Five Things Every Church Board Member Should Know

Church board members have been placed in a position of trust. As such, you have a legal responsibility to place the church’s needs ahead of your own.

1. Are we incorporated? (Should we be?)

Incorporating offers ministries two significant advantages:

  • Ease of doing business. Being incorporated makes doing business much simpler for the church.

  • Liability protection. Incorporation can place a protective barrier between the church and its leaders and members.

2. Do we follow our bylaws? If a dispute arises concerning the proper operation of the church, a court will look to the church’s bylaws to determine who will prevail. For this reason, it’s critical that churches actually follow the rules they have made for themselves.

3. Are we putting the ministry’s interests first? The law generally provides protections for board members, as long as the members were acting in good faith. Exceptions include:

  • The “Prudent Person” Rule. This rule protects board members from personal liability for board actions or decisions unless a “reasonably prudent person” would have avoided such actions or decisions under the circumstances.

  • The Duty of Loyalty. This rule says that a board member’s actions and decisions must be free of personal motives.

4. Are we protected by good Samaritan laws?

Good Samaritan laws are state laws that provide legal protection for certain individuals who provide medical assistance in emergency situations. Because the protection varies so much, ministries should ask a local attorney about the scope and application of such laws in their state.

5. Do charitable immunity laws protect us from lawsuits?

Many states have enacted charitable immunity laws as a way to help protect volunteer workers from being sued in connection with their volunteer service. Charitable immunity laws are limited, because they:

  • Vary significantly by state.

  • Apply to individuals, not the ministry organization.

  • Protect only those serving on a volunteer basis.

  • Prevent only certain people from suing.

  • Protect only certain activities. Some exposures fall outside of charitable immunity protection.

  • Don’t eliminate legal defense costs. A volunteer must still hire an attorney and do some amount of legal work to be removed from a lawsuit.

Reference: Used with permission from Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.

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