Hospitality vs. liability – that’s the dilemma churches face when deciding whether or not to share their space with wedding parties and outside groups. Before you roll out the welcome mat, put up-to-date safeguards in place to protect your place of worship from liability and safety issues.
First, assemble a go-to approvals team with key church leaders and legal counsel to review and accept or deny requests. Then implement the five “I”s of building-usage best practices:
Identify. Create crystal-clear overall facility usage guidelines based on what you will and will not allow – this will help streamline the approval process. Consider the following when identifying and developing expectations:
- Which spaces within your church are usable and which are off-limits
- Whether or not a church member must sponsor an outside group
- Whether or not you’ll limit building rental to groups that advance your church’s mission
- Whether or not you’ll rent your building to for-profit organizations
- Rental fees and related expenses
- Set-up and clean-up responsibilities
- Behavioral expectations (drinking, smoking, conduct, respecting the facility)
- Whether or not childcare providers must be selected and screened by the church
Note that there can be legal and tax implications for your decisions on these issues, so it’s always best to consult with your church’s legal and financial advisors in developing your facility usage policy.
Inquire. When a group wants to use your facility, learn as much as you can about the group and event before approving the usage request. When possible, check venue references at places where the group has held past events – don’t learn the hard way!
Examples of information you’ll want to gather during your fact-finding mission include:
- What specific type of event will the group host?
- How exactly will the group use the space?
- How has the group treated previous event venues?
Insure. Confirm that the group has insurance coverage limits that are equal to or higher than your church’s insurance policy limits. You’ll also want to verify that the group names your church as an additional insured on their policies. They can prove this one of two ways:
- A certificate of insurance that lists your church as an additional insured; or
- An endorsement that names your church as an additional insured
Inform. Once you give a group or wedding party the green light to use your facility, have them sign a Facility Usage Agreement. The Agreement should cover the following:
- Rental times
- A release from liability
- A “hold harmless” clause
- A provision regarding insurance and additional insured protection for the church
Review this agreement every year to ensure it’s in line with your facility usage policies and your church’s mission.
Inspect. Blocked exits, faulty playground equipment, slippery surface and other safety hazards indoors and out should be documented and fixed. Also, make sure that any off-limit areas and valuables are secure. Add another layer of risk protection by hosting a walkthrough with someone from the outside group or wedding party before and after the event to ward off potential disputes.