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There are many facets to maintaining a healthy ministry, and obviously a proper insurance program is one of those. But before insurance, keeping your ministry safe may well be accomplished through proper planning and proper policies and procedures. Like any organization, a church needs to stay organized to run efficiently, and following clear day-to-day standards will aid in that process.
Please note that we are not suggesting that a church develop a series of policies and procedures and then find them just sitting on a shelf. Instead, developing clear but simple policies that are communicated to the staff and volunteers – and reviewed often – will begin to make them an integral part of what you do. And that will in turn reduce key areas of potential risk and could go a long way toward making your ministry safer and healthier.
Here are four key areas we find are often overlooked:
Even good employees will make mistakes or could misunderstand rules that are communicated just verbally. A church should establish its employee policies and procedures in writing. Within a well-designed church employee handbook, your HR policies will be clear and consistent, the chance of misunderstanding or frustration among staff will be lowered, the ministry will be offered protection, and your pastors and leaders will be equipped with a good HR resource. While no employee handbook should be copied entirely from a template, that maybe a good place to start if you find it helpful.
Does your church have a clearly defined plan outlining (a) vehicle use policies, including driver guidelines and a description of acceptable vehicles; (b) non-owned driver guidelines for those not driving church-owned vehicles, but still driving on behalf of the church; and (c) charter transportation guidelines for when the church might charter transportation by bus or air?
Transporting individuals is one of the most hazardous activities that churches undertake, and it’s a privilege many take for granted. But it can also be one of the largest litigious areas your experience, so by following simple principles, the church may reduce its liability exposure.
Facility Use Policy
Churches often receive requests from outside groups to use their facilities. In many cases, churches own large facilities but do not utilize them every day or every moment of the day, so by allowing others to use them, they develop the sense of being good neighbors in their community. You should have some clearly defined written guidelines for outside users of your facilities.
Additionally, if you are going to charge a fee, be sure to check with your accountant or tax attorney to ensure any revenue is allowable under International Revenue Service Guidelines.
Child Protection Policy
In short, your church needs a child protection policy. Child abuse is a daily occurrence, and it could happen even in your church. It happens everywhere, so why would your church be an exempt? It doesn’t matter if your congregation is small or large, if you have hundreds of kids or just a few – it’s no longer acceptable not to be proactive in this area and establish some basic written rules. But it’s not as hard as you might think. A good plan will include (a) a written application, (b) a national background check, (c) observance of the 2-adult rule or also called the never alone rule, (d) observance (where applicable) of the 6-month rule, (e) as possible, reference checks (always on employees), and just as importantly, (f) a defined response plan.
We have purposely avoided detailing what should be included in an Employee Manual, Transportation Policy, Facility Use Agreement, and a Child Protection Policy because each could be covered in an article of its own. But we understand that starting or perhaps improving on a plan can be a daunting task, so feel free to contact us and we’re happy to offer some resources that may help assist you in getting started!