COVID-19
  • Providing emergency shelter

    Q&A with Guy Russ, assistant vice president – Risk Control at Church Mutual Insurance Company Why should a church consider opening its facility as a temporary shelter? Russ: Emergency shelters and transitional living arrangements are important ways churches can help those in need. This includes providing living arrangements within worship centers, fellowship halls and educational wings for displaced or homeless families or individuals, victims of domestic violence, or others in need of shelter. Recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the withdrawal from Afghanistan and Hurricane Ida highlight situations where temporary living arrangements or emergency shelter areas may be necessary. If a church opens its doors to temporary residents, is it opening itself up to safety and security exposures? Russ: While providing emergency shelter can do a lot of good within the community, it is important to be aware of potential safety and security exposures for worship center employees, members of the congregation, children or youth groups, guests and temporary residents. Moreover, property and liability exposures increase when people attempt to live in buildings that were not designed to provide basic living accommodations. What supplies must a church provide to house temporary residents? Russ: In a disaster situation, basic utilities like sewer, water, electricity and natural gas might not be available in your facility. You should decide if your building and organization are adequately prepared to provide shelter under these conditions. The most important supplies needed to provide temporary shelter during a disaster are food and water, at least a three-day supply of each. To have enough water for drinking and sanitation, think one gallon per person per day. Food should require no refrigeration, no preparation and little to no water. Some other supplies you will need include: Names, addresses and telephone numbers of everyone using the facility Extra clothing Regular household bleach and medicine dropper for water decontamination Important documents, such as your insurance policy, in a waterproof container A wrench or pliers to turn off utilities if necessary A whistle to signal for help Cash and coins A flashlight Local maps A cellphone with text messaging capability A battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert Extra batteries A first-aid kit Garbage bags, plastic ties, moist towelettes and toilet paper for personal sanitation What advice would you give to churches that are considering providing temporary shelter? Russ: Before allowing anyone to stay in the facility, church leaders need to check with local authorities to make sure there aren’t any zoning restrictions that prevent the worship center from providing lodging accommodations on a frequent basis. Also, the local fire department should conduct a survey to determine if emergency exits, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and fire extinguishers are adequate. Consider whether the church is ADA accessible as well. A church would need to establish rules for temporary residents. What are some you would recommend? Russ: First, it’s important to set a limitation on the length of stay, whether it’s a week or a month or whatever church leaders decide. Rules should be posted, and copies provided and reviewed with residents as part of their orientation. Clear consequences for breaking rules need to be established and communicated. Churches need to establish a screening process to determine who will be allowed to stay at the facility. Best practices include requiring residents to be over 18 years old, unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, and requiring a valid ID. Criminal background checks should be clear of any sex-related charges or convictions, with no outstanding arrest warrants. No weapons should be allowed on the property to limit the risk of intentional or accidental injury. If smoking will be allowed, it should only be allowed in a designated exterior area. Medications must be kept in a secured area at all times. Don’t allow residents to have visitors or overnight guests without the church’s prior approval. Also, establish minimum dress code requirements for residents when interacting with others in the building. Determine if pets will be allowed and where on property, and what the expectations are for cleaning up pet waste. Are there any other operational concerns a church should consider when operating a temporary shelter? Russ: There are many issues that can come up. Church leaders need to consider a host of questions to be prepared for both expected and unexpected scenarios. Some to think about include: How are regular church activities going to co-exist with the shelter? Will the worship center be staffed 24/7 to monitor activities and residents? How will staff be trained to de-escalate tense situations and to recognize warning signs of a potential sexual offender? Does the building layout allow for securing areas of the facility that are off-limits to residents? How are keys or key cards controlled for building security, and when can residents enter and leave the property? What bathing or shower facilities are available and how will those areas be supervised when worship center members or other residents use the facility? Will laundering of bedding and clothing be available on-site? What are the limitations for using hot plates or cooking/refrigeration equipment? What are the restrictions for using the worship center’s telephones, computers and televisions? Are there agreements in place to limit the worship center’s responsibility for loss, damage or theft of a resident’s property? Are there agreements in place to limit the worship center’s responsibility for personal injuries to residents while staying at the property? What first-aid supplies will be provided and how are injuries to be treated and reported? Guy Russ is assistant vice president – Risk Control at Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I. (a stock insurer), answers questions about how organizations can serve their community, while protecting the safety and security of their organization. Church Mutual is a stock insurer whose policyholders are members of the parent mutual holding company formed on 1/1/20.  S.I. = a stock insurer.  

Leadership
  • Missional alliance (and much more)

    By RaeAnn Slaybaugh With rates near historic lows, it makes a lot of sense for a church to consider refinancing its debt right now.  Like many houses of worship, Reston Bible Church (RBC) in Dulles, Va., wanted to take advantage of this lending climate while the opportunity existed.  In particular, Executive Pastor Bruce Campbell was looking for a simple, long-term fixed rate of five years or more. He also aimed to secure a fully amortizing note that would propel RBC towards debt elimination.  Both objectives are surprisingly achievable at the moment. But the other criteria that Campbell prioritized were more elusive. Campbell says all three lenders he vetted were “at least in the ballpark” in terms of what the church was looking for. However, Thrivent Church Financing ultimately emerged as the best fit for several reasons.  For one thing, Chris Lewis, a senior relationship manager for Thrivent Church Financing, was a known quantity. He and Campbell became acquainted many years ago, when Lewis was working for a different lender which held the church’s mortgage at the time.  Prior to that, Church Administrator Dale Peak met Lewis at an executive pastor conference in Texas.  While this familiarity was comforting, Thrivent Church Financing also came forward with the lowest rate and the most favorable terms — fixed for 10 years — that centered on the covenants which the church holds dearest. And while two of the three lenders under consideration aligned missionally with RBC, the decision came down to intricacy.  “Most lenders, banks, mortgage companies, et cetera, aren’t about spreading the gospel, either locally or globally,” Campbell explains. “I would say that Thrivent Church Financing’s philosophy — of bringing faith and financing together — [more closely] aligned with our purpose to know Christ and to make Him known.” For Lewis and his team, this close alignment was equally vital. “RBC has been a leader not only in the region, but also internationally through a very generous missional focus,” Lewis says. “Through these efforts, many have come to know the love of Christ in their darkest days.”   Through refinancing, the church maintains its ability to meet its long-term objective of being debt-free. Perhaps more important, more dollars have moved to the missional component of RBC’s P&L. For Campbell, that freedom will ultimately provide a wealth of benefits for the community surrounding the church, and even for communities around the world.  “It will allow us to reallocate the generosity and resources that people give here in the first place,” he explains. “When we’re debt-free, that reallocation will span across a host of needs, from local community efforts to expanding our international connection.” To this end, for example, the church places a lot of emphasis on English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) training through its International Connection Ministry. With no debt, efforts like this can be expanded into the local community. “It can also enhance our discipleship and our digital evangelism efforts because we can potentially bring on another key one or two people that can give full-time effort to shepherding various discipleship initiatives,” Campbell points out. “That would be huge as well.” Flexibility for deposits  Preserving RBC’s fantastic relationship with its local bank was another priority for Campbell. Luckily, Thrivent Church Financing doesn’t require deposits as part of its loan requirements.  According to Lewis, most lenders require a full depository relationship in order to provide financing. Campbell says this has also been his experience in dealing with lenders. “It is indeed a very rare arrangement,” he says, “but it was very important that we be provided with that opportunity.”  Bottom-line benefits For RBC, the new refinancing arrangement has provided simplicity and stability.  “We know we’re not having to deal with uncertainty or a mortgage that’s going to rise in rates,” Campbell points out. “There’s no balloon payment due at any time.” Additionally, a lower rate lets the church to pay less interest, retire its loan debt faster, and focus more on the ministry that takes precedence over everything. In other words, it offers peace of mind. “We’re working with a great lender that’s cooperative, that understands us, that will work with us,” Campbell concludes. “We don’t feel like we have a hammer waiting to come down on our head if some unique circumstance arose.”

Risk Management
  • Elder fraud: What I learned from helping my parents recover from financial fraud

    By Anonymous “When I called the next day to check in, my father said that the retailer was running into issues refunding the money for the unauthorized purchase on his account. The fraud department wanted him to purchase a VISA gift card that they could load the money on to send him his refund faster.  At this point, it was clear my father was an active victim of fraud.” Day 1: It began with a text from my father saying there were some unauthorized charges on a retail website and on one of his credit cards, but he assured me he was handling it. When we spoke several hours later, he told me he had been working with the fraud department at the online retailer all day and they were helping him with all his accounts. I questioned why they were helping with all his accounts instead of just the account he had with them, but he assured me everything was OK, and the customer service person was super helpful. Day 2: When I called the next day to check in, my father said that the retailer was running into issues refunding the money for the unauthorized purchase on his account. The fraud department wanted him to purchase a VISA gift card that they could load the money on to send him his refund faster.  At this point, it was clear my father was an active victim of fraud. We would later learn that the “super guy” in the “fraud department” he had spoken with for two days and more than six hours was quietly stealing his money and identity, while remotely logged into my father’s own computer. Days 3-15: The entry point for the thieves was an email my father received confirming an expensive order from a major online retailer. In the middle of the email in red letters were the words, “If this is not your order, call 800-XXX-XXX.”  The email was a fraud ploy known as a phishing email. When my father called the 800 number, it was answered by a very nice man who said his name was Jeremy. “Jeremy” was a thief. It took some time to learn the full extent of what had been compromised, but it became clear that the risk was significant. Our first steps were to stop more damage from occurring by making critical contacts. We contacted every bank, broker, and credit card company to let them know there was active fraud and to put protections in place. During this process, we were able to identify additional breaches of my father’s accounts. We contacted the three credit bureaus and placed both Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes on his records. The credit freeze prevents anyone from opening a new credit account without specific authorization from you.   We contacted the local police and filed a police report. There is little that local police can do, but taking this step shows due diligence when reporting fraudulent charges to your bank or credit card companies. We changed the usernames and passwords on all accounts at risk for financial fraud. Over the next two weeks, my father and I worked together in person for more than 80 hours to document and secure my father’s financial life. We both learned a lot that I hope will save you from becoming a victim of fraud and identity theft.   You can be too trusting Whether it is an email, a phone call or a text, never respond to an unsolicited communication about a bank account, credit card or retail purchase. Instead, log into your account independently and check for activity or call customer service using a number from a source that you can verify is legitimate.   If my father had called either the retailer or his credit card company directly, he would have discovered the email was fraudulent. Enable two-factor authentication Most financial websites now let you choose two-factor authentication, a feature that sends a code by email, text or voice to your cell phone which you must enter each time you attempt to log into your account. It is an extra step, but it serves two purposes; it verifies that you are the person logging into your account, and it means you will be notified if someone other than you is trying to log into one of your accounts. Strong passwords stored securely The thieves were able to gain access to my father’s accounts because he had saved his passwords automatically in his web browser — a default option in many browsers. It makes life easy for us, but once the thief had access to his browser, he had access to everything. Always use unique and strong passwords and store them securely. Disable obsolete accounts If you don’t use a credit card anymore, you might want to consider cancelling it. Same goes for old email accounts. The thieves used an old email account of my father’s that he no longer used, which allowed them to make online purchases — like digital gift cards worth thousands of dollars — and have them delivered right to his own email. That rendered the transactions untraceable, and he never knew it was happening. Finally, some good news!   We ended up creating a master document that captured all the information on my father’s financial and digital life. Each account has its own page, and we included every bank and credit account, regular bills like utilities, insurance and so on.   In addition to usernames and logins, for bills we included when they were due, how they were paid, and other important details. We also created pages for social media accounts.   In the end, we documented 37 accounts. We made three copies (in addition to a password-protected digital version), and my father, brother and I each have one that is kept secure. It means that if something should happen to my father, my brother or I can immediately manage his affairs, or just assist him if he needs Read More >

Pastor-Friendly A/V
  • SANDY THAILING & CHURCH OF THE RESURRECTION: Maximizing the video team’s creative potential — despite COVID challenges

    Content creation without barriers By RaeAnn Slaybaugh Having worked with Church of the Resurrection (COR.org) in Leawood, Kansas, in some capacity for more than 20 years, it is safe to say Sandy Thailing knows everything there is to know about its video production setup.  Aside from his extensive work with this very large church, Thailing began his career freelancing on the Branch Davidian trial for CourtTV which has led to a lot of corporate production in Dallas, as well as the Kansas City metro area.  So, when the time came to take the COR video production team’s output to the next level, he knew how instrumental a more efficient, accessible collaborative media storage system would be. And that would require finding just the right media server and storage-unit elements. Last summer, Church of the Resurrection Video Production Manager Sandy Thailing was well underway in his search for collaborative media storage options when Senior Executive Director Dan Entwistle passed along a Church Executive article: “Storage made for Sundays.” Coincidentally, it spotlighted solutions from creative.space that are designed to be “as simple to use as an iPhone and ideally suited to churches.”  That caught Thailing’s attention.   “Our main goal was to have on-premise shared storage for our video editors to access and edit from, eliminating local RAID storage that filled up pretty fast over time,” he says, referencing the use of Redundant Array of Independent Disks, a data storage technology that combines multiple physical disk drive components.  His reasons were good: each local RAID unit held eight to 24 terabytes, and each editor had their own RAID array connected to their Mac or desktop. “So, we would do some sharing, but it was always a little bit convoluted,” Thailing explains. “We had to give certain permissions to connect and share media, which meant our machines always had to be on even when editors weren’t at their desk.”  Consequently, the church’s methods for moving media around in the past could best be described as a “sneaker net.” Content creators, editors and producers ferried flash drives or USB sticks from editing suites to control rooms instead of using the existing network.  “Most of the time, it was just easier to do it that way,” Thailing admits.  Accordingly, this meant video content was stored in several different places — not at all centralized.  “As each RAID filled up (fast), we’d have to buy a new one and the old one would sit on a shelf,” Thailing adds. “So, it was tough to know where all the media was. We didn’t have a good library because we haven’t really gone down the file / data asset management route yet.”  Technology guided by faith A member of Saddleback Church for nearly 20 years, Sean Busby, president and co-owner of DigitalGlue and creative.space, says the release of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life impacted him hugely. Given his 24/7/365 business commitments — servicing the broadcast television network industry with customers like FOX News, The CW, Trinity Broadcasting, and American Forces Network — Busby volunteered at the church in the only way he could manage: parking cars.  In 2003, a friend introduced him to Life.Church pastor Bobby Gruenewald, who was committed to simultaneously sharing the sermon given at the main campus with two new locations. “I immediately realized we were on the same mission,” Busby says. Later that year, the Life.Church satellite network was up and running.  Soon, others — Mars Hill in Seattle; Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas; and Church Unlimited in Corpus Christi, Texas — inquired about building the same type of network.  But there were only so many churches intent on going this expansive.  Fast forward to now, with Busby’s offering of the entry-level //ROGUE PRO server for on-premise storage and the portable //ROGUE enterprise-based video storage system that can live on the editor’s desk at church or at home.  Since churches’ annual budgets are primarily based on the previous year’s giving, creative.space’s flexible contacts and all-inclusive monthly or annual OPEX payment structure are a huge appeal for houses of worship like Church of the Resurrection. Customers pay a flat monthly or annual rate that includes hardware, software, and 24/7 proactive support, and contracts are offered in one-, two-, three- or five-year options with the ability to lengthen or shorten the term as needed. For a limited time, the 96TB //ROGUE PRO starts at only $495 per month (usually $595 per month). The portable //ROGUE is the only unit available for one-time purchase starting at $4,795 for 48TB. “With these tools, a church’s video team is finally able to collaborate quicker, producing better and more content than ever before at a price that has never been possible,” he explains. “For me, that incredible feeling of giving back, is back.” Enter: COVID When Coronavirus struck, the need to “build a better mousetrap” became even more pressing.  Pre-pandemic, the workload was already significant. Most important, Thailing and his team of four video producers — Greg Hoeven, Natalie Cleveland, Kersee Meyer and Cam Hershberger — produced content for the weekly sermon for Senior Pastor Adam Hamilton. They also created video content for live worship; produced a weekly online service (in both modern and traditional formats); and provided support for the rest of COR’s ministries — from missions, to kids’ discipleship, to youth programs. Additionally, they helped produce DVD-based books for ministry staff who are also published authors.    Once COVID-19 hit, Thailing and his team were asked to ramp up production in a big way — and a lot of it would need to be done from home.   To ensure continuity and engagement with church members, they would produce a weekly live-switched podcast in their small studio, as well as a handful of live-streamed conferences. The production of worship services would also be significantly elevated; pre-COVID, these two live streams were presented as if someone was simply watching the service in the sanctuary. Now, their TechnicalArts ministry would deliver full-production-value products: four different versions of Read More >

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