Sunset Covenant Church had a pair of headaches last summer.
A burglar broke in and robbed the church, but the church had no inventory of its assets. So no one knew exactly what was missing.
Jelani Greenidge—co-pastor of the Portland, Oregon, congregation—had to sit down and make a list for their insurance company. Thankfully, it was short, he says. “I just know what’s in our storage closet and who uses what,” he says.
A laptop, a bass guitar, and some petty cash were missing, and the door had been busted in.
Many churches—especially smaller congregations—are in the same boat, says Brian Gleason, senior risk manager for GuideOne Insurance. They don’t have any kind of inventory of their assets, and if there’s a break-in or other loss at church, they’d be scrambling.
“If the church burned to the ground, all we have is a smoking pile of ash,” he says. “There is no way to identify exactly what all was in there. So the insurance company is going to ask for some kind of documentation.”
Still, churches are in luck these days, says Gleason. Modern technology—especially cell phones and video cameras—makes it easy for even the smallest congregations to keep track of their inventory.
Start with the big picture
Even a small congregation has a lot of stuff. And much of it is valuable, says Tom Lichtenberger, assistant vice president at the church insurance company Brotherhood Mutual.
He encourages churches to keep some kind of inventory—in part because they don’t always know how much they own.
“In today’s world, things are so expensive that you can go out and buy three things—and increase your inventory by $10,000,” he says.
Churches often have audio-visual equipment, computers, artwork, books, robes, and musical instruments: all of which add up.
In the past, churches have relied on spreadsheets and other lists to keep track of their inventory. Using a video camera or cell phone camera can speed up the process.
Rather than try to make a comprehensive list, start with a few photos, Gleason suggests. Take a walk through the church and snap photos with a cell phone of the church’s most valuable possessions, and try and show the condition of the items.
Capturing details like a make or model number is crucial. That can help adjusters place a value on items that might be stolen or destroyed. For instance, “there’s probably a plate on the organ with manufacturer’s name and other details,” Gleason says.
This method can help a church keep track of its assets without having to document every item. It’s a method that Gleason learned in a previous job, working for a Christian university that had traveling musical teams. When the teams were back from the road, staff from the school would go into the storage closet and photograph all the equipment, which was much easier than making a list of each item. College staffers did the same in their maintenance workshop and other storage areas.
Taking photos can give a church—and an insurance adjuster—a good idea of what was in the room. An insurance company can work with that in case of a loss.
“Most insurance companies are reasonable,” says Gleason. “If the picture shows 12 music stands—and you make a claim for 14—we can work with that. What we don’t want is you claiming that there were 30 stands and the photo only shows 3.”
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