Fire, windstorm and natural disasters can all disrupt a church’s ability to minister. Yet as devastating as natural disasters can be, churches often suffer more and experience more distractions to their ministries from liability claims unrelated to disasters and weather.
Your ministry exists to meet the needs of the people you serve. If a crisis occurs that disrupts your ministry, what happens then? It’s important for churches and ministers to protect themselves from liabilities that could interfere with their ability to perform their calling.
The two most damaging liabilities to churches and their ministers are abuse allegations and pastoral counseling liability. These claims can often be prevented, however, if churches and ministers take the proper precautions.
Reduce your church’s risk by adopting three policies:
- Screen workers and volunteers who will work with children or youth.
In today’s litigious society, child abuse claims are one of the greatest legal risks churches face. Volunteers, staff and ministers who work with children should undergo careful screening, including a reference check, to minimize this risk. It is also recommended that a volunteer be a member of the church for a minimum period of time before being allowed to work with children.
- Employ adequate adult supervision.
When churches fail to exercise “due care” in the supervision of activities, children can get hurt or lost or worse. It’s a good policy to have at least two adults in the room when working with children. And in church activities, make sure the adult-child ratio is adequate for the activity’s risk level.
- Invite a third person into the room during counseling sessions.
Sexual misconduct accusations are hard to prove, but they’re just as hard to disprove. As a result, they can ruin a minister’s career and split a church. Avoid even the appearance of misconduct. When a male minister counsels an unaccompanied female, make it a practice to invite a third person to be present. Or consider opposite-gender counseling only over the telephone.
Fire and windstorms may destroy a church’s walls, but merely the accusation of abuse or misconduct can rip a church apart. And with awards running into the millions of dollars, a guilty verdict could cause the doors of that ministry to close forever.
Churches operate in faith so anticipating liability can feel counterintuitive. But churches don’t have to become paranoid to be prepared. Not all property and casualty insurance addresses this, but a number of P&G programs offer liability risk assessment. By proactively evaluating risk before an accusation is made, churches can adopt policies and practices to prevent such claims from being made in the first place.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — This item is from a Spring 2009 GuideStone magazine.)