and Risk Management
by TOM MOUNTENAY
It is important for pastors to contact (and know who to contact) when they have questions or needs related to legal issues, crisis communication, and risk management. Pastors should always consult their mission center president and mission center financial officer for guidance on these matters. Handling legal issues, crisis communication, and risk management in effective ways will prevent routine and difficult matters from becoming worse. It is never too late to seek help. It is always preferable though, to seek help when issues first arise.
Below is important information for the pastor or the appropriate congregational officer.Legal Services
Legal Services provides assistance, resources, and legal advice to pastors and leaders in the field and at International Headquarters. Legal Services’ primary goal is to offer support and resources to further enable the mission of the church in a spirit of cooperation and compassion.
The pastor and congregational financial officer have a specific responsibility to ensure basic procedures are followed:
- to create a safe environment in the congregation;
- to obey local, state, provincial, and national laws and regulations; and
- to be good stewards of church resources.
The information contained in this document is not intended to be specific legal advice, but is to provide general direction for use with advice from Legal Services and other appropriate officers of the church. This information does not take the place of a consultation with a member of Legal Services.Contact information for Legal Services:
- Telephone: (816) 833-1000 or 1-800-825-2806, ext. 2217 (during regular office hours Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST)
- Emergency telephone: (816) 509-2946 (after regular office hours and on weekends)
- E-mail: legalservices@CofChrist.org
- Fax: (816) 521-3099
- Website: www.CofChrist.org/legal
It is important to contact Legal Services regarding:
- Child protection: For questions about the Child Protection Policy, please see the article “Protecting Our Children” in this field guide.
- Contracts: It is important to review and follow the contract guidelines on the church’s website at www.CofChrist.org/legal/contract.asp. If you have questions, please call (or ask your mission center officer to call) Legal Services. Remember, no contract should be signed without prior review by Legal Services and the approval of the congregation and mission center officers. Signed contracts must then be sent to Legal Services.
- Copyright questions (copying/using songs, videos, etc.): Please review the guidelines at www.CofChrist.org/legal/copyright.asp and contact Legal Services if you have questions.
- Disputes (contractor, neighbor, tenant, etc.): Notify your mission center financial officer or mission center president of the dispute and call Legal Services to discuss how best to proceed.
- Easements: Contact your mission center financial officers and call Legal Services with questions. All easements must be either drafted or reviewed by Legal Services and signed by the Presiding Bishop.
- Lawsuits: If the congregation is served with legal papers from a court or person or entity threatens to file a lawsuit against the congregation, immediately contact your mission center president and call Legal Services. Failure to timely notify Legal Services may have negative consequences for the church due to filing deadlines.
- Leases and Use Agreements: Prior to allowing an outside group to use church property, it is important to review lease guidelines on the church’s website at www.CofChrist.org/legal/leases.asp and then complete a Lease Request Form. A written lease or use agreement should be executed for one-time usage of all or a portion of the church’s facilities as well as ongoing monthly, weekly, or daily usage of the church building. No lease should be signed without review by Legal Services and formal approval from both the congregation and mission center. If you have questions about or need to make changes to an existing lease, call Legal Services.
- Property purchase, sale, or loan: Review guidelines at www.CofChrist.org/legal/building/saleproperty.asp. Your first contact is your mission center financial officer. Secondarily, call Legal Services and Risk Management.
- Tax exempt issues, notices from government bodies: Issues involving the assessment of property taxes, sales taxes, or unrelated business income tax against a congregation are complicated and require review by Legal Services. Contact Legal Services and notify your mission center financial officer as these issues arise.
In a crisis situation, such as a natural disaster, property destruction, or ministerial misconduct, communication is critical. Congregations may need to communicate with various audiences including the news media. When communicating with the news media on any crisis or legal matter, pastors or the proper congregational officer must always consult with the mission center president or Legal Services before doing so. If a congregation officer is contacted by the news media for a comment, it is always best to say, “No comment” unless you have already received consultation from Legal Services.
Contact your mission center president first. Then call (or the mission center president may choose to call) Integrated Communications at 1-800-825-2806, ext. 3045 or ext. 3042 (24-hours) who can help prepare a communication plan regarding the crisis. Integrated Communications will do so with direction and guidance from Risk Management and Legal Services.Risk Management
Risk Management assists congregations, campgrounds and mission centers to evaluate the potential risks inherent in their programs and activities. Risk Management assists congregations to provide safety and minimize risks and the effects of accidental losses so the church can pursue its mission. The Risk Management team will work with congregations to explain the church’s insurance program and requirements for vendors or contractors who perform work and those who use congregational facilities.
Contact Risk Management when:
- Church or congregational property is damaged by fire, wind, hail, etc. See www.CofChrist.org/risk/claims-building.asp for more information.
- Anyone is injured on church property, or at a church-sponsored function off-site. Go to www.CofChrist.org/risk/claims-injury.asp and immediately report the incident, following the instructions on the form.
- Someone indicates or claims the church is responsible for their injury or property loss.
- You have questions about the church’s Risk Management program or insurance requirements.
- You purchase or sell a property or vehicle.
Contact information for Risk Management:
Leaders always encounter surprises when unexpected things arise. Sometimes, those things pertain to legal matters. The good news is that pastors and leaders can be prepared. The following questions can help.
- Are we currently in any contractual relationships or involved in any leases or other legal matters that have not been reviewed by mission center officers and Legal Services?
- In our congregation, do we copy songs or other worship/educational material? Do we show DVDs or video clips? If so, have we considered copyright matters?
- Does the pastor’s leadership team understand what notification/communication procedure should be followed (such as who to call) in the event of a crisis?
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To help the pastor and pastor’s leadership team lead mission without unnecessary problems or delays due to neglecting legal matters.
Keep it simple. Make copies of this article and share them with the pastor’s leadership team or other appropriate group. Discuss the three questions at the end of the article. If you discover contracts or leases that are not approved, talk about it with your mission center officers. If there is any inappropriate use of songs, DVDs, or other proprietary material, contact Legal Services for advice on how to use resources while honoring copyright law. Make sure that everyone knows the procedure to follow in a crisis.