Determining whether a local church is a “member” of a denomination is usually no harder than looking at the name on the building or the signage. But, sometimes determining church paternity requires a review of church governance documents at both the local and denominational level. Church property issues may also include review of property deeds and state laws governing non-profit corporations or associations. Further, if a local church attempts to end its denominational “membership,” whether it can unilaterally do so or do so at all, requires review of these documents as well as creation of “divorce” documents.
In District Advisory Board, Church of the Nazarene v Centro De Alabanza Oasis, Slip Op. (FL. App. 2022) the trial court granted summary judgment to the local church based on the local churches’ attempt to end its membership in the denomination. The appellate court reversed. The trial court was required to conduct a review of the evidence to determine whether the denomination was hierarchical. If so, the denomination would control the property of the local church. The trial court also had to determine if the local church was actually a “member” of the denomination. The reported case recited instances in which the local church arguably admitted it was a denominational “member,” starting with the signage, and in documents submitted to the denomination to end the membership. The documents submitted to end the “membership” were arguably insufficient.
Local churches contemplating a departure from a denomination should determine if it is possible and probably engage a lawyer with writing skills to assist in completing the documents. Other departure strategies may have to be considered, too. Clinging to property without careful consideration of the foregoing can burn through the cash needed to start a new church.