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Risk Management—More than just insurance?
Seasoned pastors give tips on reducing risks in the church
By V. Michelle Bernard

At around 6:30 a.m. on February 21 2012 Pastor Kevin McDaniel got a call telling him that the Chestertown Maryland Church was burning.  He arrived on the scene to see a two-alarm fire that destroyed the sanctuary, caused smoke damage throughout the building and cost more than a million dollars to repair.

Investigators say the fire likely started because of an electrical malfunction in the organ—something they said they had never seen before, said McDaniel.

The task of planning for and preventing emergencies like this can be daunting to a pastor.  The daily activities of ministry alone fill up a pastor's schedule.  How is it possible to prepare for all possible emergency situations?

"Accidents will happen no matter how well we plan, said Richard Magnuson Jr., Director, Planned Giving & Property/Risk Management for the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.  "How we react when they occur makes all the difference.  The key to risk management in ministry is to anticipate problems before they occur."

Protecting our property
Chestertown Church’s insurance provider, Adventist Risk Management, (ARM) was notified about the Chestertown fire right away. They visited the site the day of the fire and starting processing the claim right away—something that can reduce costs in the long run, says ARM Marketing and Communication Manager David Fournier.

McDaniel and his lay leaders depended on ARM for help during the process, which helped their church reduce costs, but says “It would have saved us a lot of time and misery if we had a list of all our church contents.”

McDaniel spent several months, even working on Christmas day, trying to list everything that was lost, he said.
Fournier encourages churches to avoid that by keeping a current list of church contents by doing a yearly walkthrough, with a video camera if possible to document the exact contents and materials used in the building.

He encourages taking an hour each month to simply check for potential issues like ripped carpet that someone could trip on, loose wires, or to see if the outlets in the Mother’s room have covers, for example.

Besides keeping a current list of contents Tim Rawson Risk Management Director of the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists says risk managers need to annually review insurance policies to make sure every building on the property is covered.

Rawson discovered that some of his conference’s camp buildings Pine Springs Ranch in Mountain Center California were not insured after a wildfire hit in the summer of 2013.  

The camp lost several buildings including a maintenance shop, full of pipes, bolts, screws and saws, things that you don’t think to list, says Rawson.

Fixing seemingly small maintenance issues right away is another way to keep costs down says Fournier.
Fournier recalled an instance where a leak at a church wasn’t addressed for several months and ended up costing the church between $30,000 and $40,000 when it would have probably cost less than $10,000 to fix if it would have been fixed right away.

Walk about?

Many churches are tight on cash and will often have a member work on projects, but this could cost more in the end said Fournier.
Hiring ‘Uncle Bill’ could cost you more if something happens said Fournier. Get a qualified, insured contractor so if something goes wrong, it is on his head, not the churches, he said.

The Santa Rosa (California) Church learned this lesson the hard way several years ago when a volunteer fell off a ladder during a work bee.

Fortunately that volunteer recovered after dealing with nerve neck damage for six months, said former senior pastor Ron Aguilera.  The church now only allows unqualified volunteers to do things like landscaping and cleaning and has had no more injuries.
Physical church maintenance and safety issues aren’t the only ones that could impact the bank account. Church finances also need to be protected against theft and mismanagement—even from members.

Multiple people count loose change collected in the offering at the Paradise (California) Church said senior pastor Ben Maxson. On Monday morning a volunteer team takes it out of the church safe, recounts it, then deposits it. “At no time is our treasurer dealing with the tithes and offerings alone,” he said.
Retired Pastor Mitch Williams used a similar plan to cut down on theft.
The treasurer’s only responsibility was to pay the bills, provide financial documents for board meetings, and to take instructions from the board, he said.  “There was a clear check and balance system in place,” he said.
He said he found the most effective method to control overspending, reckless check writing was to have business people on the church board.

Aguilera took it a step further and didn’t allow churches to put him on as a signatory on any of the church accounts, he said.
“Sometimes pastors get in trouble that way because they have access,” There are some things that can be put in place to offset that from taking place.-Aguilera
Protecting our people
Managing risks is about more than saving money, but about protecting our most vulnerable members, and ultimately the church mission.

Magnuson says that he gets many calls from pastors asking for advice in dealing with sex offenders in their congregations.  He says it isn’t uncommon for pastors to get negative feedback when trying to screen volunteers, but it must happen.

“As a pastor or a risk manager we do recognize that someone who has sexually abused a child can have forgiveness and salvation, but as with so much of sin, forgiveness does not equate from being free from the consequences of sin,” he said. “One of those consequences is restrictions.”

Under the direction of Aguilera the Santa Rosa church implemented safeguards such as fingerprinting and background check for volunteers, and had the children’s wing off-limits to known offenders.
These boundaries, including the knowledge that they would be watched by deacons at all times, were clearly communicated with offenders.
“Most people responded positively to these boundaries, and if they didn’t that was a red flag,” said Aguilera.
Aguilera recalled one time where one of the offenders went into a wing of the church that was off-limits.  “We told them they broke the agreement and told them they were no longer able to worship with us,” he said.

“Most of them leave easily he said. “They don’t like confrontation,” he said.
Pastors of large congregations can’t personally take care of all the risk management activities, but should oversee them.  Many churches enlist risk volunteers, deacons, or board committee members to work on these issues.

Empowering the deacons and volunteers to help protect the church has been large part of Pastor Ben Maxson’s safety plan over the years.
One Sabbath in Dalton Georgia in the 1980s a man entered the church with a gun, looking for one of the women in the audience, said Maxson. Deacons noticed the man behind the baptistery, confronted him, and found out he had a weapon. The man finally left after the deacons threatened to call the police.
Maxson, who was on the platform, didn’t even know about the incident until later.
In another situation in the Paradise church, a man from the community was frightening female volunteers in their community services building. Maxson previously authorized the community services leader to call the police if the man harassed the workers again.  After learning that those boundaries would be enforced, the man never returned.
Beltsville Lead Pastor, Kermit Netteberg has a firefighter on his church safety committee and has empowered IT professionals to create a plan to protect their cyber resources.

“Find somebody who has a passion and skill in the job and then help them with the resources they need to do it,” he said.
In the Santa Rosa Church the finance committee chairman handled risk management activities, said Aguilera.
Although the finance committee chairman at the Santa Rose Church handled risk management activities, Aguilera oversaw the implementation, meeting with him every month to make sure everything was getting done.
Although tasks can be delegated, the responsibility still falls on the shoulders of the pastor.
“As lead or solo pastor you need to be the one who steps up in emergencies as to who should give directions as to how to proceed,” said Maxson.  “You are the leader.”
Are you prepared?
Planning, communicating, and practicing an emergency plan that includes training emergency volunteers increases safety and reassures the congregation.
Some members worried that holding fire drills in church would scare the children, but Netteberg said there are several reasons to hold them.
Although not all church members will be present at the fire drills, the practice will help everyone, including leaders, to be ready to help others in a fire he said.
The drill also reminds parents that their children’s safety is really important to the church.
Having and practicing a strong emergency strategy was essential to the safety of more than a hundred campers this summer in California.

Shortly after an afternoon fire drill had been called campers and staff realized a real fire was approaching Pine Springs Ranch.  The fast-moving wild fire forced campers and staff to evacuate in under an hour.

“Ultimately our biggest success is getting the kids and staff out safely,” said Rawson. Beyond that we can rebuild.”
Rawson attributes the successful evacuation to having an emergency plan that included weekly fire-drills and having enough seatbelts on the busses to evacuate the entire camp.

On the flip side, simply failing to think through potential risks can also cause great harm. Magnuson recalled the story of when some teachers in his conference took high school students on a rafting trip.  During the rafting trip the teachers allowed the students to jump 30-40 feet into the water.  One of the girls jumping completely dislocated her shoulder.  It took the group more than 6 hours to get her to medical care.

No one had thought of an evacuation plan if something did happen.

The family didn’t sue the school, but the student now has a lifetime disability and the family had tremendous hurt feelings because the teachers allowed their child to do something so dangerous they would never allow, and hadn’t given permission for said Magnuson.

With so many risks it could be easy to have a “don’t do it” attitude, said Dave Fournier. “But sometimes it isn’t about saying no, but asking how we can do this as safely as possible,” he said.  “Getting a little training and making sure we’re using basic common sense can make a huge difference.”

That planning came in handy for one pastor in California when one of his church members broke their leg in a waterskiing accident.

The girl’s parents had signed a medical consent form and had told him what hospital she should be taken to, said Magnuson.
Rather than scramble to come up with a plan, the pastor had one in place, and was able to drive the girl to shore, where she got in an ambulance was and treated right away.

Take the time to ask “what could possibly go wrong,” and then make plans that will help you avoid those things, and then make a response plan in case something happens said Magnuson.

How will you plan?
How much are claims costing our church?
-The average number of North American Division property, general liability and auto claims per year between 2008-2012 was 1,272
-The average number of losses was $22,915,595 per year
-Between 2008 and 2012 $5,024,740 was lost each year because of water damage (flooding, frozen pipes, hail, ice, snow and tornadoes)
Information from Adventist Risk Management
Remodeling or working on a building project? Here are several proactive things you can do to cut down on risk
  • Follow building codes to minimize fire risks
  • Fence the site and provide security and lighting to minimize theft
  • Have a proactive worker safety program and adequate supervision to minimize injuries
  • Have insurance to replace a project destroyed by fire or materials lost to thieves & workers compensation or other insurance to cover workers hurt on the job.
Information from Northern California Conference Property/Risk Management Director Richard Magnuson, Jr.
Risk Management resources you need to download:
Church safety self-inspection form (http://www.adventistrisk.org/Portals/0/forms/riskcontrol/CHURCH-SELF-INSPECTION_DIG_20130507.pdf)
What is a church safety officer? (http://www.adventistrisk.org/Prevention/ChurchSafetyOfficer.aspx)
How to respond to an active shooter (http://www.adventistrisk.org/Portals/0/prevention/F-active_shooter_booklet.pdf)
Tips for traveling safely (http://www.adventistrisk.org/Portals/0/prevention/F-active_shooter_booklet.pdf)
Tips for protecting our children (http://www.adventistrisk.org/Prevention/ChildProtection.aspx)
Crime prevention tips ( http://www.adventistrisk.org/Portals/0/prevention/infosheets/Infosheet-CrimePrevention_20130205.pdf)
Make fire prevention fun: Tips from Dave Fournier
Build relationships with your local police and fire departments by honoring them during a service, hold a fire drill and then share a potluck meal after. 
The fire fighters will be able to uncover potential problems and children will learn about fire safety and get to play on the trucks. Relationships will be strengthened and everyone will be better prepared for an emergency.