The Book of Order requires that each council (session, presbytery, synod, and the General Assembly) “obtain property and liability insurance coverage to protect its facilities, programs, staff, and elected and appointed officers” (G-3.0112). This is often one of the most expensive items in the budget and here in South Louisiana that is especially true since we are so prone to the kind of extreme weather that leads to claims! As a Book of Order mandate, this is also something that we check for when we do the annual review of minutes to make sure that congregations are taking the steps necessary to ensure that their ministry can continue into the future. As a result, we often receive calls at the presbytery office from congregations asking just how much coverage is required and how churches can save money on insurance. Sadly, it is sometimes the cost of insurance that is presenting a challenge to their ministry continuing!
The Book of Order does not define coverage limits and only broadly defines what should be covered. It is up to the session to decide things like if you should have flood insurance or how high you should set your deductible. Obviously those decisions have short term and long term consequences that you should consider as you make them. Note that the Book of Order requires property and liability insurance. In addition to the usual liability issues like someone slipping and falling as they enter the building, churches have other liability issues to consider. For example, does your church have Sunday School programs for children, a youth group, a scout troop, or a pre-school? These are important ministries and if you are engaged them in them you need to take steps to protect the children and adults involved (for more on that read my previous blog on Safe Ministries). Also, note that the Book of Order calls for that liability insurance to cover staff and elected and appointed officers. Because the members of session constitute the legal board of the congregation, your insurance should protect them in the event that the church is sued. You should also have liability coverage in the event that your pastor is accused of misconduct. While this coverage is not cheap, failure to have these protections could be much, much more expensive and jeopardize your ability to ministry in the community.
As the presbytery, we are not in the business of recommending particular insurance companies. However, I do want to point out that there are several insurers that specialize in covering churches that write policies in our area; they are:
These insurers understand the unique kind activities in which churches are engaged and have made coverage and education for congregations part of their standard service. If you choose to work with an insurer that does not specialize in working with congregations, I encourage you to make sure that you talk to them about the kind of things that you are doing that are completely normal for churches but would be unusual for other organizations. When we host a daily Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, house the local food pantry, or organize an out-of-state mission trip we are both doing the work of Jesus Christ and exposing ourselves to liability. It is our responsibility as the leaders of the church to make sure those kinds of ministries continue by providing adequate insurance for them.
May the Peace of Christ be with you,
Rev. Barry Chance, Stated Clerk