Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Does a Pre-Nup Circumvent the Trust Clause?

Just wondering if certain types of multi-site ministry are the cynic's way around the so-called "trust clause" of United Methodism. One of the laws of the church which keeps United Methodist congregations from waging battles over church property is that, in the event that a church closes its doors for now and forever, the ownership of the property and its assets reverts back to United Methodist Church, the defunct church's Annual Conference. Thus, all property under the United Methodist banner is actually held in trust by local congregations, a trust granted by the United Methodist Church.

The strategy of a larger or mega church "adopting" closing churches for their own ministry goals means that an under-the-table prenuptial could be enacted with the Conference before ever embarking on such a venture.

It goes something like: the Conference and cabinet, happy that a new ministry focus will be housed and funded on the old property, will agree to give the home congregation the closed campus. The adopting church makes any needed improvements to it and provides the staffing and leadership for its ministry there. In turn, the church asks that if the new ministry fails, any portion spent on the property and staffing be returned to the home church.

Should Conferences and cabinets encourage entrepreneurial spirit by offering a sort of insurance for new ministry attempts? Is this even possible without first bankrupting Conferences? What about other congregations who remain open but have failed at branch locations? Can every church now get in line to ask their Conference for what amounts to a financial payback ?

If churches want a handsome economic pay back for failed ventures, then the UMC is not at all structured to treat all churches with fairness and equity. And it probably is a very bad precedent. And if you can't afford to responsibly fund your own ministry, then why even try it in the first place?

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