January 31, 2012
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.