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Webinar on retirement planning

Church Law & Tax recently conducted an hour-long webinar applicable to GCI-employed pastors within the United States. Here is a description of the webinar’s content:

Richard R. Hammar—author of the 2018 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff and the annual Church & Clergy Tax Guide—will cover critical information related to pastoral retirement planning, including church plans, deferred compensation plans, tax-sheltered annuities (such as 403(b) plans and IRAs), and housing allowances.

To watch a recoring of the webinar, click here.

Revised policy manuals

GCI-USA Church Development and Administration (CAD) recently emailed the primary pastoral leader in each U.S. congregation to let them know that revised editions of several GCI policy manuals have been posted at http://www.gci.org/go/manuals. Here are excerpts from the email’s summary of revisions to the manuals:

manual1. Church Administration Manual

  • The primary change has to do with defining three types of GCI-USA congregations: chartered churches, chartered fellowship groups and non-chartered fellowship groups. The “fellowship group” categories, which are new for us, are a response to the reality that we have many very small congregations that need the freedom to operate in ways more appropriate to their size and other constraints and opportunities. All congregations with an average attendance of 15 or fewer people will be classified as fellowship groups and your regional pastor will work with you to determine if such congregations should operate as “chartered fellowship groups” or “non-chartered fellowship groups”—the revised manual explains the difference.
  • We have set a new policy for the way our congregations are named. This policy applies to new congregations and to established congregations that wish to change their name.
  • We have eliminated all reference to the licensing of elders. Our experience has been that the licensing procedure is no longer useful and so has been altered. Under the new policy, elders will be ordained but not licensed. When an elder is ordained, they will be given an appropriate title (such as lead pastor) in accordance with their particular pastoral leadership assignment within the congregation in which they serve. That assignment is not permanent, but the ordination as elder is permanent so long as the elder complies with the code of ethics for elders and otherwise remains a GCI member in good standing, and continues to want to serve as an elder. In keeping with this new policy, we’ve posted a revised ordination/appointment application at http://tinyurl.com/hrhycay. This form is to be used to apply for elder ordination and to apply to be appointed as a member of a pastoral team or as a fellowship group facilitator.
  • We’ve made minor updates to the section that describes our denominational corporate structure at the international level. Further updates will be made in a few months with final approval of our new denominational articles of incorporation and bylaws. As Dr. Tkach announced in the 2014 regional conferences, we’ve been working toward this major step for the last few years and we’re just about complete.
  • We’ve streamlined our grievance, discipline and appeals process to make it less cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming for all involved. There now are fewer levels in the process with the final point of review for grievances and appeals being the relevant regional pastor.
  • The Pastoral Continuing Education Guide is now published as Appendix F in the Church Administration Manual. Pastors and pastoral team members, please pay close attention to this appendix as it pertains to steps you are expected to take in furtherance of your education as a GCI-USA pastoral leader.

manual2. Financial Management Manual
Changes to this manual mostly have to do with updating terms and a few procedures related to our standard financial management system used by chartered churches (and now by chartered fellowship groups). Pastors, please pay particular attention to the section listing financial reports required from chartered churches and chartered fellowhip groups. If you or your treasurer are having difficulty getting these reports completed accurately and on time, the folks in our Treasurer’s office in Glendora are happy to assist you.

3. Church Building Manual
Changes to this manual are minor, related mostly to updating terminology connected with our recently implemented regional structure.

4. GenMin Handbook

  • Added a section on reporting accidents/incidents
  • Added a section that prohibits using 15-seat passenger vans
  • Added a standard incident report form

Don’t use 15-seat passenger vans

vanIt’s summer and youth and other church groups often take trips. Thus it’s a good time to remind pastors and youth ministers of the GCI-USA policy concerning not using 15-seat passenger vans (like the one at right). In recent years there have been many warnings that these vans are dangerous due to their high center of gravity and relatively short wheel base, making them susceptible to roll over, even at low speeds.

There have been many accidents, including tragic deaths and injuries, arising from using such vans. Some U.S. states now require that anyone driving a vehicle holding more than 10 passengers have a commercial driver’s license because of these safety concerns.

GCI congregations or camps may wish to rent or borrow a van to transport children, teens and adults. But please DO NOT use a 15-seat passenger van. The potential risk is simply too great. We must guard the safety of our members and their children and also that of other motorists who share the road. GuideOne, GCI’s liability insurance carrier in the U.S., recommends that policyholders use small school buses or minivans for group transportation.

Please update your records

This announcement is for U.S. pastors and those who assist them with record keeping.

A number of GCI-USA local churches have outdated information online. Some have closed their websites, or have websites with old or incorrect information. Because we link to these websites on GCI.org (GCI’s denominational website), it’s important to us all that you keep the information on your website current, and if you close it, that you notify GCI’s home office (by emailing support@gci.org). We will remove links on GCI.org to closed local church websites.

Please take time now to check the information about your congregation that we have on the denomination’s website. Go to http://www.gci.org/participate/find, locate your church record, then verify the information listed there. Are the meeting location and time correct? Is information about the pastor correct? If anything you find there is incorrect, please do one of the following:

  • Log into https://online.gci.org/, go to your congregation’s record and correct the information yourself
  • Email support@gci.org listing the changes that need to be made to your congregation’s record and we’ll make the changes for you

Thanks for keeping your online church records up-to-date.

Continuing education

Dan Rogers, director of GCI Church Administration and Development, recently announced new requirements for the Pastoral Continuing Education Program that apply to all GCI senior pastors and pastoral care teams in the United States. Those requirements are found in the new Pastoral Continuing Education Program Guide. To download the guide, click here. Note that the most recent version of this program guide is always linked on the “Church Development” page on the GCI.org website and also on the “Pastors Resources” page on the GCI.online website.

Computer tip

GCI’s IT Department is receiving increasing numbers of requests from US pastors asking for help recovering from a computer crash. Here is a helpful tip.

Computer CrashMost computer manufacturers now ship new computers without recovery disks. This means that if your hard drive fails, you will be stuck without a way to recover, even if you replace the drive. Most computer stores and repair shops cannot help you recover from a hard drive crash unless you have the recovery disks.

So here’s the tip: create a set of recovery disks of your own before you start using a new computer. If you don’t, you may find yourself needing to call the manufacturer to pay them to send you a set. Not only is that costly (usually about $50), you also end up having to wait to receive the recovery disks before you can start repairing your computer.

Financial assistance rules

This announcement for GCI churches in the US is from GCI legal counsel Bernie Schnippert. It sets forth rules related to financial assistance to members and others.

From time to time, congregations are approached by individuals seeking financial assistance. Perhaps they have experienced a calamity (like a house fire, which affects the one family, not the entire neighborhood) and need assistance. Or perhaps the members, seeing a person in need, (like the fire victim) want to send money to the congregation, which they hope will be receipted as tax deductible, then forwarded to the person in need. Situations like these present an important question: Under what circumstances may tax exempt, receipted, donation money be given to a needy person?

The answer pertains to situations when single persons or families in need seek church assistance. IRS rules are different when there is a group need and a group calamity, such as when storm Sandy hit.

A couple of rules come into play in answering the question posed above. It may surprise you that IRS rules forbid the church from simply helping the fire victim with money that was receipted with tax deductible receipts. The reason is that it is NOT permissible to help such persons unless there is a program in the local church, which identifies a “charitable class.” It is not enough that the person needs help. Giving such help must be pursuant to a program and plan to help a whole class of individuals. This rule is somewhat counter-intuitive because people believe that churches should be quick to help disaster victims and should not get caught up in bureaucracy. However, IRS rules are clear on this matter (see IRS publication 3833)—a member is NOT allowed to earmark their donation for the use of a specific person.

It is vital to plan ahead in order to both give help and comply with IRS rules. Begin by establishing a policy (with a related program), which sets out criteria concerning who can and who cannot be helped by the church. Such criteria might include the nature of the person’s need, the church’s ability to meet those needs financially, whether or not the person helped need be a member or relative of a member, etc. (these are example criteria). In this way, the policy would define a “charitable group”–when someone asks for assistance, you will already have established that you will help people who are part of this group under certain specific situations. Then your “approving committee” (or whatever you call the group that makes such decisions in your church), can hold a meeting to decide if the needy person in question meets the predetermined group criteria.

Caution: In giving financial assistance, you are NOT allowed to favor a person or persons who are in management control of the church (such as pastors, ministry leaders, etc.). It may be okay to help such people, but ONLY if they otherwise meet the criteria, if their conflict is disclosed (the fact that they are church leaders) and if the approving committee approves the need based upon the established criteria.

Note also that donors must be told that they may state a preference as to who might be helped with their tax deductible donations, however they are NOT permitted to force the church to aid their person of choice. So, perhaps in the receipt or accompanying paperwork, you should say that any preference of the donor will be considered but that the final decision is that of the approving committee and that the donation is not revocable, even if their stated choice is not honored.

These rules for helping needy people can be complied with rather easily: Start a program for helping people who you define as a particular “charitable class.” Advertise the program’s existence, so that when a needy person who fits the criteria comes along, the program and its criteria are not considered a contrivance. Such criteria can be simple, but should be written down with notes kept of approval committee meetings. Then tell people that they can donate to the church but that the church cannot be bound to their choice of who should receive the assistance money. Of course, these steps presume that the donor wants a tax deductible receipt. When a donation goes directly to the recipient and is thus not tax deductible, these rules do not apply. Also, if the congregation wishes, it could collect checks from numerous donors and forward them, either unreceipted in a bundle, or receipted but clearly NOT with tax deductible receipts, to the needy person. In the second case, having a statement on the receipt that it is not tax deductible is a good move.

By following these rules you will meet your goal to help needy people while complying with IRS rules. Questions about this policy may be directed to the GCI Treasurer’s office and also be sure to note related policies in the GCI Financial Management Manual.

Continuing education program

U.S. pastors participating in track two of GCI’s Pastoral Continuing Education Program may now earn continuing education units (CEUs) for participation in one of the U.S. regional conferences. Three CEUs will be awarded after completing the following tasks:

  1. Attend an entire regional conference (Friday afternoon through the Sunday worship services), including attending all plenary sessions and participating in the breakout sessions.
  2. Submit to the district pastor a 500-word reflection paper, or participate with the district pastor in a debriefing interview.