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Risk Management for churches

Liability coverage may be more important than property coverage for churches.  The stakes are higher.  Most conversations regarding insurance coverage revolve around the building, the stained glass windows, the pipe organ, the boiler, the age of the roof.  And while insuring these pieces correctly is extremely important, liability claims are often financially larger and more damaging to the reputation of a church, than physical damage claims.  The general community is compassionate and understanding when there has been an electrical fire, or vandalism at the local church.  That same community can lose trust and respect for that same church when there has been an embezzlement claim or a sexual misconduct claim.  It doesn’t even have to be true to cause reputational damage.  And it doesn’t even have to be true to end up in court.  All it takes is allegations.

The Reputation of the American Church

Take some simple steps to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing.  After all, appearance and perception, rather than reality, are often the foundation stones for reputation.  The general public is disenfranchised with churches and religion to begin with.  In the past 3 decades there have been extremely public examples of misappropriation of funds, molestation of children, and extra-marital affairs within the church community.  And while we understand that individuals made these mistakes, it has still cast a pall of doubt and suspicion over the entire American religious community. The response of the church has largely been to hold up the character of our church leaders and try to use good examples to off-set the poor examples.  “Look at Billy and Franklin Graham.  Look at Rick Warren.  Max Lucado.  Francis Chan.  John Piper. They are arguably leaders of large portions of the American Christian Church and they have proven themselves to be men of character.  The good guys are in the majority!”  That is true.  But look deeper.  These organizations, and the men and women who lead them, have put in place systems of checks and balances that keep their leadership accountable.  Why, when they obviously have already proven themselves?  To protect their people.  It is arguably one of the most valuable gifts that a leader can give to their congregation – the humility and courage to submit themselves and their leadership team to accountability, in order to reduce the risk of allegations that could damage the church, its people, and its mission.

The Rule of Two

It doesn’t need to be elaborate in most cases for most churches.  There are simple steps that you can take this week to provide an extra layer of protection for your church.

The church van:

Does your church use the van to pick up congregates on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights?  Does the youth pastor use it to drive kids home after the midnight-laser-tag-event? 1.  Always perform criminal background checks and MVR checks on all drivers.  Check names against the Of The Fires Daily Real Rolled Automatic Won’t Up Secretary But Registration State Fully Voter Out Id Line Still Registry of Sex Offenders.  Always.  Period.  Drivers can request a copy of their own MVR online (for around $2-$20) and provide it to you.  Links for some states are provided at the bottom of this post. 2.  Use the rule of twoAlways have 2 adults in the vehicle.  There should never be a situation where the youth pastor finishes his rounds and ends up with one girl in the van who is the last to be dropped off.  Sure, this girl would NEVER allege that the youth pastor did something inappropriate.  And of course the youth pastor never WOULD do something inappropriate.  But what about the neighbor lady who sees the one, lone girl get out of the church van at 1am, and watches the youth pastor drive away.  The neighbor lady has watched one too many episodes of Law and Order.  That’s all it takes for an allegation.  Start and end every church van trip, even if it’s a weekly occurrence, with a driver and a co-pilot.  Make sure that you’ve completed background checks on these 2 individuals.  It is important that you be able to say “I did everything I could to ensure the safety of my parishioners” rather than “I had no idea that they are a registered sex offender – they didn’t tell me!”

The offering:

We pass the plate.  And then the ushers disappear out the back doors of the sanctuary with the money.  What happens next?  Does it get locked in a safe to be counted by the secretary on Monday?  Does the head deacon count it now and then put it in the safe?  There’s usually a procedure in place – and perhaps this procedure has been in place for YEARS with the same responsible individual taking care of the offering.  Enter the rule of two.  Of The Fires Daily Real Rolled Automatic Won’t Up Secretary But Registration State Fully Voter Out Id Line Still It is imperative that a minimum of 2 persons be responsible for the offering from the moment it leaves the sanctuary.

  • Two ushers who put it in the safe.
  • Two deacons who count the offering and fill out the deposit slip.
  • Two people who can attest that the amount of money that left the sanctuary is the same amount being deposited.
  • If you experience push-back from the one individual who has always handled this for you – look deeper.

Pastoral counseling:

The pastoral counseling session is, by definition, private.  Pastors will always have situations where an individual needs some one-on-one counsel, prayer and advice.  However, there are still important steps that can be taken to insure the privacy of the counselee, and the reputation of the pastoral staff.  The rule of two is slightly altered, but no less important. 1.  Be visible.  Commandeer the sanctuary for a counseling session.  No one needs to overhear the conversation, but the sanctuary is often at least visible to people passing by the doors. 2.  Never offer counseling to an individual when no one else is even in the church building.  Make sure that the secretary, the janitor, a deacon, your spouse – someone – is also in the building. 3.  Do not shut your office door.  This is tough.  I know.  I’ve been there.  And you may need to explain to the parishioner that complete isolation for the two of you is NOT going to happen.  They may be unhappy about this.  But you are ultimately protecting them, yourself, and the reputation of the church by sticking to your guns on this one.  If your office is right next to a busy office or hallway – choose a different room in the church, one where you can leave the door open for the sake of accountability but where you won’t be invaded by 20 people with questions while trying to talk.  Or walk laps around the parking lot.  I’ve used this technique quite a bit (especially with teenagers), and sometimes it helps people to talk when they are walking rather than sitting and staring at you anyway!

Have the right liability insurance in place, in case the worst case scenario happens.  But take a few simple measures to reduce your own risk, and protect the reputation of your church and the gospel message.

Links to additional background check resources: National Sex Offender Public Website NY Public Registry of Sex Offenders NJ Public Registry of Sex Offenders PA Public Registry of Sex Offenders – Megan’s Law Public Site MA Public Registry of Sex Offenders CT Public Registry of Sex Offenders New York Department of Motor Vehicles New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission PA Request for Driver Information MA Registry of Motor Vehicles CT Request for Driver Information

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