Many Churches are expanding ministry in private homes. Some want to be a “house church.” Some want the community to spend more time together studying the Bible or holding “life groups” in their own homes.
Like every church, these groups face legal issues. They need to incorporate to protect individual members from liability. They need to have clear procedures for membership, discipline, decision-making, and a statement of faith. They need to follow the 501(c)(3) rules, if they want to keep a tax exemption.
But having meetings in a home does raise some unique issues, for the church and for the ‘host’ of the home gathering.
The problem of injuries at church services.
Imagine that someone slips, falls, and injures themselves at a church-organized meeting. Assume that it was, somehow, the fault of someone acting for the church. Maybe it was some snow or ice that should have been removed. Maybe there was a spill or a dangerous condition allowed to remain. Assume the injured person sues.
This is a very, very common occurrence.
Special Issues for Hosts
If this injury occurred at a church-owned facility, the injured person will make a claim against the church (and any insurance that covers the accident).
But when the injury occurs in a home, there may be a claim against the homeowner and/or host. Most single-family homeowners have homeowners insurance to protect them when guests are injured; it’s required by most mortgages. But apartments, townhouses, renters, etc., might not have enough coverage, or any coverage at all. And they might need to check with an insurance agent to make sure they’re covered for events put on for charities. So if you are hosting house church meetings, you are being asked to take on a special responsibility. Make sure you have adequately prepared to hose these meetings, including adequate insurance coverage.
Special Issues for Churches
Now let’s imagine that the host of the meeting caused the injury. Maybe there was an uncovered swimming pool, or an open bottle of pills, or an improperly stored firearm. There can be hundreds of dangerous ‘surprises’ in the average home. If a mistake results in injury to a guest of the church, the church might be sued. So the church, too, should make sure that it has adequate insurance.
Now, the risks can be overstated. Millions of people visit private homes every day, and no one is hurt. And there are many accidents in seemingly safe church buildings. So if your church’s faith encourages meetings in private homes, the risks should prompt some planning, not paralysis.
Still, understand that you are asking hosts to face special legal risks. And hosts might find it hard to make their homes meet commercial safety standards week in, week out. Your church may decide it can have the same kind of fellowship in a rented or commercial space, with fewer risks.
- Make sure the church and its hosts have adequate insurance coverage for the events you hold.
- If you are using a particular house frequently, it may make sense to have a formal written agreement between the church and the homeowner.
- Have clear policies and forms that govern the use of private homes. What standards are required?
If you need help thinking through these issues, reviewing insurance contracts or facility policies, or other legal assistance, please reach out to us.