Article By: Darrell Cox
Cornerstone Conference IPHC
How to Protect Your Church from Lawsuits
Darrell Cox, Conference Treasurer
It is no secret to any of us that we live in a society that is litigious in nature and often hostile toward churches. In fact, some statistics indicate that nearly 1,000 churches are sued every month; and these lawsuits are not just from people with malice intent, but also from individuals considered to be devoted church members. It is crucial then, for pastors and church leaders to take steps to reduce the church’s exposure to legal liability.
Strategies To Protect Your Church:
1. Policies And Procedures
Creating safety policies and procedures for children and student ministries, building use, busses and vans, and off-campus activities is critical to protecting your church and your church family.
2. Employee Job Descriptions
Adopt clear position descriptions for all employees. A job description can assist a church in avoiding liability for an employee who sues the church or who causes a lawsuit by acting beyond the scope of his or her job.
3. Property Safety Issues
Regularly take a careful walk through your church looking for potential hazards. View the church premises from the perspective of an elderly church member or one who has physical limitations. Such inspections should be a regular part of the maintenance of the church. Remove or repair all potential physical hazards. If a hazard cannot be reasonably repaired or removed, provide adequate warning.
4. High Risk Activities
Avoid sponsoring high-risk activities that could unnecessarily expose the church to legal liability. If your church does sponsor a high-risk activity, educate all participants and the parents of participating children about the associated risks. Obtain parental consent forms for minors and medical consent forms from all participants. “Assumption of Risk” waivers can be utilized, but consult an attorney about the limitations of those waivers.
5. Children and Student Workers
Have all potential employees and volunteers who will work with children and youth complete a screening application. Thoroughly investigate the information provided in the screening application and conduct a national background check. Use a buddy system for all children and youth workers so they are never alone with young people. Immediately investigate and confront any inappropriate behavior. Take whatever corrective action is warranted.
6. Counseling Situations
Do not present yourself as a professional or licensed counselor if you have not received training and licensing from an accredited institution. Take every precaution to protect against allegations of misconduct, especially when counseling members of the opposite sex. Take all threats and discussions of suicide seriously. Refer to professional help in cases that exceed your expertise.
Incorporation of your church can protect the assets of the church, individual staff, and church members in the event of a lawsuit.
8. Copyright Laws
Many churches are being sued for using music online or in worship services without purchasing the appropriate licenses. Our online content is being monitored for violations, so it is critical that copyright laws are honored.
9. Insurance Coverage
Maintain more than adequate liability insurance coverage.
10. Reports To Authorities
Report acts of abuse to minors or other crimes to the authorities immediately and document your actions.
These suggestions are not meant to be exhaustive but are intended to get you started thinking about the risks your church faces and how to avoid them. Good stewardship requires this of us! Below are good resources for you and your team to utilize: