Five Legal Trends Shed Light on Risks Churches and Ministries Face

Prevention Is Key in Risk Management

When it comes to managing risks in any church or ministry setting, a key factor is preventing injuries and property damages from occurring in the first place. Injuries and damages leading to litigation can happen in virtually any ministry setting. Sometimes, even the most common risks can pose great danger to the well-being of a church or ministry.

With an understanding of these trends, ministry leaders can more easily identify and implement ways to prevent potential liability in their ministry settings and better protect the safety and security of their organizations and ministry participants.

Ministry Activities and Facility Use: Release of Liability

Exercise groups, election boards, social service groups, and other worthwhile organizations may ask to use your church or ministry facilities for meetings or other events. Before agreeing to loan your facility to anyone, first consider how to protect your organization from liability for damages or injuries resulting from activities your ministry does not sponsor.

Discipline and Belief-Based Decisions

While Scripture cautions Christians about suing other Christians, the number of lawsuits involving issues of church or ministry discipline and employment practices has risen in recent years. Even so, the courts have been reluctant to venture far into these areas, except under specific, well-defined circumstances. The U.S. Constitution provides churches and ministries certain protections for decisions that ministry leaders make, based on their religious beliefs.

Leadership: Boards, Bylaws and Leadership Liability

Scripture says leaders will be held to a higher standard than the usual believer. While the scriptural reference applies specifically to spiritual leadership, the reference can pertain to church or ministry business and legal matters, as well. Church and ministry leaders, particularly board members, have been placed in a special position of trust, and have a legal duty to place the organization’s interests ahead of their own.

Volunteers: Worker Screening/Handling Convicts

Conducting thorough background checks on potential employees and volunteers is an important part of protecting your ministry’s people and its financial assets. Your screening procedure also should include a criminal background check. At some point, you may learn that a registered sex offender attends your church or participates in your ministry — or wants to. How will you respond?

Safety and Security: Mild Disruption to Serious Threat

Many ministries have experienced awkward moments when a visitor in the back of the room interrupts worship or Bible study with loud proclamations. It can be difficult to determine whether such an interruption is benign or a serious threat. Protests and even violence have become more common at worship centers during the past several years. Sometimes, it’s a lone individual, intent on committing a violent act, who has created trauma at a church or within a ministry. If demonstrators or a violent person were to appear on your doorstep, would you know what to do?

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