How to Utilize Volunteers without Raising Church Risk

Church Finance Basics

Although we frequently discuss child safety and volunteers, it’s also important to keep these additional areas in mind:

Volunteers and church construction

Many churches feel using congregational volunteers for construction or renovation projects will save money while providing ministry opportunity that will produce an increased sense of ownership. However, caution is warranted. Be aware that churches can easily spend more on materials for volunteers than a contractor would charge in labor and material combined. In addition, churches may need to stretch construction schedules to accommodate volunteers. Unfortunately, this may then lead to additional interest accrued on their construction loan, which may negate any potential savings and increase the project cost. And remember, unlike with licensed, insured, professional contractors, there is no warranty on work produced by volunteers.

Consider the following before using volunteers for any construction project:

  • Does the job require skill? Painting a classroom may not need to be outsourced, but things involving plumbing, electrical, and structural changes are best left to professionals.
  • What are the expectations of the church and the volunteer? Be specific about expectations upfront and recognize that a church is not in a position to hold volunteers accountable for costs, time frames, or work quality.
  • Does your church liability insurance cover volunteer labor? Verify that your general liability coverage is adequate for potential injuries.

Volunteers and food

Every year millions of people in the U.S. experience the discomfort of the stomach flu. Many of these cases may actually be undiagnosed food poisoning. Proper food handling protects your congregants and volunteers from foodborne illnesses and your church from potential liability.

Recommendations for churches:

  • Appoint a kitchen/food manager for the church to oversee all food-related activities
  • Abide by state and city regulations for safe food handling and potentially require certification for people working with food, possibly including Hepatitis A vaccination/testing. For up-to-date info on regulations in your area, visit
  • If your church charges for the food it prepares and serves, be aware that this constitutes having a restaurant and could put the church at risk for a lawsuit if someone becomes sick.
  • Even if no money is charged for the meal prepped and served by the church, the church should abide by regulations for food safety, such as storing all food at least six inches off the floor and following proper hand washing protocols and glove use.

Volunteers and insurance

In addition to general liability, it’s recommended that churches carry two additional liability coverages to protect your volunteers and church:

  1. Directors’ and officers’
    This is coverage for decisions made by your board, officers, or trustees. Even though many states offer protection for volunteer board members of nonprofit organizations, there can still be significant defense costs should someone bring legal action against board members. We recommend limits of $1 million for most churches while larger churches or those with significantly more assets need to consider higher amounts.
  2. Sexual misconduct
    Not only is it wise to have coverage for a real incident but also to defend against an allegation. Defense costs can climb into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The amount paid to the plaintiff is often substantial, and can force a church into bankruptcy or liquidation. Many companies will require churches to meet screening and supervision standards to obtain higher coverage limits. A church needs to have a minimum of $250,000 and should strive to obtain higher limits if at all possible. Ask your insurance agent if defense cost is inside or outside of your limit.

For more information on minimizing church risk and obtaining proper insurance coverage for your ministry, call 866.621.1787 or email

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