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The role of policies in church life

3 min

We are not a business; we are a church! Don’t policies just sit on a shelf or stifle God’s work?! These are some of the comments that we come across when talking about policies and church governance.

If the policies are badly thought through or poorly explained, then they could indeed stifle the work of the church, but sensible policies, well communicated, can serve to free up church leaders and protect the church.

We are also experiencing a change in the climate when it comes to charity governance. Partly in response to recent issues within prominent charities, the Charity Commission is expecting greater professionalism from trustees and expects to see in all charities a compliance and governance framework in place, with policies playing an important part.

Good, well-thought-through policies help to meet these heightened expectations whilst also providing a number of benefits for churches.


  • Provide a timeframe for ‘sober judgement’.
    • Policy decisions can be deliberated over rather than be made on the spur of the moment and with insufficient prayer or thought.
  • Protect staff and volunteers
    • Churches that have good finance policies will operate in a climate of transparency and accountability (see more later), protecting staff and volunteers from unwarranted suspicion.
  • Provide transparency and accountability
    • Policies mean that expectations and operating methods are brought into the light.
  • Allow for consistent and efficient decision making
    • Churches that have a grant-making policy are able to make quick and consistent grant decisions when presented with new requests.
  • Provide a framework for fairness
    • Churches that have a policy which covers staff expenses will be able to treat all staff fairly.
    • Make clear to all parties what is expected
      • Policies can be used to spell out what is expected of employees, church leaders and volunteers in different situations.
    • Ensure compliance with the law
      • Policies allow churches to explain to staff and volunteers the application of laws within a church context.
    • Limit risk
      • Policies provide a standardised approach to issues, thereby reducing the chances of an ‘off the cuff’ approach where risk has not been properly considered.

There are core policies that churches are either required to have, or would be wise to consider. They include:

    • Safeguarding, particularly when dealing with vulnerable people groups (BUT not now limited to children and vulnerable adults)
    • Conflicts of interest (especially where trustees and senior staff have dual interests)
    • Data protection (incorporating the new GDPR regulations)
    • Employment policies (including pay, expenses and leave)
    • Finance (including a reserves policy – considered by the Charity Commission to be mandatory)
    • Grant making
    • Health and safety
    • Internal control (we see too many churches lose money through not thinking this through)

Other policies may be very useful depending upon the nature and activities of the church.

In the annual return to the Charity Commission, charities are asked if they have written policies covering risk management, investment, safeguarding, conflicts of interest, managing volunteers, complaints handling, and paying staff. Whilst these policies are not mandatory, they do reveal the Charity Commission’s thinking when considering charity governance.

When devising policies, remember that they are there to provide a framework in which churches can flourish; they are not a straight-jacket designed to ‘clip the wings’ of leaders or hold churches back.

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