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01 Mar 2011

Recording Your Own Crimes? Churches do it Every Week

Raul Rivera

Many pastors spend hours and hours crafting everything that goes into their sermons.  They think of their points, stories and verses. But one thing few pastors think that they may be recording their crimes.

Have you ever thought about the actual content in your recorded worship services and sermons?  What exactly is in your archive of recorded services?  Technology has made it simple to record worship services, and to archive them; and with that ability comes potential liability.

On August 28, 2009, an IRS Grand Jury investigating a pastor for tax evasion subpoenaed all of the church's recordings of sermons and church services from 2007 through 2009. In particular, they sought to discover whether there were any love offerings taken up in his behalf that were not reported. Because the church studiously recorded each event, quite a library had to be turned over.  In all, the IRS was able to produce thousands of pages of evidence against the pastor. The church recorded more than its sermons.  It unfortunately recorded its crimes!

Why churches record services

There are several reasons why churches record their services.  Often, it is to offer their congregation the ability to listen to the service again while at home.  Other times, it is to allow members to have a copy of special words spoken from the Lord to a specific individual or to the church body, which might have come forth during a service. 

Today, most churches record their services on computer hard drives and make them available instantly on their church websites or podcasts, giving the entire world instant access to the church's services.  These wonderful technological advances make it possible for practically any church to record, archive and publish or broadcast their church services. 

But many are not aware that the recorded content can archive information that could one day be used against the church or pastor.  It is time for churches and ministries to consider what they are really recording.

Common crimes that get recorded

Many ministers have not used discretion when speaking from the pulpit and have suffered loss.  Pastors need to be reminded that what they say from the pulpit carries weight.  The weightiness of the pulpit requires that every word spoken from it be carefully considered in light of the Scriptures and the law. 

The Government can take the church's recordings and use them against pastors and preachers when conducting investigations. 

In our research in this area, we have found 3 common areas churches are in danger during their recordings:

  1. Love offerings: Love offerings are legal.  The problem lies with the method used to take up the love offering.   Many churches encourage the congregants to give cash so that it does not have to be deposited or reported.  Other churches have people put the money on the stage as the speaker is sharing.  While these practices may be viewed as an attempt to bless somebody, the truth is these are usually cash gifts that never get reported. That is a crime. I have seen many recordings of these that get archived in church records.  The result is evidence that can and will be used against you.
  2. Recorded worship:  There is probably no greater area of danger for most recorded services than in the area of copyrighted material.  Many churches record praise and worship and sell CD's of the service.  Many of the songs are copyrighted intellectual property that belongs to the artists that wrote them.  I believe that the Lord is the inventor of commerce and He promised us that He would give us the power to make wealth.  One way He does it is by giving us ideas such as sermons, books and music that can be recorded and sold.  He keeps His promise while honoring the laws of the land.
  3. Investment opportunities:  There are times when a well-intentioned minister shares a business opportunity that is supposed to be a "blessing" to the church.  Many multi-level marketing schemes, foreign currency revaluation scams and other such "business opportunities" have burned their flames through churches.  Usually the pastor is recruited and he promotes it from the pulpit only to find out later it was a ponzi scheme from which he may innocently but illegally have profited.  These have led to civil lawsuits and even prosecutions.  Usually a recorded service provides all the evidence needed. 

Public recording prohibited?

I think it is time for churches to protect themselves in this technological age.  Technology has evolved to the degree that now every person in your church carries a video camera on his or her cell phone.  As a matter of policy every church should display either on the big screen or somewhere conspicuous that recording devices of any kind are strictly prohibited.  Before you get too uncomfortable, let me explain. 

Many people feel very uncomfortable being videoed or recorded by any means other than a church sanctioned recording.  Now imagine iPhones and other devices being used throughout the church to capture videos and then QUICKLY being posted on Facebook accounts and YouTube. 

Imagine you as the preacher finding yourself on a poor quality video on YouTube.  Imagine if someone videos the nursery where toddlers or infants are, and then it gets posted online.  There will be many upset parents.  

It's complicated!  Everyone should know!

Recording services can be a great blessing to many people.  But the church must protect itself and it's members in the process.  When it comes to recording your services, there are matters of law that come into play of which you must be aware.

State and federal laws govern the use of electronic recording equipment in regards to recording conversations without consent of the parties. 

Taking that into consideration, there are some questions that need to be asked when it comes to recording your services:

  1. Is it legal to record a testimony given by a member or a non-member without their knowledge or consent?
  2. Can you video the congregation in worship without their consent?
  3. Can you distribute people's testimonies or publish them on your website without knowledge or consent?
  4. Can you hire a professional photographer to take pictures for use on the church website without the consent of those being photographed?

The issue of recording services goes much deeper than what this article covers. If you decide to record your services, whether through audio or video, a notice should be conspicuously posted at the entrance of each door to the sanctuary, communicating that the service is being recorded for public broadcast or dissemination, and that by entering, an individual consents to being recorded.

Take the time to do it right from the start

At StartCHURCH, our goal is to address the issues that affect church when it pertains to compliance with state and federal laws.  We continually think about the things that most leaders don't consider when making decisions to expand.  Each year we conduct many one-day conferences in cities all throughout the country.  By attending you are making an investment into the future of your church.

If you are interested in attending one of our conferences, please visit WWW.STARTCHURCH.COM/CONFERENCES, or give our office a call at 770-638-3444.

Church and Ministry Tax Compliance Conference!

Chicago, IL
March 3rd, 2011

Dallas, TX
March 10th, 2011
Atlanta, GA
March 25th, 2011

Washington, DC
April 7th, 2011
Sacramento, CA
April 28th, 2011

San Jose, CA - Español
April 30th, 2011

Tampa, FL
May 12th, 2011
Orlando, FL
July 28th, 2011


Click here to view promotional video for the conference

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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About the Author

Church Planter. Speaker. Author. CEO. Raul Rivera has had ample experience in the church planting world. His current venture, StartCHURCH, has helped 1000's of churches to start right. Raul has compiled an array of manuals and software tools that help churches stay compliant with the IRS. He also hosts over 35 national conferences per year, training pastors on how to launch their churches. Raul is married to his wife Genel, and they and their five children live in Atlanta, GA.