There’s a word that crops up and plagues churches in the media far too often, a word nobody ever wants to hear associated with theirs: scandal.

Whether it’s a staff member embezzling funds, a pastor acting inappropriately toward a child, a bad accident, or even just a leadership transition gone awry, these stories come out — and the churches they come out of almost never saw them coming. It’s always a shock. How could that person act like that? How could an accident or tragedy like that happen to us? In ministry, it is not a question of ‘if’ you will face difficulties, but instead a question of ‘when’ and ‘which ones’.

We can’t prevent all bad things from ever happening, but we can prevent some and prepare for the rest. While it’s impossible to predict the exact challenges your ministry will face, there are categories of risk that every church should be preparing for. And that preparation can be the difference between difficulty and disaster. Here are a few to think about:

Risk #1 – Sexual sin

Sex scandals are media fodder. They erode community and member trust in leadership and can even turn people away from God. Leaving victims physically, emotionally, and spiritually damaged. A clear, enforced plan can proactively not only protect potential victims, but also protect your staff and volunteers from false accusations. Develop a policy around staff and volunteer expectations, like keeping an open-door policy for meetings and making sure no one meets one-on-one with members of the opposite sex. You might even encourage holding some meetings in public places like coffee shops.

Risk #2 – Financial mismanagement

Generosity is an act of spiritual discipline, and financial mismanagement betrays the trust that givers have placed in the church. It can also wreck your finances further into the future than may be immediately obvious, as people become reluctant to give again. Fortunately, an accountability plan can head off temptation. Create transparency about the use of funds in the church and what is to be accomplished with them. Segregate financial duties so that no one person is responsible for any gift from start to finish, and always have multiple people present at all times when counting money. Keeping track of your numbers can help you unearth any mismanagement early, and even dissuade it from taking place to begin with.

Risk #3 – Neglecting succession planning

When you have great leaders in your ministry, the last thing you want to think about is replacing them. But life happens, God calls people to new places, and sometimes people are forced to leave positions unexpectedly. The best leaders aren’t the ones whose organizations couldn’t survive without them; they’re the ones who raise up leaders to follow in their footsteps. Preparation can help bridge the gap when someone leaves. Document the responsibilities of each ministry role in your church, like a job description, and keep those documents up to date. And, invest in staff development. Every leader should be looking to train others to be as capable as they are.

Risk #4 – Poorly maintained facilities

The energy around new building projects is great, isn’t it? The staff is excited, the church members get excited, and everyone pitches in a little to make a dream come true. Maintaining facilities you already have gets less attention. It’s not glamorous. But waiting until the roof is leaking into the nursery and the potholes in the parking lot are big enough to roast a pig is an expensive mistake, not only for your budget, but for your ministry. A lawsuit could wreck your ministry’s finances and reputation. Make sure you’re covered. Learn the laws and building codes in your area, invest in the right insurance policy, and even consider consulting an attorney to make sure you’re legally prepared. Evaluate your capital fund, too. Plan and budget for the improvements you’ll be needing to make in the coming years, and the upkeep the buildings will need.

These are just four risks that you can protect your ministry against with some proactive planning. You can read about ten that Deborah Ike of Velocity Ministry Management and I pinpoint here in our ebook, Are You Putting Your Church at Risk?

Risk is a part of life, and ministry is no exception to it. But we’re not helpless. We can act now to protect our ministries, our leaders, and our communities … before something happens.