One way a church can serve its community and generate revenue is to allow groups and individuals to hold events like weddings or club meetings on church property. Some churches limit these events to members of their congregation, while others open up their space for anyone to reserve. In either case, a church that hosts events needs to have policies in place to protect it from unnecessary legal liability and other problems. Here are a few things to consider:
- Events may need their own insurance. If a church plans to host outside organizations on its grounds it needs to confirm that its insurance coverage extends to those events. Regularly recurring activities like community group meetings might be covered under the church’s general liability policy, while special events like weddings probably need stand-alone coverage. If special insurance is required for a specific event it’s a good idea for the church to pass along the costs to the outside group. Alternatively, the church can ask the outside group to purchase insurance of its own, naming the church as an insured party. Bear in mind that if the insurance coverage has specific restrictions, the event will need to comply. For example, a policy may not cover any consequences of alcohol consumption.
- Verify the safety of church property. A church bears legal responsibility for maintaining its premises in a reasonably safe condition for others to use. When a group will be using church buildings for its own purposes, the church may not have any control over how the space is used. As such, the church should be doubly sure that its premises are well maintained.
- Get the arrangement in writing. Any outside group that wants to use church property should be asked to sign a contract that limits the church’s liability and makes the group responsible for its own actions. These contracts need not be complicated, but they can be vitally important if someone is injured or if church property is damaged. A contract can spell out how much insurance the hosted group must carry for the event, set limits on how many people are allowed on church property, and so forth.
- Have a policy in place. There are a range of potential issues that hosting events may raise beyond the scope of problems with injuries and so on. A church may want to limit the kinds of events that it hosts. Rather than leaving such choices to the minister or church manager, it can be helpful to adopt a policy setting out a clear process that can be followed whenever someone asks to use the church for an event. Among other things, deciding when a request needs to be sent to the church’s governing board for approval will ensure that potentially significant decisions are made at the appropriate level.
The Church Law Center of California helps churches develop comprehensive and robust governance plans, and also helps them resolve disputes. We are available to guide your church plan its event hosting policies and procedures. Call us today at (949) 689-0437 or through our contact page.