Q: How can our ministry protect itself against liability related to youth events or special needs ministry activities?

A: While there’s no approach that will completely eliminate risk, there is a way for your ministry to help protect itself from liability: a well-drafted activity participation agreement.

Youth ministry seeks to engage young people in activities and events that frequently involve some element of risk. Many churches also minister to individuals with special needs, which can involve field trips or other special events. While there’s no approach that will completely eliminate risk associated with these activities, there is a way for your ministry to help protect itself from liability related to these events. The solution is a well-drafted activity participation agreement.

What’s an activity participation agreement?

This is simply an agreement that acknowledges the risks associated with the activity and holds the ministry harmless for injury or loss sustained by those involved in the activity. The Activity Participation Agreement should include language promising to “indemnify, defend and hold harmless” (essentially, reimburse) the ministry for compensation paid for any injury or other damages that result from the activity. For more information, see "Using an activity participation agreement."

Minors can’t sign.

A well-worded participation agreement won’t waive the minor’s rights. It instead establishes a contractual exchange...

A person under the age of 18 lacks the legal capacity to enter into any type of contract, including a liability waiver or release form. However, a person of legal age (an adult) is free to accept responsibility for a minor by contract, provided that other conditions of a valid contract are met.

A well-worded participation agreement won’t waive the minor’s rights. It instead establishes a contractual exchange: “In exchange for allowing my child/ward to participate in the ministry activity, I agree to indemnify, defend and hold harmless the ministry from any liability arising from the activity.”

In other words, the agreement waives or releases the parent’s own claims arising out of injury to their minor child. It also says that the parents will “stand in the shoes” of the ministry and personally respond to any claim brought against the ministry by their child. These claims include medical expenses for which the parents would be responsible, their own emotional injury, and other damages related to injury to the child.

Do these agreements work for special needs or vulnerable adult ministries?

One positive aspect of an activity participation agreement is its versatility. With the help of a local attorney, these agreements can be easily modified to add language for a ministry reaching adults with special needs or who are otherwise vulnerable. The language of such an agreement should address special medical or other needs as well.

As is true whenever legal documents are prepared, ministries should consult with a locally licensed attorney before adopting any such agreements to ensure that they comply with all applicable laws.

Brotherhood Mutual offers ministries a Sample Activity Participation Agreement that includes the language described above. Ministries can use it as a template when working with a local attorney to develop their own liability agreement.

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.