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.

To learn more about best practices for managing facility use, see Managing Church Facility Use.

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold 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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