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#ChurchToo Ministry Watch News

NDAs Common in Christian Ministries, According to Recent Survey

The vast majority are used to protect the ministry’s proprietary information

This is the second article in our series related to the April MinistryWatch survey of ministry executives. The first one regarding revenue expectations can be found here.

A significant number of the nation’s Christian ministries use nondisclosure agreements (NDAs), according to MinistryWatch’s April survey of ministry leaders.

Almost half (49%) said they don’t employ NDAs, but 46% said they do.

There has been heated debate in recent years about whether using NDAs is an appropriate practice for Christian ministries. NDAs are made between parties to protect confidential information. They prevent persons from discussing information covered by the terms of the agreement. It is binding, and violations can result in a lawsuit.

NDAs can be used for different purposes. Of the survey respondents, 65% said they use NDAs to protect proprietary information, which can include things like donor records, client information, and program methods. Few question the legitimacy of these agreements.

About 27% of the survey replies said they use NDAs because they are required to do so by third party vendors. A vendor may need donor information, for example, to provide the contracted service, but both parties agree to keep the information confidential.

NDAs are used as part of a severance situation or in a settlement by 27% of ministries surveyed. These are the most controversial—some see them as a way for groups to cover-up wrongdoing.

Kanakuk Kamps required Logan Yandell, a sexual abuse survivor, to sign an NDA when he agreed to a settlement in 2010 over sexual misconduct by long-time Kanakuk employee Peter Newman. Now Yandell is suing Kanakuk and has asked the court to set aside the NDA because it was based on fraudulent misrepresentations by the leaders at Kanakuk.

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“NDAs can also mask institutional disease and leader misconduct,” wrote Mindy Belz in her 2019 article about NDAs. “And even when an institution doesn’t enforce its NDA, the widespread institutional fear of liability can lead to unintended, devastating outcomes.”

Scot McKnight, a New Testament scholar and seminary professor, distinguishes NDAs from what he terms non-disparagement agreements. He defines the latter as an offer of money to keep people from disclosing “acts that are wrong, evil, and even criminal.” They are tantamount to hush money or bribery.

Some of the churches with notorious scandals employed NDAs—Mars Hill, Harvest Bible Chapel, and Willow Creek Community Church, to name a few—to keep former employees and members from revealing financial fraud or habitual sin by its leaders. An NDA cannot be enforced if it is meant to prevent the reporting of a crime.

According to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), 93% of evangelical leaders believe NDAs should be waived when a leader faces credible allegations of abuse.

NAE president Walter Kim says that while there may not be agreement about whether NDAs belong in the Christian ministry world, there is a consensus that “transparency and accountability are essential within churches and Christian organizations.”

This is the third quarterly survey MinistryWatch sent to the leaders of the country’s largest 1,000 Christian ministries. Of those, 72 responded.

Main photo: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, gardening, and coaching high school extemporaneous speaking and debate.