5 Risk Management Trends Worth Watching in 2014
Churches should weigh these developments as the year unfolds.

I recently presented for a webinar featuring multiple speakers from megachurches, ministries, and companies. The event, organized by Peter Persuitti with Arthur J. Gallagher and other individuals in business and ministry, primarily pursued one goal: To identify risk management trends and new best practices for churches, especially large ones.

The one-hour recording of the event includes remarks from leaders of well-known national ministries. Below is a summary of five trends that I shared:

  1. Institutional references are the new gold standard. When it comes to screening staff and volunteers who will work with children and youth, personal references no longer are sufficient. As Richard Hammar, senior editor of Church Law & Tax Report, has pointed out throughout the past 18 months, the value of personal references has diminished for a variety of reasons. Written references from institutions, such as schools, youth-serving organizations, and youth sports leagues, is now the gold standard, Hammar says, since such references verify an individual's suitability for working with minors through a record obtained from a reputable and established organization.

    Sexual abuse of minors remains the top reason churches end up in court each year. Churches of all sizes should re-examine their practices regarding references and implement a standard that requires written institutional references for candidates.

  2. Survey: Many churches aren't formalizing clear boundaries for communication with youth group members. Our recently released national survey of more than 800 pastors and youth pastors shows 63 percent have no written policy on how youth leaders will communicate with members of their groups, while 32 percent said they do, and 5 percent said they don't know.

    The survey further revealed that the most commonly used methods for communicating with youth are social media (34 percent) and in-person communication (31 percent). Youth pastors text almost as often as they speak to students in person (24 percent vs. 26 percent).

    Without formalized boundaries, and with a significant amount of communications occurring electronically (and, presumably, privately), risks and legal liabilities are numerous and reason for growing concern. Hammar further explains the risks in this video.

  3. The number of "deadly force incidents" on the properties of churches and faith-based organizations appears to have decreased slightly last year. Early last year, security consultant Carl Chinn reported 135 "deadly force incidents" that resulted in 75 deaths on church or ministry properties nationwide during 2012, a year he described as bad. In a recent conversation with Chinn, he indicated his work on the 2013 report should finish soon, but the early signs pointed to a slightly lower number of "deadly force incidents" in 2013.

  4. Giving to religious causes, including churches, in 2013 was surprisingly stronger than expected. A company that tracks and predicts giving to charitable causes expected giving to the religious sector to decrease nearly 1 percent in 2013. But last month, it revealed the religious sector actually grew 8.6 percent to $143.1 billion. If this trend actually played out for churches of varying sizes, this may boost the confidence of leaders with their 2014 budgeting–including any spending in areas of security and technology.

  5. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the Commonwealth of Virginia was not legally responsible for the murder of 32 students by an armed assailant in 2007 at Virginia Tech University. The court applied the general rule that landowners are not liable for the acts of armed shooters on their premises unless such acts are reasonably foreseeable.

    As Hammar notes in the upcoming March/April issue of Church Law & Tax Report, this is instructive for churches concerned about what types of security to provide on their properties. Hammar writes:
  6. The foreseeability of an unreasonable risk of criminal conduct is a precondition to imposing a duty on a property owner to protect others from that risk. ... In deciding if criminal conduct on a landowner's premises was foreseeable, the courts generally have examined the following factors:

    • whether any criminal conduct previously occurred on or near the property;
    • how recently and how often similar crimes occurred;
    • how similar the conduct was to the conduct on the property;
    • what publicity was given the occurrences to indicate that the landowner knew or should have known about them.

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."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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