Q: As a church board member, what issues should I be aware of?

A: Every church board member should be prepared to answer the following 10 questions:

1. Are we incorporated? (Should we be?) Incorporating makes it easier for churches to do business and protects church leaders if someone sues the church. If your church or ministry is incorporated, generally this would be reflected in your bylaws.

2. Do we follow our bylaws? The church’s bylaws serve as the guidelines for the church’s identity and operation. They describe how members and leaders are determined, as well as the leaders’ roles within the church. In a dispute, courts will look to the church’s bylaws to determine who will prevail.

3. Are we putting the ministry’s interests first? Church board members have a legal responsibility to place the church’s needs ahead of their own. If you receive a personal financial benefit as a result of serving on the church’s board, you could potentially be sued for breaching your fiduciary responsibility to the church.

4. Are we protected by good Samaritan laws? Good Samaritan laws can help protect people who provide medical assistance in emergency situations. This protection differs from state to state. Ask the church attorney about the law in your state.

5. Do charitable immunity laws protect us from lawsuits? Most states have enacted charitable immunity laws as a way to help protect volunteer workers from being sued in connection with their volunteer service. However, they vary widely by state and don’t offer the broad immunity from litigation that many may think.

6. How could indemnification provisions in the bylaws help us? If your bylaws don’t include indemnification provisions to protect board members from becoming personally responsible for a board decision, you may wish to draft some. This could prevent board members from having to pay out-of-pocket costs if they’re sued in connection with their ministry work.

7. Are we protecting our ministry from loss? Church leaders must be willing to identify the types of losses that can happen and find ways to reduce their frequency and severity. Losses can include injuries, damage to church property, and incidents of child abuse on your premises. Such losses can not only cost the church financially, but can damage its reputation as well.

8. Do we comply with tax-exempt requirements? Churches enjoy a special tax-exempt status that allows donors to claim contributions as tax deductions, but this special status comes with strings attached. Check with an attorney or certified public accountant to make sure you’re meeting all state and federal requirements.

9. Are we properly reporting any unrelated business income to the IRS? Tax-exempt organizations must pay income tax on revenue that the IRS considers unrelated business income. Churches that generate unrelated business income (from coupon book sales, coffee shop, bookstore, etc.) must file Form 990-T with the IRS to report it.

10. Are we covered by the church’s insurance policy? You’ll want to make sure your church’s insurance policy provides coverage for your church leaders individually if someone sues the church and names them as defendants. Talk with your insurance agent about what coverage the church policy provides for governing board members.

Recommended Resources

Learn more about this issue in our article, Ten Things Every Church Board Member Needs to Know.

Determine how well you're protecting the church and board members from legal liability, fines, and other losses. Download the Church Board Administration checklist.

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.