Richard Hammar, noted attorney and largely considered the expert in church…
A church “cell group” or “home group” is a home-based small group of individuals or families that meet together for Bible studies or group discussions. Though the existence of these home-based groups within churches is not totally new, this is an ever-increasing ministry and there are a number of concerns that have recently arisen which have led us to review some procedures that your church should carefully consider.
Even where churches might have through screening methods for childcare at the church, we’re finding that with regard to the home groups, they are often non-existent. So not only does that bring potential liability to the host home, there is an exposure at the homes that would never be allowed on church premises. That and other considerations are noted below:
Question: Should our church arrange/schedule childcare from individuals that have been properly screened ( background checks and other screening methods) and coordinated through the church’s child care coordinator or similar individual?
Answer: This is typically the ideal situation.
Question: As an alternative to the above, should the church simply provide names to the host home of paid workers from the church? The host home would pay cash directly to the child care workers with reimbursement from the church.
Answer: This is not a bad alternative either, assuming the workers are properly screened as previewed in the question noted above.
Question: Can the homeowner can hire anyone they choose and pay with cash collected from the attendees and/or seek reimbursement from the church?
Answer: It really depends on whether this is a church-sanctioned event. If some members from the church simply decide on their own to have a mid-week Bible study or get together, that is not a church-sanctioned event and in that case, the host home and attendees can handle it as they wish. If, however, the event is organized, publicized, or otherwise assimilated through the church, then it would typically fall under the umbrella of the church and if that’s the case, we would not consider this a viable option.
Question: Does a signed waiver in any of these circumstances make any difference?
Answer: That’s a possible solution, but not very realistic. In this scenario, parents of children going to other homes would sign a “hold harmless” agreement stating that they will not bring a lawsuit against the church if any injury takes place. If you had a regular group of attendees, this might be a viable option but what if you have a couple bring a visiting couple with them. Before the activity, are you going to require that the visiting couple sign this release? That could be awkward and why it’s not as often not realistic.
Question: How do we ensure that the rooms utilized for child care are safe/secure locations?
Answer: Look for rooms that are not totally isolated from the main group – a game room, for example, or a separate living area. If at all possible, avoid have the kids in a back bedroom or extremely isolated in another part of the house. The more open and accessible the area, the better it is. If it has to be in a bedroom, then there should be no closed doors. Remember this principal: The greater the isolation, the greater the risk.
Question: Are there ANY circumstances in which the church could eliminate or manage a church’s liability in a home-group setting?
Answer: Noted below are some other possible considerations:
- The owners of the home where the groups will be meeting should be provided with a copy of the church’s written Sexual Abuse Policy with a signed acknowledgement that they have read it and will abide by it. Optimally, the home hosts should be required to take any Sexual Abuse training courses offered by the church prior to hosting a group within their home.
- Avoid having a teenager alone with younger children. If needed, have another adult present and perhaps work on a rotation schedule. This is probably already addressed in your Abuse Policy, but this is being mentioned here as a reminder.
- Provide the homeowner and all attendees with a Code of Ethics for off-campus events. Be sure any Code of Ethics provided clearly defines expected behavior.
- It’s probably a good idea to verify or obtain proof of homeowner’s liability insurance. We recommend minimum limits of $300,000, but no less than $100,000. We’ve found that those living in an apartment or leasing a home are much more likely to not have renter’s liability insurance, so for their protection and the protection of the church, we would consider this a mandate.
- Lastly, please realize that the host home does have an exposure. If there is an injury on the premises of a host home, the homeowner could have a shared liability. If there is a swimming pool, playground, bounce house, etc. then supervision and guidelines are essential in these circumstances. There have been claims of drowning at an end-of-summer pool party, numerous injuries related to bounce houses, and unsupervised injuries involving playground, so keep all these in mind as you plan these ministries.
Home groups serve a combined role of friendship building, mutual support, training, and discipleship. While the tendency is to think controls are overkill and unnecessary due to the seemingly safe environment of a home, it is unfortunately not an avenue the church can afford to disregard.