Posts Tagged saddleback church

5.5 Questions with Steve Merriman on Clergy Taxes

By Allen White 

Steve Merriman is the CEO and Enrolled Agent at Clergy Advantage, Loveland, CO. Steve has worked with ministers and churches for 40 years and works with over 6,000 ministers including Rick Warren, Saddleback Church; Rick Rusaw, LifeBridge Christian Church; Tim Harlow, Parkview Christian Church; and Nelson Searcy, The Journey Church. You can connect with Steve and his staff at clergyadvantage.com.

Q1. Now that everyone is in a festive mood and ready to celebrate the birth of our Savior, let’s talk about taxes. With just a few days left in the year, what can pastors do right now to reduce their taxes for 2016?

Ministers can save a considerable amount by reviewing their housing allowance designations to make sure it’s adequate. The rule of thumb is to make it higher than what you think you’re going to spend. If you spend more than the designation on housing, you’ll lose out on big deductions.

Other ways to save and reduce tax liability before the end of the year would include contributions to an HSA or a retirement plan. Probably the easiest way to save is through a charitable contribution. As long as the check or credit card date is in 2016, you get the deduction in 2016. People are allowed to give cash contributions up to 50% of their adjusted gross income. Any excess contributions can carry over for 5 additional years.

Q2. Ministers’ taxes are not like anybody else’s taxes. What makes ministers’ taxes so unique?

There are four unique tax rules for ministers’ taxes:

(1) Ministers are completely exempt from all payroll tax. The minister (not the church) is responsible for taxes. Ministers can enter into a voluntary withholding arrangement with the church, but this is matter of convenience, but not a requirement.

(2) Ministers are entitled to a housing allowance exclusion. The amount designated for your Housing Allowance can have a dramatic impact on your tax savings. As I said before, the minister wants to set the housing allowance higher than what they plan to use in case of unforeseen housing expenses or repairs. If a portion of the housing allowance is not used for housing, then that amount will be taxed as regular income.

(3) Dual employment status – Ninety percent of ministers are considered common law employees for state and Federal income tax, but are deemed as self-employed for social security tax. Minister receive a W2 which reports their income, but they have to pay self-employment tax on the income.

(4) Opting out of social security on ministry income. Ministers for religious reasons are allowed to opt out of social security. This is a decision that must be made early on in their ministry.

There are many ways pastors can receive what we call “Tax-Free Money.” For an overview of these strategies, take a look at the “Tax-Free Money for Ministers” video on the website.

Q3. What could pastors do to save taxes in 2017 that they might not be doing now?

Ministers should implement an Accountable Reimbursement Plan for ministry income. There are huge advantages. If you utilize it correctly, you get all of the ministry expenses off the tax return and it reduces your chance of audit. We offer a free 20 minute webinar on high points of an Accountable Reimbursement Plan: Click Here for More Info.

The key is in the implementation of the accountable plan. Other than automobile, the single biggest item is human expenses, including expenses of entertaining members or prospective members in the minister’s home. There is a significant key to church growth in personal entertainment, which can be reimbursed. If minister deducts these expenses on a tax return, the minister only gets a 50% deduction, but if they are reimbursed by the church then it’s a 100% savings. This strategy also reduces social security expense.

Q4. How can a minister’s salary structure give an advantage at tax time?

How the minister’s pay package salary is structured plays a big part in the overall tax savings. A Common mistake in the church is to equate “package” and “pay” as the same. They are not! The minister’s “take home” pay that is available to provide for the minister’s family is not the same as the total pay package. The tax treatment of expenses, pay and benefits is different in the church from the business world. Clergy compensation itself is quite different from employee compensation in the business world. These are “apples” to “oranges” comparatives.

A properly structured pay package will frequently be more impactful to savings taxes than how the tax return is completed.

Q5. I just received a notice from Clergy Advantage about the mileage deduction being reduced from $0.54 to $0.535 in 2017. How can church staff keep up on changes like this?

We offer articles, videos and webinars on our website: clergyadvantage.com. Ministers and church staff can also sign up for Tax Tips which are delivered by email at clergyadvantage.com

Q5.5. With a new Congress and President in 2017, what are your predictions for any changes that might affect pastors and their taxes?

Going into my 40th tax season, I’ve learned to differentiate between talk and what is actually legislated. Best to wait and see what will actually be legislated.

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My Interview with Doug Fields on Intentional Parenting

By Allen White Doug Fields

This is my interview with Doug Fields, the author of Intentional Parenting. Doug serves as the Executive Director of HomeWord’s Center for Youth/Family at Azusa Pacific University, co-founder of downloadyouthministry.com, and the author of more than 50 books. He previously served on staff at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA with Rick Warren, and South Coast Community Church (now Mariners Church). Doug is currently a Teaching Pastor at Mariners Church, Irvine, CA with Kenton Beshore.

Intentional Parenting is a resource for Couples, Small Groups, or Classes based on Doug’s 10 Actions for parents as described in the video). The curriculum includes a DVD teaching video, an individual workbook, and a downloadable discussion guide. As of March 2016, we are looking for churches willing to pilot the Intentional Parenting curriculum with groups, classes, or groups of friends. Space is limited to the first 50 churches who register. For more information on the pilot: allenwhite/org/ip-pilot

Please forgive the recording. It did not come out quite as well as I had hoped, but the Doug’s content is solid. So, maybe listen to this and not watch it!

If you are interested in joining the Intentional Parenting Pilot: http://allenwhite.org/ip-pilot

If you have any questions, please contact info@allenwhite.org

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Small Groups are Better Than Big Churches

By Allen White waffle-house-church

Relationships are far more important than programs or processes. While churches may offer training through a baseball diamond or a growth track, the relationships in a person’s life are far more influential than any short class can be. Besides no person comes into a church exactly the same way. Some come from great homes. Others from terrible ones. Some are fairly mature. Others are very broken or haven’t admitted their brokenness. Some are self-righteous. Others are ashamed. Every person who walks through the door is different than the last one. The church “factory” lacks the consistent “raw materials,” therefore, the widgits won’t turn out to be identical once the process has been imposed on them.

We used to be a society where people were born into community, then had to discover their individuality. Now, we are a society of individuals seeking community. Big makes them feel isolated. Small is what works. This is why churches like North Point led by Andy Stanley reportedly have some 60,000 people in groups. This is why Saddleback Church founded by Rick Warren has thousands and thousands of groups for their church-wide campaigns. This is also why a church of 50 people at Dallas Baptist Church, Dallas, PA, created their own small group curriculum and connected 100 people into groups. Rock concerts are great, but then again, so are intimate dinners with a few friends.

When a church reaches 250 in attendance, you hear the congregation saying “I don’t know everybody anymore.” When the church grows to 400 or so and has multiple services, the congregation says, “I can’t find the people I know.” If the church is much bigger than that, people simply don’t know where to start. How do they get to know people? How do they connect with new Christian friends? Very soon you realize that one size does not fit all and that your groups need to catch up in a hurry.

The early church met in temple courts and house to house (Acts 5:42). In our day, the temple courts would represent the weekend worship service. And, house to house would mean house to house (or Waffle House). While there’s a place for the old country church and the mega-, giga-, tetra- church, if the church has more than 25 people, then groups should be a serious consideration.

Years ago, I was coaching a church of 42 people in Georgia. The pastor started four groups, whose membership exceeded the size of the congregation. He showed up at our training event with his volunteer small groups director. Sometimes small is too big.

When it comes to church, size does matter. The ideal size is somewhere in the range of 3-30 people meeting in a home.

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Help, My Small Groups are Stuck at 50 Percent

By Allen White half full

If you currently have 50 percent of your adults in groups, you have accomplished more than most people would ever hope for. Your success, however, is also your greatest obstacle. As Jim Collins says, “Good is the enemy of great.” You have potential for greatness. This is no time to rest on your laurels.

Now, if you just reached 50 percent in groups in your most recent launch, then there is certainly reason to celebrate. If you’ve been at 50 percent for a while, then there is cause for concern. It’s time to change things up a bit.

If They Turned You Down, Give Something They will Say “Yes” to

You’re at a great spot. Half of your people have said “yes” to groups. But, let’s not become overly optimistic here. While you’re glass is half full, it is also half empty. An equal number of people have said “No” to your invitation.

Why did they turn groups down? Don’t they love Jesus and want to go to Heaven? Of course they do. But, there was something in the invitation or in the approach that they chose to reject. The best way to find out why they turned you down is to ask them. While I will give you a few ideas here, a quick survey of the folks not currently in groups will give you the reasons they said “no.”

Repeat After Me, There is No Silver Bullet Strategy

No single strategy will connect all of your members into groups. It simply does not exist. So, before you decide to scrap the strategy that helped you connect 50 percent into groups, please embrace this fact: it’s a dumb idea to toss what is working for this many people. Now, am I calling you dumb? Of course not, because you’re not going to scrap your strategy. Keep your strategy, but let’s build on it.

If one strategy could connect 100 percent or more of your congregation into community, then every church would have 100 percent of their people in groups. While there are some significant examples of this level of connection like The Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Barrington, IL or Van Dyke Church, Lutz, FL, most churches are not soaring with the eagles. They are clucking with the chickens on this.

Change Something

If you’ve connected 50 percent of your people by handpicking leaders and manually assigning people into groups, then you should be in the Guinness Book of World Records. If you’ve started groups with the H.O.S.T. strategy out of Saddleback or Group Link from North Point, you can persist with these methods and get a little bit further, but eventually the strategies will run out of steam and you will be stuck at 66 percent.

To get well beyond 50 percent in groups, you need to change something up. Remember, give them something to say “Yes” to! Maybe it’s time to redefine the size of the group. Not every group needs to be 10-12 people. Some groups could be 4-5 people. Other groups could be 25 people. The size depends more on the leader than anything else.
If you’ve been purchasing curriculum, maybe it’s time to create your own. Your senior pastor’s video teaching will be far more popular with your congregation than anyone else’s curriculum. And, your pastor’s curriculum will be far more popular with your pastor too. His buy-in will take your leader recruiting and group formation to a whole other dimension.

Maybe it’s time to add a second or third strategy to what you are already doing to form groups. Please notice I said “add” not “replace.” I’ve seen too many churches wreck a good strategy in favor of an elusive one. If you are handpicking leaders, then add the host strategy to the degree you feel comfortable. If you are using the host strategy, then make it more flexible by allowing leaders to form “Invitation Only” groups where they invite everyone in the group.

Don’t make a wholesale change. If you’re not sure if an additional strategy will work for you, then run a low risk pilot first. If it succeeds, then proceed. If it doesn’t, well, sometimes experiments blow up.
Having 50 percent of your people in groups is a good place to be. With a few tweaks and changes, you could end up at a great place to be. Change something!

For more information on Allen White and his consulting services, please visit: allenwhite.org

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Why Should Your Church Produce Your Own Video Curriculum?

By Allen White

Video-based small group curriculum has been with us for over a decade now. Early innovators like Rick Warren and Brett Eastman at Saddleback Church brought the local pastor into the living room. Brett went on to found Lifetogether.com, which has sold about 4 million units to date. Many other video-based studies have followed and have succeeded.

With all of the professionally produced video curriculum out there, why would a church want to create their own? While well-known pastors have produced some excellent studies, your pastor’s face on the screen presents some strong advantages for your congregation.

1.       Takes the Weekend into the Week.

The hustle and bustle of life tends to edge out the Sunday morning sermon after a day or so. While some sermons are remembered better than others, most are long forgotten by mid-week. By providing small groups with studies based on the weekend message, the points made on Sunday can take deeper root.

By creating space in the small group to review the weekend message via a short video (no more than 10 minutes), the group has a chance to review the points, ask questions, discuss issues and make a specific application to their lives. Giving groups the opportunity to think about the message and what it means to them causes the group members to retain more. In groups they can involve more of themselves in the teaching. Rather than simply listening and maybe taking notes, group members can wrestle with hard questions and get the encouragement and accountability they need to live out the message.

2.       Engages the Senior Pastor’s Teaching Gift.

A senior pastor without a teaching gift is not a senior pastor for long. This is the most public and most personal role of any senior pastor. Speaking is hard work. Even the most gifted teachers spend hours gathering material, studying, collecting illustrations, and polishing their messages. Once Sunday is finished, for most pastors, the countdown clock to next week’s sermon begins. The one they worked so hard on for this week is now a thing of the past. But, it doesn’t have to be.

What if the pastor could sit down in a living room with his church members and teach them the part he couldn’t get to on Sunday morning? What if in that circle the pastor could share his heart about what the Bible passage means and what it would mean if people started obeying it? A video-based curriculum can breathe new life into a message destined for the archives. Not only will the congregation learn more, but the message will go farther through the group.

3.       Elevates the Role of Groups.

For most churchgoers, the initial draw to a church is the pastor’s teaching and the music. As hard as the other church staff work in their roles, this is the simple truth. Other than Jesus Himself, the senior pastor plays a highly significant role in the spiritual lives of his congregation.

By connecting the small group study to the weekend message, you can leverage the influence of the senior pastor in leading his people to connect in small groups. Once the pastor has created a video curriculum, his next question will be “How do we use this? How do we recruit more leaders? How do we get people into groups?” Don’t you want your senior pastor asking those questions?

What’s important to the senior pastor will be what’s important to the congregation. Bulletins, video announcements, website – none of these come close to having the #1 influencer in the church direct the congregation. When the pastor asks for people to host groups, people will host groups. When the pastor invites members to join groups, members will join groups. When E.F. Hutton talks…

I learned this lesson about a decade ago. I had spent seven years recruiting and training leaders only to find 30 percent of our congregation in groups. But, the first time our senior pastor stood up and asked for host homes, we doubled our groups in one day. I never looked back. He did all of the recruiting and leading from that point forward.

4.       Moves the Weekend Message Beyond the Church Walls.

When church members invite their friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives and others to join them for a church-produced Bible study, the senior pastor is introduced to many more people than actually attend the church on Sunday. In homes, workplaces, Starbucks and even commuter trains, the pastor’s teaching goes out to many new people.

Often new people will meet the pastor via video before they meet him in person. But, the transition from the living room to the church auditorium now is not quite as daunting. New folks feel they’ve already met the pastor through the weekly group studies. And, don’t tell the group hosts and leaders, but they’re actually doing evangelism. Shhh.

5.       Puts Group Multiplication on Steroids.

A DVD curriculum is easy to use. In fact, someone who has never led before simply needs to follow the instructions. The teaching on the DVD provides the wisdom and expertise. The questions in the book provide the pathway for a great discussion. Pushing play and reading questions is not so hard.

Think about this: every person in your church has friends. The people who are less involved in the church will actually have far more friends outside of the church. What if your church members each gathered a group of 8-10 people for a video-based study featuring your senior pastor? Could a church of 100 members reach 1,000 people? What about a church of 1,000 going after 10,000? What about a church of 13,000 reaching over 100,000? Is it possible? The Bible says all things are possible with God.

I’ve created quite a few DVD-based studies in both churches I’ve served at over the last 10 years. If you’d like some help creating your own curriculum, shoot me an email: allen@allenwhite.org

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My Daniel Plan Journey

By Allen White

Back in the Spring of this year, I had the privilege of executive producing The Daniel Plan small group curriculum for Rick Warren and ImageSaddleback Church. It was an amazing production. We shot outside at the Rancho Capistrano conference center despite, literally, planes, trains (Metrolink), and automobiles (the 5). At times we ran four sets simultaneously to capture the stories of normal people and their Daniel Plan success stories. We also had celebrity chefs and fitness experts, not to mention Rick Warren, Dr. Mark Hyman, and Dr. Daniel Amen among other experts. Then, my experience changed.

Up to that point, I thought the Daniel Plan was ok. We shopped some at Whole Foods, but the thought of a steady diet of kale did not appeal to me. Blueberries are also a super food. I’ll just stick with them. But, somebody posted a picture of me doing an interview and posted it to Twitter. To my horror I realized, I was the fat man at the Daniel Plan shoot!

A few weeks later while sitting in the Knoxville airport, breaking news reported actor James Gandolfini died of a sudden heartattack. Granted, he was never the picture of health, but the reporter went on to say James was 51 years old and had a one year old child. Larry King went on about how much the actor loved to eat. I thought, “I’m almost 49 and my wife is pregnant with our fourth child. I don’t want to be that guy.”

I came home and posted two pictures on my desk: the fat guy interviewing at the Daniel Plan shoot and James Gandolfini, then I opened up The Daniel Plan to see what I really needed to do. Over the next 13 weeks, I lost 25 pounds by doing this:

1. Starting my day with a quiet time with God.

Most of my eating, especially at night, was emotional. By starting my day with God, I gained a much needed perspective on my day as well as accessing God’s ability to accomplish what needed to be done that day. With my mind and heart steady, I could navigate my day with God’s help and without hitting the fridge at the end of the day.

2. Eating Well.

We cleared out our pantry. No high fructose corn syrup, no MSG, and no trans-fats from that point forward. I learned how to shop and read labels. Yes, the grocery bill went up buying organic and grass fed and free range, but my energy also went way up. We had a new baby, and I didn’t skip a beat, even with interrupted sleep every night.

3. Exercising…less.

I used to go to the gym every day — cardio, weights, the whole bit. Now, I walked around my neighborhood for 30 minutes three times per week. And, that’s all. No hot yoga. No deep knee bends. Just a walk and usually a talk with God while I’m doing it.

4. I looked at James Gandolfini and the fat guy at the Daniel Plan shoot every day.

This kept my focus on what was important and why I was doing what I was doing. I never imagined Tony Soprano would have such a profound impact on my life, unless I got on the wrong side of him, I suppose.

5. Family support.

My wife and I have done this journey together with our family. Plus I’ve done a lot of the cooking, which she’s been grateful for.

There is much more to tell than what I have time for here. But, I am pleased to report that I am eating more steak (grass fed) and chocolate (73% cacoa) than I ever have of the other variety. There are no weigh ins and no condemnation. But, I’ve experienced plenty of success, which is an incredible motivator.

Check out the Daniel Plan for yourself.

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