Plagiarism was a really big deal in grammar school and high school. Parents, teachers and librarians joined forces to convey the serious consequences if caught plagiarizing a book report, essay or term paper. Nothing short of the cops showing up in school and hauling you away in front of your classmates. I know I was scared into submission.

Within the last 13 months, I’ve had two designs of mine plagiarized. The absolute worst part is, they were plagiarized by churches. I’m fairly certain that it would bother me under any circumstance, but being victimized by a church seems to make it a little worse.

Just to be clear, I’m not referring to the stealing of ideas or concepts or tidbits here and there… we all do that. In every profession. I’m talking true blue plagiarism. I’d love to link you to their websites and call them out by name, but I’ve decided not to. But I will discreetly share the stories.

The first instance was a church on the other side of the country using a website design I made for my own church, here in NYC. It was the same layout, same underlying code that I hand wrote – they just changed the color palette and swapped some photos out. A member of that church whom I do not know told a mutual friend of ours that he and others just assumed I had done the design work for their church. This would be a compliment had the design been better than my original, but it wasn’t… by a long a shot. We put up a little fuss and they apologized and promised to change their website. They did, but it took them 9 months to produce an original website for themselves.

The second, and more recent, was a collaborative design for an upcoming 6-week-long sermon series between the minister, myself and a photographer. This church is one of my best and favorite patrons. It is an original concept, original photography and original layout/design. The minister promoted the series on his blog and within days it had been copied and proudly promoted on another minister’s blog. This minister actually had the gall to freely (and quite proudly) admit how he stole the idea and even linked to the original.

[Update: It was just brought to my attention that this same design has been ripped off again! This time they at least tried to be a little original, yet still bastardized (jargon) the integrity of the original design.]

And these are only the two instances that we found.

Preacher Mike Cope wrote a great blog, back in January, on pastors plagiarizing sermons from other pastors (found here). I think that theft of ideas happens every day in the corporate world. I’m just a little shocked at how prevalent it seems to be in church community.

I’d love to hear feedback in the comments section from readers who hold positions in ministry. What’s the deal?