Before You Share Your Space
What to know—and do—before opening your church to outside groups.

When a church allows outside groups to use its space, it invites opportunity and risk in too. By sharing your space, you introduce new people to your facility—people who might not otherwise come through your doors. At the same time, you expose yourself to new issues, such as how to protect against property damage, how to manage the potential tax implications of charging rent for the use of your space, and how to ensure that outsiders are safe in the event of an emergency.

A church has no legal duty to provide supervision for the use of its property by an outside group unless it maintains "control" over its premises while the outside group is present. "Control" is a technical legal term, but may include a custodial presence, and certainly would include any attempt by the church to provide supervision. Before allowing an outside group to use its property, church leaders should consider the following points:

First, have the outside group sign a "facilities use agreement" that (1) provides the group with a mere license to use the property; (2) contains a hold harmless and indemnification clause; (3) states that the church provides no supervision or control over the property when being used by the group. This document should be prepared by an attorney.

Second, have the church named as an additional insured under the group's liability policy.

Third, review the group's liability policy to ensure that it provides adequate coverage, and does not exclude sexual misconduct.

Fourth, if the group's activities will involve minors, have a written acknowledgment from the group that all workers have been adequately screened.

Fifth, check with the church insurer to determine coverage issues in the event the church is sued as a result of an accident or injury occurring during the group's use of the property.

Take a quiz to find out how clear are your church's facility use policies? To learn more about best practices for managing facility usage, see the Church Safety downloadable resource, Managing Church Facility Use.

Richard Hammar is senior editor of Church Law & Tax Report, Church Finance Today, and numerous books published by Christianity Today.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations

Comments

Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Rich Hammar

February 17, 2012  8:51am

The concerns expressed by these two posts reflect the tension that often exists between managing risk and pursuing ministry. Reasonable minds can and do reach different conclusions with regard to such issues. The recommendations that I made reflect what I consider to be "best practices." Yes, they involve some administrative burden, but managing risk often does. And let me stress that some risks, such as the sexual abuse of minors, affect every church regardless of size. Small churches are not immune, and often present a greater risk because of laxity in risk management. These are decisions that every church needs to make for itself, based on its circumstances. I have stated the ideal for churches wanting to do the best they can to provide a safe environment. Those who view these recommendations as impediments to ministry will omit some or all of them. That's your choice. But be aware that relaxing precautions will expose the church to greater risk, that in the final analysis can negatively impact ministry. I often use the concept of a "risk meter." Imagine that a large risk meter is hanging prominently on the wall of the church lobby or sanctuary. Church leaders decide, by their actions, where the needle on their church's risk meter falls. Omitting precautions pushes it to the "high" end. Adopting precautions pushes it to the "low" end. Ultimately, it comes down to how averse church leaders are to risk and liability. Rich Hammar

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Maureen Small

February 10, 2012  12:18pm

We can't accommodate weekly or regular rentals by outside groups because we don't have the staff to oversee such rentals, but we do rent our facility on an occasional basis to outside groups. We have a facility use policy in place and require renters to sign a rental agreement, including a liability waiver. Although we state that we require proof of insurance, how do you do that for a one-time use by a family for a birthday party? How do we maintain a witness in the community as an opening, welcoming church if we require outside groups to jump through so many legal hoops?

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Mark ADams

February 07, 2012  3:10pm

While the above guidelines may be good for churches in larger communities, they may cause hurt feelings and resentment in a small community where everyone know everyone else. Our church is the only church in a town of about 125 people. There are only around 3,000 people in our entire county. If an outside group wished to use our building for a bridal shower (for example)I can't see them having a liability policy, let alone asking them to put the church on the policy and asking to review their policy etc. It might undo any chance of reaching the people through the church because of the lack of trust being shown.

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