Reach up and out
Tips to help create safe ministry outreach programs
Whether you sponsor a ropes course for young adults, a basketball league for grade-school kids, or marry a couple in your own sanctuary, your ministry faces the potential to be held liable for something that goes unexpectedly wrong. These safety tips can help you identify and reduce risks.
Hosting events off campus
Off-campus events are designed to get away, but pulling out of your church parking lot can have a downside – that can be mitigated if you're prepared for specific risks.
Example: Summer Camp
For many kids, this could be their first time to hear the Gospel. What can you do to keep them out of harm's way and create a safe camp experience?
Tips for selecting a "safety-first" camp:
- Look for a camp with a specific child protection plan that includes an action plan to implement it.
- The camp should have a zero-tolerance policy for abuse.
- Make sure that anyone who interacts with your children – full-time, part-time or volunteer – has been screened and passed a background check.
Ministry events off campus:
- Winter ski trips
- Service opportunities
- Church planting
- Overseas travel
- Challenge courses
- Camping and backpacking
- White-water rafting
Offering recreational activities on campus
Your church most likely offers recreational activities to your congregation members and guests. While this is a valuable service, it also presents risk. Data show a significant number of injuries happen to adults and kids participating in these events. Having a series of policies in place that help protect participants is crucial.
"Each year in the U.S., emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries. On public playgrounds, more injuries occur on climbing equipment than any other type of equipment," according to the CDC.
Make your playground safer:
- Inspect playground equipment regularly and several days leading up to an event. This checklist will help you catch important safety concerns.
- Rope off a piece of equipment in disrepair and post a "do not use" sign to warn volunteers to keep kids away from this piece of equipment.
- Make sure your equipment meets state regulations.
Allowing others to use your facilities
Most churches offer an open-door policy to guests. When you allow your church facility to be used for an event by others, you must take active steps to protect both those attending and your church. Examples of outside events that warrant extra precaution:
- Informal gatherings, such as a support group for recently divorced individuals.
- Formal gatherings, such as weddings and funerals.
No matter the occasion, your church may be exposed to liability issues, including injury claims or property loss.
Protect your church and the community;
- No matter how informal or casual the event, create a written contract to protect your church against potential liabilities. An oral contract is not enough.
- Ask your legal counsel and the finance committee to review all contracts annually.
- Conduct safety inspections of the facilities and grounds before use.
Facility uses by others:
- Support groups
- Civic organizations
- Disaster recovery shelter
Does your church host weddings and allow vendors onsite? Read this article for more helpful tips.
Make sure you have policies in place to help your ministry run smoothly. A good risk management plan can help protect your ministry from litigation, liability and losses. And that can help keep your ministry dollars where they belong – in the ministry.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice. Readers should use this article as a tool, along with best judgment and any terms or conditions that apply, to determine appropriate policies and procedures for your church's risk management program.