This Legal "Weed" Could Choke Out Your Church Plant

Written by Noel W. Sterett

A dynamic church planting movement has swept across the country over the last decade as many congregations and denominations have responded to a call to be fruitful and multiply. Like the Parable of the Sewer, we have seen some church plants bear tremendous fruit, some spring up quickly only to wither away with little fruit, and some spring up only to be choked out by weeds-particularly legal weeds. Over the course of the next five months we will be highlighting five legal "weeds" that we have seen threaten church plants:

Number one on the list is zoning/land use.

Zoning and land use problems are most often a sign of a vibrant and growing church and have been listed by the Alliance Defending Freedom as the top legal issue confronting churches today. Even with a glut of properties on the market, thousands of church plants across the country are struggling to find and secure places to worship. Why? Well, we have discovered that in many cases municipalities have in place discriminatory zoning laws and procedures which are being used to deny churches the freedom to assemble for worship.

Far too often, church planters and their congregations struggle to find a suitable location to meet and are often daunted by restrictive zoning codes or municipal opposition.

Some try for years and are distracted from their ministry and mission to make disciples; others just give up.  In many cases, ministers and municipal officials alike suffer because they know little to nothing about the substantial federal protections Congress put in place to protect religious land uses in 2000 when it unanimously passed the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act

Since 2000 we have worked with churches and cities across the country (both in and out of court) to ensure that churches, particularly new and growing churches, are able to enjoy the protections which were put into place to foster their growth for the benefit of the communities in which they were planted.  Churches like the Iglesia Cristiana Renacer in Massachusetts which we helped to reopen their doors after enduring two years of municipal and neighborhood opposition or Grace Fellowship Church of State College, PA which we helped with a single letter to the city avoid the substantial costs and time of having to apply for zoning relief. 

It is our mission to help pastors and churches understand their rights as they consider when and where to grow their ministries.  This is why we offer churches free initial consultations during which we evaluate their situation and legal options in light of the firm’s unmatched experience and service in this area. 

Also see: Protecting Your Church: Hiring and Firing

Protect Your Church: Corporate Form and Bylaws

Three Church Practices Every Church's HR Should Implement