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The Number One Reason Churches End Up in Court

Church Finance Basics
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Sexual misconduct with minors is the primary reason churches end up in court.

Although it is grievous to church leaders to receive allegations of such behavior within their church, the manner in which they respond can determine whether or not a lawsuit will be filed. If you receive an allegation, do you know what to do?

Suggested Allegation Response Plan for Churches:

  1. Understand your state mandatory reporting law and what constitutes the definition of sexual abuse and misconduct. Most clergy are mandatory reporters of child abuse.
  2. Report the allegation to the proper authorities as required by your state.
  3. Notify your insurance company immediately upon knowledge of an incident. Do not wait until a lawsuit is filed.
  4. Be aware of what is included in minutes during board meetings regarding the allegation. Information may be admissible as evidence in the event of a lawsuit.
  5. Take the matter seriously and address it promptly with the alleged victim and their family as well as the alleged perpetrator.
  6. Suspend the alleged perpetrator, pending investigation into the matter. It is crucial to stop this person's contact with minors, even if the allegation turns out to be false.
  7. Document the allegation and preserve evidence like the application, background check results, and reference checks. Obtain a written account of what happened. If the perpetrator admits to guilt, have a confession already prepared for them to sign. It should include consent for the senior pastor to release the information.
  8. Respond compassionately to the victim and their family. Never deny or minimize the seriousness of the matter, and never blame or make the victim feel it is their fault. Instead, offer support and professional assistance, such as counseling. Most people dislike the idea of suing their church, but how they are treated will decide whether or not they do. Doing the right thing by treating them with compassion has the collateral benefit of helping protect your church.
  9. Regarding adolescent perpetrators, follow these recommendations but realize the adolescent's behavior may be a symptom of their own victimization. If you know of an adolescent in your church who is a victim of abuse, carefully supervise their interaction with younger minors.

Most cases (77%) of child molestation not perpetrated by family members happen in restrooms. As a best practice, install cameras in Sunday school rooms and right outside restrooms. This helps protect the innocent if something is wrongfully alleged, and it gives documented evidence with which to respond to allegations.

Watch the full Risk Management LIVE discussion on handling allegations, including how to deal with the press.

Sexual misconduct and child molestation is too serious a risk to ignore. Our team can help you protect the children in your church and obtain sexual misconduct insurance for your organization. For more information, give us a call at 866.662.8210 or email me at jsparks@agfinancial.org.

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