In any given year more than 50 of our 3,200 Alabama Baptist churches find themselves in litigation, according to Jim Swedenburg, director of Cooperative Program and stewardship development for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. This is one reason churches need to exercise care in administrative documentation, he said.
“Most of these are disputes with insurance companies, but we do need to have policies in place to protect our people,” Swedenburg told those gathered for the Church Administrative Guidelines Conference in Prattville on June 25.
Churches should have mission statements mapping out a clear purpose, Swedenburg said, and then write policies to remove confusion, save time and ensure all things are done “decently and in order” as the Apostle Paul counseled in 1 Corinthians 14:40.
The first major document a church must have is articles of incorporation. At one time known as a constitution, articles of incorporation is a requirement of Alabama law and a prerequisite to owning or purchasing property, Swedenburg said.
“Filing articles of incorporation identifies us as a church but also as an ‘entity’ rather than being represented in court by only two or three leaders,” he said. “In the event of a lawsuit we don’t want certain individuals singled out, perhaps because they’re known to have money, unless they’ve been personally negligent, of course. Incorporation offers a layer of protection for the church.”
The Alabama Secretary of State’s website offers a search to verify articles of incorporation under the “Business Entity Records” page.
The second major document according to Swedenburg is bylaws.
Swedenburg recommends bylaws be nonspecific in order to give the church flexibility.
“For example bylaws might mention four or five major committees such as building and property and nominating but state that other groups will serve as determined by the church,” he said. “The main idea is we don’t want to constantly change the bylaws as the needs of the church change.”
The third set of documents is church policies written by employees or team leaders, depending on the nature of the policies.
“What do you do in the church office if the ministry assistant is out?” he asked. “She would be the one to outline a daily schedule, so it makes sense for her to originate this policy. … Policies define authority, set boundaries, explain responsibilities and establish guidelines.”
Another much-needed policy involves the handling of money.
In miscellaneous matters Swedenburg cautioned against rental of church facilities since this is viewed by the IRS as a taxable benefit.
Additional documents and videos are available at alsbom.org or by contacting Swedenburg at 800-264-1225, ext. 283.