Monday, November 15, 2010

Ministry In The Age of Social Media

Article from Ministry Today

Welcome to ministry in the age of social media, where more and more pastors nationwide are awakening to the belief that social media is an effective way to reach not just their own flocks but those beyond their congregations as well.

"Did you miss Sunday service this morning?" reads a post—complete with video link—on the Facebook page of The Potter's House, the Dallas megachurch led by Bishop T.D. Jakes. "Come join us for the Sunday Service Rebroadcast, we have a word just for you." The page has more than 109,000 followers.

According to a recent Nielsen Co. study, Americans spend nearly a quarter of their time on social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter—a 43 percent increase over the year before. Churches are increasingly planting their flags in cyberspace, with profile pages teasing upcoming or past sermons, noting meetings and special events, culling for volunteers or posting a verse of the day.

Such strategies are espoused by even Pope Benedict XVI, whom digital news source Mashable dubbed "the social media pontiff" for urging priests to use new technologies to bring people to the church.

"If St. Paul were alive today, he would have a BlackBerry, a laptop and a blog," wrote Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas in the introduction to the blog he began writing last year for parishioners.

Social media's casual and interactive nature is especially well-suited to purposes such as establishing community and conducting outreach, especially in bigger congregations where one can be lost amid the crowd.

"The larger the church, the more important staying connected with people becomes," said Mike Buster, executive pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in the Dallas area, with a weekend attendance of more than 14,000 at two campuses. The church's Facebook page lets people check church activity schedules, preview Sunday services, see photos of sponsored events and submit prayer requests.

Facebook is now used by 47 percent of churches, according to unreleased survey results compiled by evangelical research firm LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn. And it's not just for those who already belong. When it comes to drawing those looking to join a religious community, an online presence is a near necessity.

"If people are going to consider your church, they're going to consider it first online," said Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research president. "They're going to wonder: 'What is it like? What's going on?' And if you don't tell them, they're not going to come."

While social media offer unprecedented outreach opportunities, there are some things it can't accomplish, such as simply visiting a member or churchgoer in the hospital. It also presents challenges for pastors—for instance, not letting his or her church lose sight of the mission and message while ensuring that the convenience of cyber-community doesn't substitute for the real thing.

"Church requires feet and faces, not just electrons and avatars," Stetzer said. "Social media can be the tool, but not the goal."

Evangelical blogger Kent Shaffer, author of Oklahoma City-based Church Relevance, agreed. "Church social media shouldn't be about broadcasting oneself and spamming the masses," he said via e-mail. Instead, used well, it can enhance a church's mission without distracting from it.

Prestonwood's Buster is aware of the dangers. "We will never allow social media to replace personal contact or the sharing of Christ through people," he said. "It will not replace our face-to-face evangelism."

In the meantime, churches are just keeping up with the times.

Source: The Dallas Morning News 11-14-10

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

10 Tips To Brand Yourself

by Ophelia Livingston, CEO of OWL Risk Management Consulting
Helping Your Business Grow Using Social Media

Small Business
What's your brand? You may not know it, but if you've created a book, CD, or DVD, you've already started developing a brand.

Small businesses have always been focused on building the brand names of their companies and for good reason. How else would people know they exist, what they offer and even where they're located. Some small businesses invest in expensive PR companies, hoping for publicity in mainstream news outlets. Others, such as bootstrapper entrepreneurs, use guerilla marketing tactics to generate interest with almost no budget. We're living in a world where consumers and journalists alike are looking to connect directly with entrepreneurs and hear their stories. It's not just about what your company does, but why you started it, its purpose and your vision. Social technologies, such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, have enabled entrepreneurs to become known, connect directly with their audience and build relationships on a global scale. As a small business, you need to become the brand.

Strong branding can help develop your following and expand your audience. But what is a brand? In its simplest form, a brand is a noun: the name attached to a product or service. In reality, however, a brand encompasses many more intangible aspects of a product or service; it is a collection of feelings and perceptions about quality, image, lifestyle, and status. A brand creates in the minds of customers and prospects the perception that there is no product or service on the market quite like yours. In short, a brand offers the customer a guarantee of a specific value or benefit from a product and then delivers on it.

Step 1: Define Your Core Value
To begin proactively establishing your brand, you'll need to ask yourself a few questions. What value do you want your target audience to receive as a result of listening to your CD, watching your DVD, or reading your book? What benefits can you give your customers in the course of reading, listening to, or viewing your work? Is your brand an experience, such as an emotional connection, or does it offer educational value? Essentially, what do you want to communicate through your offering?

Step 2: Create a Logo
Businesses, blogs – even individuals – can stand to benefit from a compelling and memorable logo. The best logos are almost surprisingly simplistic; for example, think of the lowercase “f” that immediately brings Facebook to mind. The reason why logos are so important in the branding process is that people tend to remember images more vividly than they remember words and names, so if you can create a visual representation of yourself or your business that really stands out, you’ve already accomplished half of the branding battle.

Step 3: Become An Expert On Something That Relates To Your Business
Small businesses looking to garner media attention, attract new clients and build their businesses should focus on becoming an expert in their field. For instance, Alexa von Tobel, CEO of, has branded herself as a personal finance expert for young people. As a result, Fox Business, The New York Times, and other media outlets have interviewed Alexa, which provides exposure for her company. Avoid establishing an expertise that's irrelevant to your corporate mission, goals, and vision because you'll be wasting your time. If you own a record label, it's probably not wise to brand yourself as a nutrition expert.

Step 4: Focus on Making Genuine Connections
All too often, people think of networking as something they “have to” do for their business, and the entire process is suddenly imbued with a sense of dreadful phoniness. The real key to successful networking is to make an effort to forge real connections with people, both online and off. Every blog you contact for linkbacks should be one that you actually read and enjoy; every person you hand a business card to should be someone with whom you have found common ground. It may take a little extra work to network this way, but it will be far more effective in the long run.

Step 5: Establish a Website or Blog Under Your Full Name
The media and your customers both use search engines to research you, connect with you and potentially either do business with you or interview you. That's why you need to purchase your full name as a domain name ( By developing either a static website or a blog under your domain name, you will own the first result for your name in Google and other search engines. This should be a separate site than your company's website. After purchasing your domain name, add your picture, a bio, your e-mail address and links to the rest of your online presence (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). This way, people can get in touch with you in their medium of choice. Claim your name before someone else does.

Step 6: Infuse Your Brand into Your Work
The first place to start building your brand is in your work itself. For example, an author's distinct writing style is part of a brand that will help readers know what they can expect to get out of reading a particular book, whether that style is grim and terrifying, or light-hearted and humorous. Audiences who expect a certain kind of listening, viewing, or reading experience will be drawn to music, film, or writing in the style and genre that delivers what they're looking for. Defining what category (or categories) your work falls into is critical to helping your customers find you.

Step 7: Carry Your Brand Through Your Marketing Materials
You can further develop the signature look and feel of your brand through your product's design and marketing materials. For example, choosing similar but distinctive layouts and cover artwork for multiple products can help develop the brand of a series. Designing a website and press kit that are consistent with your product's themes will also help you brand your marketing efforts.

Step 8. Learn How To Be a Good Source
Find out which media sources your audience reads, listens to or watches, research the types of content they provide and locate the exact gatekeeper to pitch. You or your publicist can also e-mail journalists and editors in response to one of their articles, with a note that you are available to comment on future articles. If and when a journalist e-mails or calls you for an interview, respond with haste because they are typically on deadline for their stories. Answer their questions thoroughly, while making sure that you get your message across.

When you're interviewed by the media, you will always be able to promote your company through your byline, which will help build both yours and your company's brand. Once the interview is complete, send a follow-up e-mail asking if they have any more questions, and make sure you include your bio and your picture.

Step 9: Generate Brand Awareness Through Networking

You should be connecting with other small businesses in your industry using social networks, such as or and commenting on their blogs. Networking is one of the best ways to become known in your industry. By forming relationships with people in your audience you can grow your business relationships and your brand long-term.

The four rules of networking that you should keep in mind are mutualism, giving, targeting and reconnecting.
• Mutualism: You have to create win-win relationships in business, making sure that you don't benefit more than the other party.
• Giving: Help someone out, before asking for anything in return. This makes people want to support you.
• Targeting: You want to be very specific with the types of people you network with, in order to save time and to attract the right people to your brand.
• Reconnecting: Never lose touch, that way networking contacts remember you when new opportunities surface.

Step 10: Be Consistent
Consistent messaging is the key to successful branding. It is essential that you establish your core values from the beginning of your body of work and return to them frequently. For example, the creator of a weight-loss workout video could establish his or her brand as being reliable, easy to follow, and consistently producing results. To reinforce that particular brand, the filmmaker could carry that "can do" attitude over into any related book or print publications, provide examples of success stories on the video's website, and regularly update a blog with health tips. Finally, if the values you want to portray as a musician, writer, or filmmaker are different from your personal or professional values, consider adopting a pseudonym and establishing an alternative brand for that identity.

Building your brand identity in these seemingly small ways will enhance your credibility and promote customer loyalty. Creating a rock-solid brand identity will cultivate one of the strongest competitive advantages there is: mind share, which is the process of fostering favorable attitudes toward a product or organization. As a result, customers will think of you first when they think of your product category. If you consistently deliver on your brand's promise, customers will return time and again, bringing new customers with them.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I'm New To CinchCast and I'm Loving It! So What Is It?

For the record, I'm new to Cinchcast, a combined micro-podcasting and tweeting netwroking website. As a busy professional I'm always on the go, traveling and talking to many people. Now I have a way to instantly share my ideas and conversations with others through Cinchcast. I’ve recently added the cinchcast widget to my blog and website.

It is the unofficial brain child of BlogTalkRadio and Twitter. Cinchcast is available for Smartphones, iPhones and Androids phones. There are six Cinch tips that I want to talk to you about.

Cinchast Marketing Tips
1. Busy Executives & Professionals
Professionals are always on the run, but cinch now provides a very simple and effective way for CEO’s, Presidents and executives to engage conversation with their market, prospects, customers and users of social media services. Pre-Twitter times made it somewhat difficult for these executives to take time to engage in social media and communicate with their market. When twitter came around it became even easier for these very executives to fulfill their communication duties and now for the post twitter times we’re looking at Cinchcast. Now it will really be a cinch for these executives to communicate important messages. All they have to do is make a very quick phone call from the number associated to their accounts and leave a message, in a matter of minutes it will be available to the entire Cinchast community and the followers of said account. Cinchcast will be excellent for the CEO, The Professional or the busy executive always on the go.

2. Personal Touch
Keep in touch with bloggers, send a holiday greeting, or a very quick follow up message. Cinchcast will make it very easy for you to connect with influential members of your niche or business market.

3. Memos & Announcements
Spread Company announcements, memos, info about specials, deals and sales, what better way than to pick up your office phone and send a voice memo to thousands of members on the Cinchast service? In a matter of minutes everyone will hear about your sale any special deals or get up-to-date information on your company or business ventures.

4. Promoting
Promote your blog, website, news, and pretty much anything you’d like to promote; Cinchast allows to blast a voice recorded message about your sites or anything you’d like to promote and in addition to blasting your message you can also add links to them so that folks can follow them directly. On the road, not a problem! The minute you get to the office log in to your cinch account and edit the cinch, add your link and your good to go.

5. Success Stories
If your running a customer driven business and you’re offering a product then it’s great to share success stories with your cinchers. If you sound confident, excited and honest about your message then the cinchers will probably check out what you’re talking about.

6. Relationships
If you’ve heard about relationship marketing then you probably know that Cinchast provides great opportunity for building the relationship marketing facet of your business. Whether you’re a blogger, running a store, or managing any sort of online or offline business you probably understand the value of long-term returns on your efforts. Building relationships has become much easier and sharing information about your product or business is one of the main keys in developing those relationships. Cinchcast allows you to build your community, have them know you and in return help you to establish and expand your brand.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Avoiding Fraud and Scams During The Holiday Season

by Ophelia W. Livingston

Word of mouth is fraud's worst enemy!
The holidays are traditionally a time of giving, yet they're also a time when crooks try to take advantage of consumers. During the holiday season, scams targeting your pocketbook tend to pop up more frequently, so please be aware! Listed below are several fraud and scams that are circling around and making stops in your inbox and/or mailbox.

Holiday Electronic Greeting Cards

Seems harmless, right? How could a nice card of caterpillars hugging hurt anyone? Well, they've become so popular that scam artists have started using them as bait for installing malware on your computer. This is especially true around holiday times – Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ Day, etc. when millions of people send or receive e-greeting cards and e-gift cards. Here's how it works:
You receive an email letting you know that "a friend" has sent you a holiday greeting card. When you click the link to open the card, you are either directed to a site with malware on it, or you'll be asked to install a video plug-in or some other kind of software so you can view the card.

"Smishing" is the newest twist on "phishing" - when you get an email from a supposedly trustworthy source like your bank or PayPal, claiming there's a problem with your account. The scammers hope you'll click the link in the scam email and enter in all your account information that they in turn use to steal your money.

Instead of an email, the "smishers" send you an SMS text message to your phone. The text says there's something wrong with your account and they provide a phone number they hope you'll call and then be duped into providing all your information. How can you prevent getting "smished"? Do your research. Before even thinking about calling the number, Google it. If it's a legitimate number, it should match the information on the financial institution's official website. If it's a scam, you'll probably uncover websites full of other people who also got "smished" and want to talk about it.

Nigerian Email Scam
This scam has been used for over ten years and is sent out to victims via letter, e-mail, and fax. It consists of a message stating the sender has a large sum of money, usually around 35 million, and needs help transferring it out of Nigeria, or some other place. As a reward for your help, the sender promises to pay you a few million dollars.

Once you respond stating your willingness to help, the sender explains that there are transfer fees for the transaction, and that you'll need to pay them. Surprise!! You get deeper and deeper into the scam as the money supposedly gets closer and closer to your bank account, but can't seem to quite get there without an increasing amount of money from you. These emails are constantly being modified. A new one message supposedly comes from a rich Iraqi businessman trying to get 120 million dollars out of the country. Here's a sample:

To learn more about Nigerian Email scams go to:

Auction Fraud (eBay and Yahoo Auctions)
Auction fraud was the second most reported consumer fraud complaint to the FTC, totaling 51,000 auction complaints in 2002. The fraud is simple - put up a fake ad on eBay, let someone "win" the bid and send in their money, but never send out the merchandise. To learn more visit

"You've Won a Prize!" Lottery Scam
We all want to be winners, but if someone calls you on the telephone and offers you the chance to receive a "major" credit card, a prize, or other valuable item, but asks you for personal data -- such as your Social Security number, credit card number or expiration date, or mother's maiden name -- ask them to send you a written application form.

If they won't do it, tell them you're not interested and hang up. If they will, review the application carefully when you receive it and make sure it's going to a company or financial institution that's well-known and reputable. The Better Business Bureau can give you information about businesses that have been the subject of complaints.

Phony Identity Theft Protection or Credit Repair Scams
The Federal Trade Commission has warned that some companies that claim to be identity theft prevention services are scam artists trying to get your driver’s license number, mother’s maiden name, Social Security number and credit and bank account numbers. Don't ever give out any personal information over the phone or online unless you are familiar with the business that is asking for it. If you are unsure about a firm, check it out with the Better Business Bureau. Credit repair scams offer to erase accurate negative information from your credit file so you can qualify for a credit card, auto loan, home mortgage, or a job.

The scam: The scam artists who promote these services can't deliver. Only time, a deliberate effort, and a personal debt repayment plan will improve your credit. The companies that advertise credit repair services appeal to consumers with poor credit histories. Not only can't they provide you with a clean credit record, but they also may be encouraging you to violate federal law. If you follow their advice by lying on a loan or credit application, misrepresenting your Social Security number, or getting an Employer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service under false pretenses, you will be committing fraud.

"Make Millions Stuffing Envelopes!" Scam
These business opportunities make it sound easy to start a business that will bring lots of income without much work or cash outlay. The solicitations trumpet unbelievable earnings claims of $140 a day, $1,000 a day, or more, and claim that the business doesn't involve selling, meetings, or personal contact with others, or that someone else will do all the work.
Many business opportunity solicitations claim to offer a way to make money in an Internet-related business. Short on details but long on promises, these messages usually offer a telephone number to call for more information. In many cases, you'll be told to leave your name and telephone number so that a salesperson can call you back with the sales pitch. The scam: Many of these are illegal pyramid schemes masquerading as legitimate opportunities to earn money.

To learn more contact OWL Risk Management Consulting at or call 1-866-579-7475

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Adults Using Mobile Phones

A study by Pew Internet was recently released, which focused on mobile phone behavior among American adults. In this study, it was determined that 72% of American adult cell phone users send and receive text messages on a regular basis. While this is similar to the percentage of American teens that send and receive texts (87%), American adults still send about 1/5 the number of text than their teenage counterparts. A number of other interesting findings were included in this study, the most interesting of which are illustrated below:

African American and English-speaking Hispanics are more likely to own a cell phone and to use their handset more intensively than their white counterparts.

87% of African Americans and English-speaking Hispanics own cell phones, compared to 80% of whites.
12% of African American and 14% of English-speaking Hispanics make and receive more than 30 calls a day on their mobile phones. 4% of whites report placing and receive that many calls.
African American and Hispanic texters typical send and receive 10 texts a day; whites who text typically send and receive 5 texts a day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tips on Preventing Crime on Church Property

What Can You Do?
Criminals like an easy target. Lessen the likelihood of becoming a theft victim by making it difficult for burglars to obtain you church's valuables. A self-assessment, paired with advice from your local police department, along with the simple tips listed below, may give you the information you need to better protect your property.

Enlist Aid from Others
Play cops and robbers. Pretend you are a thief. Walk around your church, looking for ways you could get into the church and steal valuables. Ask someone unfamiliar with your building to do the same. Note vulnerabilities and patch them.

Befriend the boys in blue. Call your local police or sheriff's department and invite them to tour your ministry buildings. Most crime prevention officers could identify several ways to improve your security—at little or no cost.

Call on neighbors. Consider joining or starting a Neighborhood Watch program. With the whole neighborhood keeping an eye on your property, the likelihood of a property crime is greatly reduced.

Strengthen Security Measures
Lock up the keys. Control access to the church by limiting the number keys you pass out to various ministry leaders. When someone leaves the ministry, make sure that person returns the same key that you gave him or her.

Sound an alarm. A good alarm system offers three lines of defense: Window stickers that alert criminals to its presence, an audible alarm, and a monitoring system that dispatches police.

Keep an eye on the place. Consider placing video cameras at target areas of the property. This defensive move will not only deter potential burglars, but it will aid the law if a burglar does trespass.

Revival time tabernacle men order my steps in your word - Lyrics

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ten Things To Do Before Entering Social Media

by Ophelia W Livingston

You’re going to give this social media thing a solid chance. You’ve heard that social media delivers leads, connects you with customers and you’re confident that you can avoid falling victim to the many social media myths. All that’s left to do is create the accounts hop in. Ok, take a deep breath and RESEARCH your direction.

Before you enter in the world of social media, make sure you’re presenting your best possible face. Get out your paper and pencil so you can determine what you want out of social media, where you want social media to take you and how you plan to get there. Getting things in order before you take your first public steps will help customers trust your interactions and get things start on the right foot. You wouldn’t show up to your first day of work without taking some time to look in the mirror or would you?

Here are Ten Commandments things to do BEFORE you enter social media.

1. Create a rulebook: Before you step onto that field, memorize your plays. Study the channels you plan to use, listen to the conversation, understand the behavior and create your rulebook for how your company will engage. Identify how you’ll handle common support issues, the tone you’ll take, how you’ll address negativity, how fans will be rewarded, etc. Work up fake scenarios and create a plan for how you’ll deal with them. Look at issues competitors have had in social media and map out how you’ll do it better. The more you prepare, the better off you’ll be. Negative comments are a lot less imitating when you have a plan for how you’ll convert them to your side.

2. Assign responsibility: Make it known who is going to be responsible for social media BEFORE everyone stands around looking at each other. Figure out things like:
a. Who will be responsible for creating the content, pushing it, talking to people, responding to questions, etc?
b. Who will implement any changes/issues discovered through social media?
c. How much time should this be taking from everyone’s day and is the number you just came up with realistic or did you just make it up? Unless social media is someone’s responsibility, it’s no one’s responsibility. Someone in your organization must be accountable for the information that is added to all social media portals.

3. Increase your customer support: When you open the social media floodgates, you’re creating a new channel for people to come and get help for issues they’re experiencing. You may need to increase your staff in order to handle that. If you’re a small business, that may mean rearranging your customer support system or, if you’re a little larger, it may mean adding actual bodies. Either way, you’re now going to have a live stream of people coming to you with questions, concerns and things they need fixed. You can’t ignore them. Put systems in place to handle the increases customer service tickets.

4. Fix your issues: You live in your business. You know that sometimes your service is flaky. You know the number one problem with your product. You know your most common complaints. Do your best to get these under control, or at least on the mend, before you enter social media. People aren’t going to suddenly stop noticing that you could be better just because you’re talking to them. Maybe start your social media effort by TALKING about all the things you’re looking to fix.

5. Shift your culture: There’s more to being a social company than simply creating a Twitter account. There needs to be an internal culture shift based on creating transparency and authenticity in what you’re doing. You need to be social from inside your organization out and that that may change how you deal with customers, how you treat your employees, and how daily job functions are performed. Make sure you address this before you suddenly have a spotlight on you.

6. Create content around common complaints: While you’re busy fixing your issues, you also want to create content on your site dedicated to solving, resolving and addressing your most common complaints or anything that may haunt you. By putting the information out there yourself, you give yourself somewhere to link to when issues arise and you also increase the transparency of your company . If you know that sometimes you get negative mentions over a business decision you made, create a page on your site that explains it. The more you can invite people into your company, the better. Answer your customers concerns before they even have them.
7. Commit to responding: You’re entering social media with the best intentions. You want to engage, to connect and to create real relationships with your customers. And that lasts for about, oh, two minutes after you come across your first online complaint. Don’t run away! Commit yourself (and your company) to responding to complaints and staying in the game. These mentions are why you’re here and addressing them is how you can provide the biggest value to your company. Don’t get scared away now.
8. Be ready to act: So, when people come to you with complaints or things they need fixed – you actually have to act on them. You can’t serve them platitudes on Facebook and then go back to business as usual offline. If you’re entering social media and inviting people into your organization, make sure you’re doing them justice by not only listening to what they’re saying, but making good on it, as well. If not, you’re going to give yourself a bigger online reputation management problem than had you just stayed away.

9. Clue in employees: The strongest band advocates you have are you employees. They are the people who have intimate knowledge about the day-to-day operations of your business. They have the power to influence customers and deliver your message is often underestimated. Make sure you clue employees to your new social strategy and let them know their role and how they can help the company. They want to get involved. They want the company to be the best it can be. Give them the power and the knowledge to do that.

10. Periodically review your plan. Develop a timeline to review and monitor your social media plans. Review what is working and what is not working. Know what is bringing traffic to your site. Think about ways that you can improve your website, your ministry. Remember to keep your website fresh; because social media is dynamic, it is always evolving.
By taking care of the items listed above BEFORE you enter the world of social media, you help to set your company off on the right foot. Ignore them and you may as well forget to show up for work.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Does Your Church Have A Safety Issue? Are You Conducting Background Checks?

According to the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, roughly 900,000 incidents of child abuse cases are reported each year. And considering it’s believed that less than 10 percent of sexual abuse cases are ever reported to authorities, the number of actual incidents each year is far greater.

How safe is your church?
When it comes to risk management, talk is a great place to start, but action is required. Churches need background check programs to protect the at-risk members. Ministry leaders need to advocate for safety in services that are provided to children, youth, and the elderly.

Here’s a plan to get started. Follow this checklist to make sure all ministry groups are compliant with basic safety practices:

1. Conduct a criminal background check on all employees and volunteers who work with children and youth. Start with the staff and ministry leaders, then screen all your volunteers. Also be sure to rescreen workers with a consistent schedule that is determined by your leadership. The International Foursquare Church has implemented a policy that states their churches need to conduct background checks annually.

2. Beyond the criminal background check, always verify prospective employee and volunteer references. Ask for this information on an application and follow-up through phone calls or send out a reference survey. It can be mailed to each person listed as a reference or used as a phone interview tool.

3. Conduct personal interviews with each ministry worker annually. Many churches interview workers to make a placement decision but don’t have continued contact during their term of service. Set up a timeline to touch base with workers to update any life issues that may impact their service.

4. Provide continuing training for children’s and youth ministry workers. Training is the key to a safe ministry environment. Someone once said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” There is no replacement when it comes to making sure your workers know what to do-and how to do it.

5. Regularly review written child-abuse-prevention policies and background check programs. Safety procedures are worthless if they’re not taught and re-taught on a continuing basis. Make sure all new volunteers are aware of the policies and procedures as a part of their orientation. Retrain often as a part of your continuing education efforts.

6. Update church background check policies as needed. A policy is only effective when it’s current and applicable. Local and state laws constantly change, so you’ll need to keep up with the practices that reflect what other child-care providers are doing in your community.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

IRS Extends Filing Deadline for 990-N and 990-EZ Filers

IRS Extends Filing Deadline for 990-N and 990-EZ Filers

Tax-exempt organizations that have not filed a Form 990 since 2007 remain in danger of losing their tax-exempt status. For calendar year organizations, the first date of automatic revocation began May 17, this year. However, due to the large number of nonprofits still out of compliance, the IRS has granted a one-time special filing extension. As a result, organizations now have until October 15, 2010 to file and retain tax-exempt status. This extension applies to filers of both Form 990-N and 990-EZ.

“We are doing everything we can to help organizations comply with the law and keep their valuable tax exemption,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. “So if you do not have your filings up to date, now’s the time to take action and get back on track.”

List of At-Risk Organizations.
The IRS has posted a new page on its website that names the last-known addresses of organizations at risk of losing their tax-exempt status for failure to file the required returns for 2007, 2008 and 2009 can preserve their status by filing returns by Oct. 15, 2010, under a one-time relief program. Organizations on the list have until October 15th to bring themselves into compliance. Note that organizations who have failed to file Form 990 for three consecutive years are at risk of losing their tax-exempt status regardless of whether they appear on this list.


Two types of relief are available for small exempt organizations – a filing extension for the smallest organizations required to file Form 990-N, and a Voluntary Compliance Program for small organizations eligible to file Form 990-EZ. To comply, small organizations required to file Form 990-N should go to the IRS website, complete the form, and electronically file it by Oct. 15, 2010.

Under the Voluntary Relief Program, larger tax-exempt organizations eligible to file Form 990-EZ (but not eligible to file Form 990-N) must file their delinquent annual information returns by October 15 and pay a compliance fee which is between $100 and $500 depending upon the organization’s revenues. Details about the VCP are on the IRS website , along with frequently asked questions.

Note that the relief program is not available to larger organizations that are required to file the Form 990 or the Form 990-PF.

Donations to At-Risk Organizations. The IRS will keep today’s list of at-risk organizations on its website until Oct. 15, 2010. Organizations that have not filed the required information returns by that date will have their tax-exempt status revoked, and the IRS will publish a list of these revoked organizations in early 2011. Contributions from donors who contribute to at-risk organizations will qualify for the charitable contribution deduction until the final revocation list is published.

For more information, check out the IRS’ You Tube video on the topic.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Clergy, Mileage Logs and The IRS

Church Leaders Should Understand The Mileage Code

It is important for church leaders to recognize that the tax code imposes strict limitations on the use of the standard mileage rate.

A taxpayer kept a log of his travel. Each day, he noted the beginning and ending mileage but did not note each place he stopped or the business purpose of the stop. For three years he claimed deductions for 67,910 miles, 62,456 miles, and 58,616 miles for the business use of his cars. The IRS audited his returns for these years, and denied a deduction for any of these miles on the ground that they were not adequately substantiated. The taxpayer appealed to the Tax Court. Royster v. Commissioner, TC Memo. 2010-16 (2010)

The court noted that a deduction is not allowed for the business use of a car unless the taxpayer substantiates:
(1) The amount of such expense,
(2) the time and place of the travel, and
(3) the business purpose.

In the absence of adequate records, a taxpayer "may alternatively establish an element by his own statement, whether written or oral, containing specific information in detail as to such element" and by "other corroborative evidence sufficient to establish such element." However, the tax code specifically precludes the deduction of automobile expenses on the basis of an approximation or a taxpayer's uncorroborated testimony.

Why it matters to churches
The standard mileage rate is a convenient way for taxpayers to compute a tax deduction for the business use of their car. Employers, including churches, can use the mileage rate to compute the amount of a reimbursement to be paid to employees for the business use of their cars. In either case, it is essential for the taxpayer to be able to prove the following:

The miles for each business use of the car;
*Total miles driven during the year;
*Date of each trip;
*Business destination;
*Business purpose.

A failure to maintain a logbook or other documents that substantiate these items may result in the denial of a tax deduction, or in the treatment of an employer reimbursement as nonaccountable (and therefore reportable as taxable income).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Destroying Evidence By Supervising Priest To Cover Up Sex Abuse - Asheville,. NC

July 22, 2010.

Deleting files on a computer does not totally destroy the files. With a little forensic knowledge coupled with the right tools, all of the data can be restored. Supervising Priest leaves board meeting to go to choirmaster's appartment to destoy sex abuse evidence.

Help reduce risk management issues by developing and implementing Code of Ethics policies and awareness training at your church and/or nonprofit. Call for training quote. 1-866-579-7475.

Read article below of alleged abuse.

Priest Destroyed Child Porn, Parents Say

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (CN) - When a Catholic church's choirmaster was arrested on charges of sexual abuse of a child, his supervising priest abruptly left a parish school board meeting and went to the choirmaster's apartment to destroy evidence of the crimes by deleting files from the man's computer, a girl's parents claim in Buncombe County Court.

The girl and her parents sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, the Rev. John Schneider, and the choirmaster, Paul Lawrence Berrell. They claim that Schneider went to Berrell's apartment for the express purpose of deleting pornographic images of children from Berrell's home computer - some of which he had made himself. The Doe family claims Berrell, music minister at the Parish of St. Eugene, and music and choral teacher at Asheville Catholic School, is a serial child abuser whom the Catholic Church had moved from one parish to another each time his predations came to light.

Before in Asheville, Berrell had got into trouble for his relationships with minors in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Archdiocese of Boston and the Diocese of Memphis, the complaint states. All of these incidents were known to the Rev. Schneider, at St. Eugene Parish, yet Schneider not only allowed, but helped foster Berrell's proximity to minors, through assignments and promotions, the parents say.

Through this access, Berrell "singled out and groomed" their daughter for "his own improper sexual interests and gratification," the parents say. They claim that Berrell and their daughter had sex and oral sex repeatedly between 2007 and 2009, and that Berrell took numerous pornographic photographs of the girl, "depicting actual or simulated sexual acts. "Berrell was arrested in May 2009, and called Schneider while he was in police custody, according to the complaint.

Schneider took the call at an Ashville Catholic School board meeting, then immediately set out for Berrell's apartment to destroy any evidence he could find on the teacher's computer, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that Schneider "excused himself from and departed the Asheville Catholic School Board meeting; traveled to and entered Berrell's apartment at North Ridge Drive in Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina, where he attempted to delete from Berrell's computer numerous pornographic images of children, including, on information and belief, pornographic images of the minor child taken by Berrell; and then returned to the meeting of the Board of Asheville Catholic School."

The parents call this part of "a pattern and practice [of the Catholic Church] of knowingly employing sexual abusers," and "protecting" them. They seek compensatory and punitive damages for battery and sexual assault, negligence, fraud, emotional distress and breach of duty. They are represented by W. Bradford Searson and W. Scott Jones with Cloninger, Barbour, Searson & Jones, and Sean Devereux with Devereux & Banzhoff.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pastors - Enhance Your Mission Ministry Through Blogging

Is Your Church Truly "A Mission Church"?

If you are a church leader, shouldn't you be thinking about blogging? This issue keeps coming up in conversations I'm having with church and ministry leaders. Technology in the 21st century, is all about reaching out to people, connecting and networking to individuals through short and meaningful conversations. In today's fast pace world, connecting to many people at once is a sign that pastors can use to show their congregation that they care about protecting the graying members, yet reaching out to the now generation.

My consulting advice to church leaders....Yes, BLOGGING is one of many social media tools you should be using, discussing and praying about. In a down economy, blogging becomes a more viable tool to help spread your mission work to the masses and at the same time help strengthen your member's faith and spirituality one blog at a time. Below are five tips when considering blogging.

1. Blogs are a great way to connect with your congregation.
And... a great way for them to connect with you. There are all kinds of blogs and all kinds of ways to do a blog, but for Pastors/Priests/Ministers/Ministry Leaders blogging offers a unique platform for conversation that can create wonderful intimacy and connectedness.

2. Multiply your time.
Blogging is a commitment to be sure, but it is also a great way to dialog and stay connected with many people. I don't know that it will reduce the number of your inbound phone calls, but it will extend your reach and impact. And if done well, it's a great way to keep you finger on the pulse of your community.

3. Who is better to get the message out?
Your community (and the broader online community at large) are already listening to someone - why not you?

4. Encourage engagement.
Well done blogs are a great way to stir up excitement and participation. Church newsletters are nice, but you might find it is easier to muster support and engagement for the Christmas thing (a technical term for "whatever") by inviting last years participants to guest-post on your blog about their experiences last year.

5. You might just like it.
You might find that through the journey you'll learn things about yourself, your church and your community that you cannot imagine today.

And somewhat selfishly, as a Christian engaged in the web, I think we need more good Biblical voices in the conversation. The world wide web is loaded with people, opinions and discussion. We need more voices for truth sharing wisdom, insights and struggles. Honest interaction. Sharing the good the bad and the ugly. I'm not necessarily saying they'll pick you over the latest celebrity hoopla, but why not give them a choice. Dispel the myths that Christians are Bible-thumping arrogant know-it-alls.

We need more solid disciples authentically sharing their journey and willing to engage with others.

Thus I encourage you to prayerfully consider, should You be blogging?

Periodic Review of Internal Policies Should Be Implemented to Reduce Theft.

By periodic reviewing, monitoring and testing policies, many attempts to commit fraud will be reduced. The reason people commit crimes are the result of motive, opportunities and means. Motive is the "reason to commit the crime" (finance, the money that was stolen), opportunity is, "a lack of internal controls and poor oversight and governance by those who have the authority to enforce" (no one to prevent the money from being stolen), and means is "the ability to commit the crime" (the ability to transfer money to a non authorized account). Call OWL Risk Management Consulting, LLC today to discuss implementing your risk assessment. 1-866-579-7475.

Friday, July 16, 2010
La Crosse, Wisconsin Church employee accused of embezzlement
A former employee at a North Side church is accused of embezzlement, according to La Crosse police reports.Ann Carson, 47, is accused of taking the funds from North Presbyterian Church, 1327 N. Salem Road, during the past decade by writing checks to herself, then logging them in account ledgers as paid to someone else, reports stated. An audit revealed a number of checks had been altered and cashed for large sums of money, but police did not release an amount.Carson, of Onalaska, was arrested Thursday and is expected to be charged with embezzlement when she appears July 23 in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

July 14, 2010.
A grand jury has indicted a former daycare director at a Lexington, Kentucky church on eight theft counts.
A grand jury has indicted a former daycare director at a Lexington church on eight theft counts.WKYT-TV reported 39-year-old Marcie King of Lexington is accused of taking more than $115,000 while working for Southern Hills United Methodist Church between 2006 and 2009.Police said the stolen money was used for weight loss programs, vacations and other personal spending. The station was unable to contact King and reported she was free on bond after turning herself in.

July 16, 2010.
Former Brookfield, Wisconsin pastor sentenced for theft of church funds.
The former pastor of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Brookfield who was charged this year with the theft of $9,300 in church funds was sentenced Wednesday to 100 days in the county work release jail. Leonard Van Vlaenderen, 51, of Cudahy was convicted by Waukesha County Circuit Judge J. Mac Davis after Van Vlaenderen pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of felony theft.Davis left open the option that Van Vlaenderen could serve his jail term in Milwaukee County, where the priest lives and cares for his elderly mother and aunt.If Milwaukee County authorities agree, Van Vlaenderen could end up serving much or all of his jail term at home on electronic monitoring, officials said.Davis told Van Vlaenderen to report to the Waukesha County work release jail on July 28 unless arrangements are made by then for him to serve his sentence in Milwaukee County. Van Vlaenderen was accused of obtaining repayment from the church for computer equipment that had been purchased in March 2006 and August 2006 with a parishioner's credit card but was returned for refunds, according to a criminal complaint filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court.

Van Vlaenderen used receipts from the purchases to request reimbursement from the church, the complaint says.The parishioner told police she had no idea Van Vlaenderen planned to seek reimbursement. He also was accused of using church funds to purchase a computer in March 2004 that was given to a Chicago resident, the complaint states.Van Vlaenderen has been under scrutiny since his arrest in December 2007 on a misdemeanor charge of possessing cocaine. He was convicted of that charge in 2008 and spent a year on probation. The church began reviewing its finances in December 2007, shortly after the arrest of Van Vlaenderen, who arrived at the church in 2002. An audit that the church conducted showed that the church lost nearly $128,000 over three years in thefts of cash from its weekly collections, and the audit found a correlation between the missing money and the tenure of Van Vlaenderen. Van Vlaenderen, who is on medication for clinical depression, said he was sorry for what he did."I apologize to the court, to my family, my friends, to the parishioners of St. John Vianney, all of God's people of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for the hurt and disillusionment caused by my . . . clouded wisdom. Words cannot adequately express my remorse. I did wrong," he told Davis.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thomas Jefferson High School Employee Arrested on Embezzlement Charges Finance Technician Allegedly Stole $279,000 from High School to Fund Gambling and Credit Card Debt

March 5, 2010

ALEXANDRIA, VA—Susan Thanh Litwin, 37, of Woodbridge, Va., was arrested today on allegations that she stole approximately $279,000 from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHS), a Fairfax County magnet school.

Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Shawn Henry, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office; and Colonel David Rohrer, Fairfax County Chief of Police, made the announcement after the charging documents were unsealed. Litwin is expected to make her initial appearance in federal court this afternoon.

“Theses are difficult financial times for many public institutions, and an employee who breaks that trust needs to be held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “We’re grateful for the help Fairfax County Police Department and the Fairfax County Public Schools provided to this investigation, along with the FBI agents who helped put together the evidence in this

According to a court-filed affidavit, Litwin served as a finance technician for TJHS since January 2007 and was responsible for receiving and depositing funds from various sources. These funds were used, in part, to support student athletics, classes, clubs, and other school activities. Litwin allegedly used the signature authority TJHS had given her to steal funds by writing checks to herself without authorization and by making counter-withdrawals from various TJHS bank accounts and depositing the funds into her personal bank accounts. From about March 2008 through January 2010, court records allege that she stole more than $279,000 through checks or withdrawals ranging from $2,500 to $35,000.

Churches, Schools, and Day Cares Embezzlements Are On The Rise

The month of July is rapidly becoming a busy month for employee embezzlement around the nation. There is a huge need for policy and procedure reviews and stronger internal controls to aid in reducing MOM (Motive, Opportunity and Means). For churches, schools and daycares increased training amongst the leadership will help to trigger and identify discrepancies in management.

OWL Risk Management Consulting, LLC specializes in policy analyses and risk management. Call TODAY 1-886-579-7475 to speak to a qualified consultant.

Thursday, July 1, 2010
Woman accused of embezzling from Okeene, Oklahoma church
Blaine County prosecutors have accused a former church treasurer of taking more than $176,000 from an Okeene church.Forty-eight-year-old Okeene resident Christine Mae Lorenz has been charged with two counts of embezzlement by employee. Lorenz posted a $2,000 cash bond and faces an Aug. 13 court appearance.

Authorities allege Lorenz took $127,748 between Feb. 1, 2005, and May 19, 2009, from one of the First Baptist Church of Okeene accounts, and $48,895 from another account during roughly the same period.
Lorenz's attorney, listed in court records as Matthew R. Oppel, wasn't immediately available for comment Wednesday.

Woman Accused of Embezzling $186,000 from North Carolina Church July 1, 2010.
An employee at a Thomasville church is accused of embezzling $186,000. Kathy Koonts Sechriest, born on Christmas Day in 1956, is charged with embezzling money from Zion United Church of Christ in Thomasville. Sechreist worked as a secretary at the church and lives nearby with her husband. Sechriest turned herself in to detectives on Wednesday. She faces charges of embezzlement of greater than $100,000, a felony. Arrest warrants show Sechriest is believed to have embezzled the money over the past five years.

No one answered at Sechriest's house when FOX8 went to ask for her side of the story, and many friends said they didn't know she had been arrested. Family members who did not want to speak on camera told FOX8 that they were the last to know that she was arrested. Some church members who did not want to be identified said they questioned why Sechriest worked late at night at the church and why she suddenly had extensive landscaping in her yard. The pastor at Zion United Church of Christ did not return calls for comment. Sechriest was released on $100,000 bond, which records show she paid in cash. The judge also ordered Sechriest not to harass, assault or threaten any members of the church. Her court date is set for July 21

FAMU officials accused of embezzling - July 11, 2010.
Two Florida A&M officials have been indicted by the federal government for conspiring to embezzle Housing and Urban Development Department money. U.S. Attorney Pamela Marsh said Wednesday that Eugene Telfair and Robert Nixon were indicted on charges of conspiracy, theft from an organization receiving federal funds, and embezzlement. Telfair, president of the FAMU Federal Credit Union, and Nixon, the director of FAMU's Institute on Urban Policy and Commerce, allegedly conspired to steal about $134,250 between 2005 and 2008. The indictment said Telfair and Nixon wrote one another checks and created fraudulent personal services contracts. Telfair is also alleged to have created false tax documents.

Charter School Operators in California Appear in Court on Embezzlement Case July 10, 2010.
The operators of a charter campus in the San Fernando Valley made their first court appearance today on charges of embezzling more than $200,000 in school funds.Yevgeny "Eugene" Selivanov, 38, and his wife, Tatyana Berkovich, 32, who run Ivy Academia charter school, are accused of taking the money between 2004 and 2009.They are charged with five felony counts of misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement by a public or private officer and filing a false tax return, along with a misdemeanor count of failing to file a statement of their economic interests for 2008, according to the criminal complaint.Selivanov is additionally charged with six counts of misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement by a public or private officer, money laundering and filing a false tax return, while Berkovich is also charged with a misdemeanor count of conflict of interest.If convicted as charged, Selivanov faces a possible maximum prison term of 14 years and two months, while his wife faces up to nine years behind bars, according to the District Attorney's Office.

The Tarzana couple started the school in 2004. Ivy Academia has four campuses, in Woodland Hills, West Hills, Winnetka and Chatsworth, and bills itself on its website as "one of the highest performing charter schools in California."The couple also own a private "for public" preschool, Academy Just for Kids, which shares a campus with the charter school, according to the District Attorney's Office.The complaint against them alleges that a school district auditor "identified several areas which appeared to involve commingling of public with private funds and failure to accurately report financial transactions in the school's accounting records."Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Hilleri G. Merritt ruled that the two will be allowed to remain free on their own recognizance on the condition that they make arrangements to be booked by June 18. They are scheduled to be arraigned July 19 at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.The judge also ordered the couple not to use any Ivy Academia charter school or support funds or credit cards for personal use, including groceries, restaurant meals, gifts and clothing, and not to open any new bank accounts, credit cards or credit lines on behalf of the school."We expect that they will be fully exonerated in this matter and be able to continue to serve the students," defense attorney Janet I. Levine said outside court.In a statement released after the couple were charged Thursday, Levine said they are "educators and innovators, and are confident that any fair and complete review of the facts will show they acted honorably, ethically and legally in administering Ivy."In a letter sent to Ivy Academia parents, the school noted that the charges "will in no way interrupt Ivy's day-to-day operations" and that Selivanov and Berkovich will "continue to work at the school."The Los Angeles Unified School District's Office of the Inspector General began an audit of Ivy Academia charter school in June 2006 as one of several charter schools to be audited.The case was referred to the district's Office of Investigations in August 2006, then to the District Attorney's Public Integrity Division in May 2008. The state Franchise Tax Board also investigated the case. Charter schools are operated with public fund

House foreclosure at stake in Connecticutt nursery school embezzlement case. July 10, 2010.
A nursery school that is suing a former bookkeeper accused of embezzling more than $150,000 will be allowed to initiate a foreclosure on the woman's house if it wins the lawsuit, according to the school's attorney. Superior Court Judge Terence Zemetis has granted a prejudgment remedy of $250,000 in a lawsuit brought by the Guilford Nursery School against Joan Kathryn Ames, requiring Ames to set aside $250,000 in assets.A writ of attachment orders Ames to put up her Whitethorn Drive home to satisfy the prejudgment remedy."It has the practical effect of preserving whatever her equity is in the house for us," he said. Ames, who was the school's bookkeeper for about 30 years but no longer works there, was charged with firstdegree larceny in September. She has not yet entered a plea and is due back in court Monday.Initial police investigations alleged that Ames, formerly known as Joan Ames Berkowitz, embezzled $50,000. But further audits accuse her of embezzling at least $150,000 in five years.Licari said last week he is still receiving bank records related to the case and that the law may permit the Guilford Nursery School to be reimbursed three times the amount embezzled. That's why Licari initially asked the court to require Ames to secure $450,000 in assets.However, after discussions between Licari and New Haven lawyer William F. Dow III, who represents Ames in her civil and criminal cases, "the court entered a prejudgment remedy pursuant to an agreement between the parties for $250,000," Licari said.The decrease in the request of the prejudgment remedy amount "has no direct bearing upon ultimate value of our case or with the confidence we have in our client," Licari said. "The judge didn't order that. It's not a function of any analysis by the court as to ultimate value of claim."Ames' house appears to be worth more than $250,000, Licari added, but the court has also granted a motion for Ames to disclose other assets.Dow and Ames could not be reached for comment.The Police Department began an investigation into Ames' bookkeeping in fall 2009, after receiving a complaint from the nonprofit North Guilford Nursery School. As bookkeeper, Ames made all deposits and handled accounts payable, and court documents state she issued checks to herself using school accounts for money she was not owed and tried to conceal the withdrawal.

Frankfort, Kentucky woman pleads not guilty to embezzling $40,000 July 1, 2010
Frankfort, Kentucky woman pleads not guilty to embezzling $40,000 from day care center
A Frankfort woman pleaded not guilty Wednesday to embezzling $40,000 from a non-profit child care organization in Lexington for which she worked.Mary Tincher, 39, is charged with felony theft by deception of an amount more than $10,000. Tincher is accused of electronically transferring funds to her private bank account from Child Development Centers of the Bluegrass over seven months. Child Development Centers, 465 Springhill Drive, provides speech, occupational and physical therapy to children with disabilities. The organization also runs a day care program for children with and without special needs.Tincher was hired as a financial employee in August. She declined comment after Wednesday's arraignment.Tincher is scheduled to return to Fayette District Court on July 22 for a preliminary hearing. She was released from the Fayette County jail after posting 10 percent of a $5,000 bond.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Virginia Church Treasurer Charged with Embezzlement

July 2, 2010

The former treasurer of Bradley Street Baptist Church in Bristol, Va., was charged last month with embezzlement, accused of writing checks to himself worth $14,000 from the church’s bank account. Randall C. Sargent Jr., 53, of Droke Lane in Blountville, Tenn., was charged with four counts of embezzlement, an unclassified felony akin to grand larceny.

Bristol Virginia Police Sgt. Steve Crawford said Sargent was the unpaid treasurer of the church for more than a decade. The current charges date to April 2008, according to court records, though Crawford said additional charges are pending, some for thefts dating back five years. Police are still waiting for subpoenaed credit card and banking records from Bank of America and Crawford estimated the final total could be as much as $30,000. Sargent did not return a message left at his home Friday.

In March, a member of the church’s board of directors went to police after noticing some irregularities in the banking records. Sargent was the authorized signer on the church’s checking account and exclusively responsible for counting the money and paying the bills.
In April 2008, according to criminal complaints, Sargent issued himself a $3,000 check from the church’s bank account and cashed it at Carter Bank & Trust in Bristol, Va. Then in September 2008, Sargent wrote check number 5384 for $3,500, issued to cash, and cashed it at Blue Ridge Bank & Trust in Bristol, Va., according to the complaints.

In March 2010, Sargent wrote check number 5631 for $6,000, made out to himself and cashed at Carter Bank & Trust in Bristol, Va., court records stated. The next month, he wrote check number 5638 for $1,500, issued to himself and again cashed at Carter Bank & Trust.

Crawford said the leadership of the church is currently unclear. The board of directors disbanded and the pastor resigned, in part over the embezzlement investigation. No one returned a series of messages left on the church’s machine over several weeks. Crawford called it a mid-sized congregation, though he was not sure exactly how big. The church’s funding comes exclusively from its congregation’s tithes and offerings.

At the time of his arrest, Sargent was an accountant with Charles Bridwell CPA and Associates in Gate City, Va. The company did not return a Friday call seeking comment. There is no set sentencing parameters for unclassified felonies.

Sargent was released from the Bristol Virginia Jail on a $3,500 secured bond and is scheduled to appear in General District Court at 9 a.m. July 22.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Guns in Church? Jindal Signs Louisiana Bill into Law

The Internet is abuzz today over word that Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has singed that allows people with concealed-weapons permits to bring weapons into churches and other houses of worship.

The bill does not allow people to simply walk into a church packing heat, however. According to the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, individuals must pass a background check and undergo eight hours of training per year if they want to bring weapons to houses of worship; the idea seems to be that they would serve something like a de facto security force.

In addition, the head of the religious institution - be it a church, synagogue, mosque or anything else - must announce to congregants that the weapons are being wielded for security purposes.

The bill, which will reportedly go into effect on August 15th, is the brainchild of Republican state Rep. Henry Burns, who argues that houses of worship in rough neighborhoods need the protection that a concealed-weapons security force could provide.

The legislation also extends the period to have a concealed weapons permit from four to five years and gives houses of worship the option to hire off duty police or other security forces. It was one of hundreds of measures signed into law by the Republican governor.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Are All REALLY Welcome??? – Protecting from Known Sex Offenders

by Michael Boutot

"All are welcome" is a common phrase on many a church sign and Web site. But what happens when a convicted sex offender is at the door?

Church officials and legal advocates are grappling with how -- and whether -- people who have been convicted of sex crimes should be included in U.S. congregations, especially when children are present:

-- Last month, a lawyer argued in the New Hampshire Supreme Court for a convicted sex offender who wants to attend a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation with a chaperone.

"What we argued is that the right to worship is a fundamental right and the state can only burden it if it has compelling interest to do so, and then only in a way that is narrowly constructed," said Barbara Keshen, a New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union attorney for Jonathan Perfetto, who pleaded guilty in 2002 to 61 counts of possessing child pornography.

-- On Monday of last week, the Seventh-day Adventist Church added language to its manual saying that sexual abuse perpetrators can be restored to members only if they do not have unsupervised contact with children and are not "in a position that would encourage vulnerable individuals to trust them implicitly." Garrett Caldwell, a spokesman for the denomination, said the new wording in the global guidelines tries to strike a balance between protecting congregants and supporting the religious freedom of abusers in "a manifestation of God's grace."

-- On Thursday of last week, a law took effect in Georgia that permits convicted sex offenders to volunteer in churches if they are isolated from children, HB 571 (read more here: Permitted activities include singing in the choir and taking part in Bible studies and bake sales.

The Rev. Madison Shockley, pastor of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, California, which publicly grappled with whether to accept a convicted sex offender three years ago, said he hears from churches several times a month seeking advice on how to handle such situations.

"The key lesson for churches is this: The policy, however it winds up, must be a consensus of the congregation," Shockley said. "I talked to so many pastors who decided they're going to make the decision because they know what's theologically and spiritually right -- and that's absolutely the wrong thing to do."

Shockley's church will soon commission a minister to address the prevention of child sex abuse; the church also distributes a 20-page policy on protecting children and dealing with sex offenders. He declined to say how the church handled its admission of a known abuser in 2007, citing the congregation's limited-disclosure policy.

Beyond the thorny legal questions, theologians also find that there are often no easy answers to the quandary of protecting children and providing worship to saints and sinners alike.

"My own theology of forgiveness is not that it's a blanket statement -- 'You are forgiven; go and sin no more,' " said the Rev. Joretta Marshall, professor of pastoral theology at Texas Christian University's Brite Divinity School. "Part of what we have to do is create accountability structures, because damage has been done."

Sometimes, legal and religious experts say, crimes are so severe that convicted offenders must lose their right to worship.

New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Cort argued in court documents that Perfetto should not be permitted to change the conditions of his probation to attend a Manchester congregation, because "restricting the defendant's access to minors was an appropriate means of advancing the goals of probation -- rehabilitation and public safety." Barbara Dorris, outreach director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it may be possible for convicted offenders to attend services if "proper safeguards are in place" but that offenders "forfeit many rights when you commit this kind of a felony." In other cases, the wording of laws has made it difficult for offenders who want to worship to be able to attend church legally.

In North Carolina, lawyer Glenn Gerding is representing James Nichols, a convicted sex offender who is contesting a state statute that made it illegal for him to be within 300 feet of a church's nursery. He was arrested in a church parking lot after a service.

"Technically, a person could go to an empty church and violate the statute if that church has a nursery," said Gerding, whose client was convicted in 2003 of attempted second-degree rape and released from prison in 2008.

In Georgia, the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights successfully argued for the removal of a legal provision that would have prevented registered sex offenders from volunteering at church functions, said Sara Totonchi, executive director of the center.

Experts say churches need to abide by state laws and be prepared to handle the possible presence of sex offenders, which could mean ministering to them outside the church building.

Steve Vann, co-founder of Keeping Kids Safe Ministries in Ashland City, Tennessee, said that children's safety must be paramount but that giving convicted abusers social support could help reduce additional offenses.

"We talk about covenant partners," he said, using his ministry's phrase for chaperones. "They're not just there to watch what the person does. They're there to assist the person in spiritual growth."

Andrew J. Schmutzer, a professor at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, is editing a book titled "The Long Journey Home," which includes essays from theologians and ethicists about how churches can both address sexual abuse and predators.

"The churches are on the cusp of trying to figure out what they can do," he said, " without scaring the public and without breach of confidentiality."

This is not an issue that will be easily resolved. And before we cast harsh judgment against those churches with strict policies, ask yourself how you would feel as the parent of a young child to have a known sex-offender in your church. What would you do? How would you act? Yes, we forgive…but there must be consequences for sin. We place significant consequences on those who desire to be in ministry, should we not expect consequences for those who violate the rights and freedoms of those most innocent, our children?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Volunteer Management for Nonprofits or Ministries

by Ophelia Livingston

In America, volunteers and volunteer organizations are a way of life. Volunteers give their time, talents, and treasures in many ways. Parents frequently volunteer to help at their child’s school, with extracurricular activities, or church groups. Children learn about volunteering from their parents, their teachers, and their peers as many public, private, and parochial schools require service of the students to foster civic responsibility. Young adults become involved in organizations to support their beliefs, such as evangelism, outreach, literacy, or poverty reduction.

Whether you are starting a nonprofit or ministry which will operate solely with the use of volunteers or an established entity with a paid staff who are complimented by volunteers, it is important to enlist the service of volunteers as a valuable resource- a resource that requires maintenance and management. Volunteers as a resource can save the organization money and increase cost-effectiveness, while they expand the organization’s capabilities, improve the quality of service, and improve community relations. However, these advantages require a significant investment and commitment by the organization in time, money, and staffing.

In order to create a successful volunteer program, nonprofits and/or ministries must practice due diligence in “volunteer management” through the establishment of policies and procedures for the program. When creating your nonprofit or ministry the following policies should be addressed:
-Recruiting volunteers
-Interviewing and screening for placing volunteers
-Orientation and training of volunteers
-Supervising and evaluating volunteers
-Retaining and recognizing volunteers
-Maintaining the records of the program
-Writing program reports
-Evaluating the program
-Advocating and educating the staff on the important roles of volunteers

Once a nonprofit or ministry has established the guidelines for the volunteer program, it is now ready to undertake the task of volunteer recruitment. Upon beginning to recruit volunteers, you must keep in mind the need for diversity within your program. To adequately reflect the needs of a diverse population, volunteers should be a diverse group of people as well. It is important to reflect the community that will foster a growing the client base.

Another aspect of diversity for your consideration is the fact that volunteers have diverse needs that the nonprofit or ministry will need to address. Most importantly, the nonprofit or ministry will need to recognize the diverse time commitments that many volunteers will be able to make. Thus, volunteer opportunities need to have flexible time schedules.

Whether the nonprofit or ministry is undertaking generic recruitment, a widespread call for all volunteers; or targeted recruitment, a request for individuals with a specific skill, there are three techniques most commonly employed.
1. Individual Contacts- This is most effective on a one-to-one basis through a network of existing volunteers, professionals, or other key people within your local community.

2. Organizational Contacts
- This method involves the use of other organizations, such as volunteer centers, schools, service clubs, judicial court systems, and online volunteer portals.

3. Media Contacts- The use of the media to recruit serves two purposes, to recruit volunteers and to create publicity for the organization and its role within the local community and surrounding areas.

Remember that once a potential volunteer has been recruited the real work begins. The recruitment process for the volunteer program should involve the following “Volunteer Program Kit”:
1. An application form
2. A standardized interview guide that meets all of the compliance and regulatory mandates.
3. A written screening procedure guideline
4. Written procedures for acceptance and rejection of potential volunteers
5. A Volunteer Contract
6. A mandatory orientation program
7. An assignment procedure form
8. Development of a personnel file that includes all of the above.

Your volunteers are important organizational assets and another essential segment of volunteer management is retention of these valuable resources. It is important to continually make efforts to remain in consideration of each volunteer’s safety and security needs, social needs, and esteem needs.

Retention of volunteers requires a staff dedicated to the philosophy of using volunteers to accomplish the organization’s mission. Everyone within the nonprofit or ministry plays an important part in retaining volunteers, and your ministry and board members must cultivate this attitude. Personal consideration of each volunteer’s needs and nonprofit/ministry strategies to meet those needs can forge a bond between the volunteer and the nonprofit/ministry that is stronger than any bond based only on monetary compensation.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rape Case: Sign for Need of Improved Safety Procedures at Churches

Written by Leah Jones   
Monday, 28 June 2010

Christian Web News - The recent rape of a staff member at an Oklahoma City church demonstrates the need for congregations to improve their safety procedures, says a church security expert with 30 years of experience in police and security work.

"One of the things we teach churches through our training is the vulnerability of their employees, especially during the opening and closing of property," said Jeffrey Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network (CSN) ( "It's usually a lone, vulnerable person, such as a secretary, and that's asking for trouble.

"Last year we saw savage beatings, sexual assaults and other crimes – all during the opening or closing a church."

According to news reports, on June 22 the woman in Oklahoma City was raped and sodomized behind the church building seconds after arriving for work. The suspect, a part-time employee who did odd jobs at the church, has a lengthy criminal record, including burglary and violating a victim's protective order.

Hawkins said such cases emphasize the need for thorough background checks of everyone who is employed by a church or volunteers for one of its ministries. Churches that fail to adequately protect their employees and members from such criminals also are leaving themselves open to lawsuits, Hawkins said. "Even OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rules stipulate every employer must provide a safe and secure environment for all their employees," he said.

The Oklahoma City tragedy follows the recent beating death of an 80-year-old woman near Wynne, Ark., at her church when she entered alone one morning. Hers is one of five murders among more than 35 violent incidents on church property during the first six months of 2010. Last year 50 violent incidents occurred nationally, including a dozen murders, Hawkins said.

The Christian Security Network ( is a national organization dedicated to the advancement of security, safety and emergency planning for Christian churches, schools, ministries and missionaries.

Call or email Ophelia Livingston to schedule a review of your safety and security policies and procedures.  Ophelia is founder of OWL Risk Management Consulting helping ministries develop and strengthen their safety and security programs.  1-866-579-7475 or

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 Match People to Churches

Website Requests Unconventional Help From Christian Churches

Churches have traditionally been known for helping others., an on-line business dedicated to church growth and the spreading of the gospel, is asking for help in a non-conventional way. They are not looking for a hand-out, counseling or spiritual advice. What they need is information. was created to help people looking for a church, because of relocation or need for change, narrow down the search to churches that best fit their spiritual compatibility.

Churchshopper's owner Chad Olson, knows this well. Being a church-attendee all of his life, he has seen the struggle that many families go through in finding a home church that will not only meet their needs but allow for their own unique gifts and talents to be developed and used.

"In the course of our research we've asked hundreds of people how they go about finding a church and we've concluded that people have a spiritual temperament," Olson said. "Certain churches seem to fit their groove better than others. This Web site helps people find the right church in a shorter period of time."

Churchshoppers launched on-line in March and currently has over 103,500 nationwide churches in their database. The majority of these listings contain basic contact information only. This is where the help from churches is needed. Churches are invited to create a profile with comprehensive information that helps searchers get a good feel for a church's culture. This service is available absolutely free to churches. Churches have an opportunity to build a premium profile that allows them to include images, audio and video clips for a small fee if so desired. During the month of August, the premium profile is also being offered for free through the use of a promotional code available on the website.

"We want to give people looking for a church the best help possible, but we can only do that if churches build their profile and provide the detailed information. No catches here...we just want to provide great and thorough service to those using our site to find a church. Of course, we believe we will see those churches building their profiles grow and flourish as well!"

Churches have several options on how to build their profiles. Creating it on-line at, Market Your Church, allows them to enter their own information, including an"In your own words" section to personally convey the vision of their church. Churches can also do a telephone with a Churchshoppers representative or print out a written template to be filled out and faxed in at their convenience.

"Finding the right home church is one of the most important decisions you can make. We believe the place of worship needs to inspire, encourage, challenge as well as utilize the unique gifts and talents one has to offer. That's why we created Churchshoppers," he said

Compliance and Your Church's Insurance Policy?

Do You Know What Is Covered?

Edward started his Saturday just like he did every Saturday: he went to the church to get ready for his participation in the church Children Ministry’s outreach. But, this Saturday was different. It was his turn to do a run in the church van to pick up some of the children. Because Edward did not have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), the children's pastor clearly instructed Edward not to transport more than 14 children at any one time. "That will keep us in compliance," thought the children's pastor, who remembered that the law does not let an individual transport more than 15 people in one vehicle. He wanted to make sure that Edward stayed within his legal limitation.

The Church Made Every Effort To Comply With The Law

Edward gladly complied, making three runs without any problems. However, on his fourth and final run, with 7 excited children riding in the van, Edward ran a red light in his hurry to get back to the church on time...which resulted in an accident that injured three of the children! The children's pastor visited the three children while they were in the emergency room and had a time of prayer with them and their parents. Between the three children, there were two broken arms, one broken leg that required surgery, and a bill of $120,000.00. The church filed a claim with the church insurance company and the insurance company paid it. Whew! That was close.

Was The Driver Negligent?

The church was very supportive of Edward and understood that he was trying to serve the church by picking up the children. He still could not figure out how he ran the red light. He just did not see it. Seconds earlier he saw a text message come in and briefly looked at his phone to see whom it was from. Before he knew it, he was in an accident.

The Driver (Edward) Gets Sued

Three months after the insurance company paid the claim; Edward got a letter from the church's insurance company letting him know that they wanted him to reimburse them the $120,000.00 for his gross negligence. They also stated that they would sue him in court if he did not agree to their terms for repayment of the claim. Confused and completely surprised by this, Edward first took it to his pastor. But he, too, was bewildered by the lawsuit against Edward, and so the pastor took it to the church attorney, asking, "Can our insurance company sue one of our members for the claim that the church filed?" Unfortunately for Edward, insurance companies have the right to seek reimbursement from the person or entity legally responsible for an accident after they have paid out money on behalf of the church. This is known as Subrogation. Webster definition of subrogation is “If one person performs a duty of another, they are then "equitable subrogated" to the rights of the person owed the duty”. The most common form of subrogation is when an insurance company pays a claim caused by the negligence of another. Who would have thought that the same company that is supposed to protect the church, sues one of its members?

Get The Right People Listed As Insured Under The Church Policy

After inspecting the church insurance policy, they noticed that the policy covered the acts of the board of directors and employees but it did not cover volunteers and members. Getting the members and volunteers of the church listed as insured is not automatic. In fact, you have to specifically request it. Since Edward was not listed as insured on the church policy, he was not protected from being sued by the church's insurance company.

Get An Insurance Policy and Cover The Right People

The number of churches and ministries that do not have an insurance policy of any kind is a surprise in itself. Though many pastors know of the real possibilities that exist in today's litigious society, they see insurance as an expense that brings no benefit. As a risk management consultant, I see it differently. It is an asset, because it protects the wealth and prosperity of the church. When getting a general liability insurance policy, make sure that the policy covers the board of directors, employees, and church volunteers, including members. This is very important. Incidents like the one Edward went through are frequent. The church was diligent to make sure they complied with the law, but it failed to spend adequate time reviewing its insurance policy to make sure the right people were covered.

Many Different Types Of Church Insurance

Did you know that there are over 30 different types of liability insurance? That does not include property, theft, missions' travel, fire, key man and many more. Getting the right policy is absolutely important. We have added the topic of church insurance to our seminars because getting the right insurance policy is a must. Have you spent time lately thinking about insurance for the church? You may have felt intimidated by the number of policies that exist. With the right information, you will be able to get the right policy that provides maximum coverage at the best price. Call today and schedule your risk management seminar.  1-866-579-7475!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Woman Attacked and Raped at OKC Church


OKLAHOMA CITY -- An Oklahoma City woman is attacked and raped at a local church. Luckily, within just a few hours, police were able to make an arrest. The accused rapist is 30-year-old Antwine Walker. The crime took place at Britton Baptist Church near Britton and Western. The suspect occasionally worked at the church doing odd jobs. Police say that made it easy for employees to ID him.
The alleged rape victim told police she was ambushed and assaulted just seconds after arriving for work early Tuesday.

"The suspect actually followed her to the back of the building, threw some kind of rope around her neck and proceeded to choke her and rape and sodomize her in the building," said Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow.

Walker remains behind bars at the county jail.

Walker has a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for burglary and violating a victim's protective order.

The church pastor says he knew of Walker's criminal past but wanted to give him a chance to go straight.

No one at the church wanted to go on camera to talk about the crime.