Confidentiality Agreements: Church Security at What Price?
Churches are increasingly seeking to protect themselves from...themselves.

In my experience most people have a very weak understanding of church membership. Rather than seeing their membership to a congregation as an interdependent commitment to a body (think of Paul's metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12), they view membership through the lens of our consumer culture. They associate "membership" in a church as a religious version of the relationship one has with Costco, Netflix, or AmazonPrime.

To combat this some churches have undertaken the admirable task of elevating what a commitment to a congregation means. They've clearly articulated expectations and formalized the process of church membership in a manner that reflects the gravity and biblical roots of the idea. In addition, the process of membership is also a way of protecting the flock from wolves who seek to prey upon God's people. As reported in this interview with Ken Sande from Peacemakers, membership is both a congregational and legal means of protecting the church.

But can this pursuit of security go too far? When a copy of the confidentiality agreement from Elevation Church hit the web a few weeks ago, it raised red flags for many people.

It has become increasingly common for churches to issue such contracts to members or volunteers. Sadly such forms are often necessary in our litigious society, but Elevation's contract, in some people's view, takes things too far.

For example, the document forbids volunteers from disclosing confidential information they may encounter in the course of their participation at the church. This is usually a means of protecting church attenders' privacy. No one wants to discover the Amway salesman got their contact information from the church office. Likewise, prayer or healing ministries function best when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Elevation's confidentiality agreement, however, goes far beyond protecting members. It focuses much of it's language on securing the financial details of its staff and leadership initiatives. It reads:

Confidential Information includes,but is not limited to, such information relating to: (i) Church participants, including lists, contact information, prayer requests personal information; (ii) the Church's finances, including personal financial/salary information related to the Church's financial statements, balance sheets, offerings information, cash flow, forecasts and cost analyses; (iii) the Church's plans and projections for opportunities for new or developing ideas; and/or (iv) the Church's research and development activities and technical data.
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April 30, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 11 comments

Edward

May 07, 2013  2:47pm

You mentioned early in your report, protection of the shepherd from the sheep, At times the sheep need to be protected from the shepherd. With such a contract, the elder board may be hampered in addressing this ugly situation. In attempting to protect, we may back ourselves into a corner and hinder resolve. The sad thing in these considerations is that a church community must be a place of honor where a hand shake or better, a word should settle a matter. But in this world, we have lost that virtue. We need a new awakening of the Spirit of God in our churches. The body of Christ must return to that calling.

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Dale

May 07, 2013  11:47am

Mark, a non-compete clause is a great idea.

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Mark Gomez

May 03, 2013  7:58am

And the problem is? Honestly, with the American Church so caught up in doing business as a business instead of a Church community, this is only a natural consequence. Both the congregation and the leaders have blame to share in this monstrous awful behavior. The people who attend these churches, I would not call them members; and the churches for encouraging and playing to the horrible level of consumerism that breeds a need to have such a contract. And why not a non-compete clause, the manner of many "church planters" would warrant one of those as well.

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Dale Deakins

May 02, 2013  12:43pm

To Greg Richter: Mortgage contracts and gymn membership information of private citizens is, of course, none of your business. But the financial information of a non-profit organization that is effectively a co-op (or should be) should be public information. For a church to require a volunteer to sign a confidentiality agreement that requires people to remain silent on issues of the "Church's financial statements, balance sheets, offerings information, cash flow, forecasts and cost analyses; (iii) the Church's plans and projections for opportunities for new or developing ideas; and/or (iv) the Church's research and development activities and technical data" is to require a level of secrecy that should have no need and is completely out of place in a church. That is not the same as prying into your neighbor's gym membership. Dale

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Janey

May 01, 2013  5:16am

On the lighter side, there's a very funny parody of Elevation Church's confidentiality agreement, here: http://lifeonmarsmountain.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/in-full-disclosure-the-mars-mountain-ministries-llc-confidentiality-agreement/

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Andy W

May 01, 2013  4:54am

Unless we are a members/potential members of this church, this shouldn't matter to us. I'm not concerned with anyone else's mortgage contract, gym membership, etc. why would I make myself the church membership police? No wonder they are paranoid, they can't go to the bathroom without a blogger taking offense. My church and the things I am called to have too many problems for me to call out those of others.

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Greg Richter

May 01, 2013  1:41am

I dislike signing contracts of most kinds. And they'd just lose me as a potential volunteer if they asked me to sign one as a non-paid worker. That said, the last paragraph threatening legal action is actually unbiblical as per 1 Corinthians 6. Should they wish to use binding arbitration with a Christian making the judgment I would be willing to give it a reluctant OK. Otherwise, Paul declares them completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged?

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sheerahkahn

May 01, 2013  1:25am

"The contract also gives the church's leadership extensive legal leverage over any volunteer that discloses any information even if required by the law or courts to do so..." Yeah, about that...here's the thing. If a court drags that Church into it's civil proceedings they can try and ply that contract with the Judge...he may even indulge them...but if it's a criminal proceeding I can guarantee you the District Attorney will slap them down so fast their heads will still be spinning when their defense lawyers confirm the additional charges of Obstruction of Justice and Tampering with a Witness.

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Tim

April 30, 2013  7:02pm

This is merely a natural progression of the existing systemic corruption to the household of faith. Your first paragraph made the existing corruption clear but puts all the blame on the sheep and zero on the shepherds who also love this system. One step into every sanctuary shows the set up is for consumption, not participation or mutuality of any kind that flows from "members of one another". It is clear by your end questions you don't want anyone to suggest such a thing has anything to do with new complications and awkward realities further exposing that normal church has many sever core corruptions. The red flags go up way before anyone speaks of becoming a member. Unbelievers can spot the inauthenticity or duplicity but the saints and their leaders can't.

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Jay

April 30, 2013  3:18pm

Wow. First I've heard of these confidentiality agreements. It's one thing for a local church to be careful. It's entirely something else when any church would require such a heavy handed and intimidating contract for its members. The church is more organism than organization. And if we're worried about lawsuits (and the threats thereof), we might want to flip over to what Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth (1Cor 6:1-8).

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