7 Reasons Churches Should Have an Attorney


Jordan Sattler

Acquiring an attorney to help your ministry may be the last item on your to-do list as a church. Or it may not be on your list at all. With the typical high cost of bringing legal counsel on-board, hiring a church attorney to help shore up aspects of your ministry is usually a non-starter. However, having an attorney you can trust during an age when religious organizations face unprecedented challenges could preserve and strengthen your church in the long-run.

Here are seven reasons why having a church attorney is a good idea:

1. Understanding your rights

While church leaders may have a basic understanding of their rights, they probably don’t know everything that’s going on in the legal world around them that could directly affect their ministry.

While the First Amendment was adopted to recognize and protect religious freedom, the legal space surrounding it is complicated. An attorney can help clarify any confusion regarding how the law affects your ministry. For example, did you know churches can’t be treated worse than secular organizations regarding zoning policies? By having an attorney, you can ask clarifying questions related to these types of issues. They'll provide answers about the law and your rights and how these things relate to your church policy. A good lawyer does this so you can get back to focusing on what matters most: your ministry and the people it serves.

2. Getting your governing documents in order

Churches that have governing documents are more likely to have a firmer legal footing should they ever face any legal challenges. These documents should describe your purpose for existing, what you believe, and how those beliefs influence everything you do as a ministry. Churches should actively operate consistently with what’s written in their documents. These are some of the best practices that will not only help guide your ministry but will also establish your legal documents as a key defense if you ever have to go to court.

As more legal threats to churches arise, church lawyers can review your documents and provide advice on how you can bolster them and clarify your ministry’s deeply held religious beliefs. Governing documents can include a statement of faith, a Christian code of conduct, employment policies, and more.

3. Representing you in court

We hope your church never goes to court. But if a legal situation arises, having an attorney by your side is essential. An established relationship with an attorney can place your ministry on firmer ground if and when litigation comes your way. Your attorney’s legal knowledge and skill could mean the difference between losing some of your rights and continuing to operate according to your beliefs.

4. Networking: It's not what you know; it's who you know

Many attorneys are well-connected. They work with numerous clients, have relationships with people in the court systems, and have ties to former law school classmates and other lawyers who practice law in various areas. Like doctors, attorneys specialize too. While your attorney may specialize in just a few areas that apply to you or your ministry—like church property disputes or church governance issues—he or she may know an attorney who can help you in other legal areas.    

At Alliance Defending Freedom, we also know the importance of networking. Since 1994, ADF has allied with thousands of attorneys throughout the country who are committed to protecting the God given right to speak and live the Truth by defending religious freedom, the sanctity of life, freedom of speech, parental rights, and marriage and family. We’ll connect you with a likeminded attorney from our network if we believe he or she is right for you.  

5. A gateway to other resources

Similarly to networking, attorneys may have or know of resources that could benefit your church. Need more information about tax-exempt status, employment law, or real estate law? Asking your attorney is a great place to start. He or she may have some valuable insight or knowledge from years of experience in the legal field.  

6. Potentially Save You Time and Resources

Living through litigation can be unpredictable and time-consuming. It’s not something for the faint of heart. Having an attorney already by your side providing essential legal services can help you avoid various liability issues and costly litigation.  

Important Note: While it is in your best interest to receive legal advice from counsel you trust, simply having an attorney doesn’t mean you’ll never be sued. However, your attorney can help you avoid legal pitfalls and help you stay focused on what matters most: serving people and spreading the Gospel.  

7. Your attorney can help give you the confidence to carry out your mission.

Your attorney should have your back. So, it’s important to foster a good attorney-client relationship as both of you get to know each other. He or she can help guide you so that you avoid legal pitfalls and help give you peace of mind as you seek to serve God and others amidst increasingly challenging times. In reality, a good attorney is a great blessing for any ministry.


Not sure where to begin looking for legal help for your church? The ADF Church & Ministry Alliance exists to provide legal counsel and resources to ensure that all churches and ministries are free to operate, teach, and serve, consistent with God's call. Click here to learn more about the membership program.

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