We know that “the church” is not the facilities that we meet in, but the people that make up the church. However, God does give us buildings and grounds to help aide in the ministry and also utilize in outreach to the community at large. That community presence often results in multiple requests for use of a church’s facilities and so it’s a balance between being a good neighbor and consideration of the legal liabilities. To best protect the very ministry God has entrusted to you, following are things to consider.
Building Usage – Outside User Guidelines
Have The Outside Group Sign a “Facilities Use Agreement”
This is one of the most important elements to a good risk management program and is the first line of protection for the church against claims of discrimination, medical payments and other tort related liability. We cannot cover all the suggested provisions of a Facility Use Agreement in this article, but we’ve provided a sample version for your better understanding. We ultimately recommend that this document be prepared by an attorney and ideally one familiar with church law.
The Church Should Be Named as an Additional Insured Under the Group’s Liability Policy
When an outside group uses the church facility, there is no reason to put your insurance at risk. While there is no way to completely insulate a church from all risk of liability, having the church named as an Additional Insured and receiving a Certificate of Insurance evidencing that is one way a church can manage the risk of liability in the event of an injury.
Assess The Risk
Some risks may simply be too great to consider and any activity involving minors represents the highest risk so don’t hesitate to inquire into what duties of care the group utilizes to screen their workers. Also, if you wish to restrict facility usages to only those consistent with your organization’s religious beliefs, you will need to address that here or in a separate Facility Use Policy/Procedures and tie all into your Statement of Faith. After the Same Sex Marriage ruling, this has become increasingly important to many churches who do not want to allow use of their facilities for their ceremonies and receptions. Please consult with your attorney.
A fee schedule, if any, should be established which should reflect fair rental value of the facilities and address related expenses such as custodian or childcare expenses and associated responsibilities of set-up and clean-up of the facility. Consult with your tax attorney or accountant before accessing or waiving any fees or if the group’s use involves any sales of goods. Confirm if the group using your facility is a “for profit” or “not for profit” organization.
What About Groups That Are Not Insured?
On these, we simply recommend that you take into consideration what activities are being held, the risk involved, the frequency of use, and if they are clearly an organized entity. For example, if a community “Quilting Club” wants to use the facility every few weeks and it is only for adults who are quilting and doing no other activities, this would not be high on the risk meter and thereby possibly acceptable to your assumption of that risk. On the other hand, other events are clearly higher on the risk meter such as those involving athletics and/or minors, for those we generally recommend that those organizations be insured and follow the guidelines noted above.
It really boils down to several options. (1) Do not allow access to any uninsured groups. (2) Allow the activities if the risk is low (3) Roll the dice. Definitely not recommended because if an injury results the church could end up being named in a lawsuit, or (4) Adopt as a program of the church. At times, churches decide to bring programs under their own covering and extend it to the community as a ministry of the church. As a word of caution, just be sure it truly is a ministry of the church. Do all of the due diligence in screening, practices, and risk manage it just like it is your own ministry, because now it is!