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Managing Church Risk: A View from the Trenches

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What do a Baptist, a non-denominational, and an AG pastor have in common? When these three are joined by a lawyer and a certified church risk manager, the answer is a passion for educating fellow ministers and churches about church risk management best practices.

Recently, Risk Management LIVE took on a new format where expertise and experience came together for an engaging discussion about common church litigation issues and best practices. The guest panel joining Rich Hammar and Jerry Sparks included Gary Hay, lead pastor of Hope Community Church, Tom Demers, executive pastor at High Street Baptist, and Carter McDaniel, business administrator at Central Assembly of God.

Out of this unique session came several key points and recommendations:

Sexual misconduct with minors

This remains the number one reason that churches end up in court. To reduce the risk of an incident in your church, make sure you properly screen all workers using this 6-step process:

  • Written application
  • Interview
  • Background check
  • Reference checks, preferably from institutions rather than individuals
  • Two-adult policy
  • Six-month rule

Parental consent forms vs. liability waivers

For children’s activities, churches may have parents sign liability waivers. This is ethically questionable because waivers are an attempt by the church to relieve itself of liability for its own negligence for incidents or tragedies that could have been prevented.

In addition, waivers have limited legal value and may not protect the church from all liability in the event of a lawsuit. This is because a parent cannot legally waive liability on behalf of a child. They can only release the church from liability for their own personal damages, not the child’s.

It’s preferable and recommended to use parental consent forms, which should provide the following:

  • Signed permission for a child to participate in specific activities (or a declination of permission)
  • A list of the child’s medical conditions, including allergies
  • A named individual(s) who can make emergency medical decisions if the parents cannot be reached
  • Parents’ contact information

Security and check-in systems

One of the biggest security sticking points for churches has to do with the process and policies in place for dropping off and picking up young children. The panel agreed that electronic check-in systems are helpful for ensuring each child is returned to the right adult. These systems may use biometric scanning, fobs, or coded stickers. For example, Central Assembly’s system requires parents to enter a phone number where they can be reached during service. The program then prints out an identification sticker to be placed on the child’s back, as well as a separate sticker with a unique security code matching the child's sticker. If, for any reason, the parent cannot present the sticker when picking up their child, the church follows a defined security protocol to verify who checked the child in and whether or not the child can be given to that individual. This is largely to help prevent children from being mistakenly given to non-custodial parents.

In addition to electronic check-in systems, security cameras posted in strategic spots throughout the church provide an essential and affordable security component. It’s recommended to place them in nursery and preschool rooms, as well as public areas of the church, such as the foyer. Establish a policy for the amount of time the church will keep footage. In general, it is a good risk management practice to align your church with the policies and procedures of local public schools because they are held to state standards. If the local school has no policy for keeping video footage, benchmark your procedures with other churches and nonprofit organizations in your area.

In addition to these topics, the panel also covered concealed carry weapons and how to protect your church in an armed shooter situation. Watch the full session here.

To learn more about how your church can manage risk, tune into Risk Management LIVE every month or call 866.662.8210.

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