bus passengers sustained extensive injuries.

Tags: missions, insurance
IRS Announces More Church Audits Regarding ACA Compliance
IRS Announces More Church Audits Regarding ACA Compliance

Last month, the IRS announced that its initiating hundreds of church exams to test compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While many provisions only apply to churches with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), even smaller churches could potentially violate provisions applicable to health benefit plans with as few as 2 plan participants.

Tags: ACA, IRS
July 3, 2019
Celebrate Safely This Independence Day
Celebrate Safely This Independence Day

July 4th is synonymous with food, fun, and fireworks. If your church is planning an event this Independence Day, remember to keep a focus on safety, so that everyone can have fun.

Tags: firework safety
June 28, 2019
Insurance is one of those things we forget about until we need it
Insurance is one of those things we forget about until we need it

National Insurance Awareness Day falls on June 28 this year to remind people everywhere that insurance is vital to their companies and ministries.

Tags: protect, risk, hail, weather emergency
May 13, 2019
Protect Your People & Property During Hailstorms
Protect Your People & Property During Hailstorms

According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), hail causes about $1 billion in damage to crops and property each year. Prepare your ministry and people for hail this season.

Tags: protect, risk, hail, weather emergency
April 30, 2019
Measles Cases Reach Record-Breaking Numbers
Measles Cases Reach Record-Breaking Numbers

More than 700 confirmed cases of measles have been reported in the United States so far this year, making this outbreak the worst in decades.

Tags: liability, protect, health safety, risk management, measles
April 9, 2019
Vehicle Registration Guidelines for Ministries
Vehicle Registration Guidelines for Ministries

Do you use commercial vehicles that transport more than 15 passengers or carry cargo from one state to another as part of your ministry? If so, you are required to register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and obtain a USDOT number.

Tags: auto insurance, vehicle safety, liability
March 25, 2019
March 25-29 is Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Iowa & Nebraska
March 25-29 is Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Iowa & Nebraska

As winter turns to spring, we’re also in for a turn in weather. Lightning, strong winds, flash flooding, hail, or tornadoes could quickly strike your ministry. The National Weather Service has designated March 25-29, 2019, as Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Iowa and Nebraska.

Tags: protect, weather emergency, storms, property
June 1, 2018
June Is National Safety Month - Week 1: Emergency Preparedness
June Is National Safety Month - Week 1: Emergency Preparedness

The National Safety Council has designated June as National Safety Month, so we want to make sure your ministry is doing everything it can to protect its people, property, and programs. Each week in June, we’ll tackle a different topic. Up this week: Emergency Preparedness.

Tags: disaster prep, fire prevention, lightning, medical emergency, medical team, storms, weather emergency
April 18, 2018
Collect Online Donations? This New Scam Targets You
Collect Online Donations? This New Scam Targets You

There’s a new scam in town, and ministries and other organizations collecting donations are the primary target. If your ministry collects tithes or donations, you could be targeted by scammers practicing donation overpayment fraud.

Tags: cyber security, finance, fraud, donations
February 21, 2018
Remembering Billy Graham
Remembering Billy Graham

Beloved evangelist Billy Graham was called to his heavenly home on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, at the age of 99.

Tags: Billy Graham
February 9, 2018
Flu Is Widespread: Protect Your Congregation
Flu Is Widespread: Protect Your Congregation

For the first time in its 13 years of influenza monitoring, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that every state in the continental U.S. is seeing widespread flu activity. Get tips on how to keep your congregation healthy this flu season.

Tags: protect, health safety, risk, health, flu
June 19, 2017
Off-Site Youth Activities
Off-Site Youth Activities

Snow skiing. Camping. Whitewater rafting. A youth group trip can give students an exciting diversion from their weekly routines, as well as an opportunity to strengthen healthy friendships. Off-site activities may challenge your students to step outside of their comfort zones a bit, but this can bring about a positive result.

Tags: youth, insurance, safety
June 7, 2017
Insurance Protection Should Accompany Every Mission Trip
Insurance Protection Should Accompany Every Mission Trip

If you are in the process of planning a mission trip for your church group, make sure to think carefully about insurance, safety, and security as you hammer out the details. Extra preparation could minimize headaches when your group arrives on the mission field.

Tags: mission insurance, foreign travel, liability, coverage
May 24, 2017
Think Before You Loan Your Ministry's Vehicles
Think Before You Loan Your Ministry's Vehicles

Has your church or school ever been asked to loan one of your vans or buses to another? Before you decide to loan your ministry vehicles to another organization, seriously consider the potential risks associated with such a decision.

Tags: auto insurance, loaning vehicles
March 29, 2017
Has Your Church Completed a Personal Property Inventory?
Has Your Church Completed a Personal Property Inventory?

Completing a personal property inventory of your church or ministry could be one of the wisest activities you can pursue. If disaster strikes and you file an insurance claim, you may need an inventory highlighting damaged items.

Tags: claims, coverage, insurance, property
March 15, 2017
Is Your Ministry as Safe as It Could Be?
Is Your Ministry as Safe as It Could Be?

Have you thought through potential dangers that may confront your ministry? Taking steps to consider and address these risks provides important protection from injuries, lawsuits, fires, and dozens of other hazards that may affect your ministry, especially your employees and those you serve.

Tags: protect, safety, security, security team, protecting staff members, risk management
February 22, 2017
Health Care Reimbursement Option Now Available
Health Care Reimbursement Option Now Available

Small businesses—including churches and related ministries—can once again pay premiums for their employees’ health insurance. Previously known as an Employer Payment Plan (EPP) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), these arrangements violated the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, due to a recently passed law, ministries that are not part of a group health plan now have another option to help employees with health care costs.

Tags: church staff, health insurance
February 15, 2017
IRS Warns of Dangerous W-2 Email Scam
IRS Warns of Dangerous W-2 Email Scam

Ministries beware: An email scheme, designed to coincide with tax season, asks payroll and human resource professionals to disclose employees’ personal information. Think you wouldn’t fall for such a scam? You might, if the email looks as if it came from someone in your ministry.

Tags: IRS regulations, paying employees, cyber security, church staff, security, damages, digital
February 1, 2017
Dual Tax Status: What Does It Mean for Your Pastor?
Dual Tax Status: What Does It Mean for Your Pastor?

Under federal law, most ministers have dual tax status. Dual tax status means a minister is an employee of the church for federal income tax purposes, and self-employed for Social Security and Medicare taxes. Here’s what you need to know.

Tags: church payroll, finance, IRS regulations, paying employees, tax code