Don’t touch — or you might get burned!

By Michael J. Bemi

NEVER AGAIN BEYONDIn our last article, we together began our journey to move “beyond insurance.” We then examined the first step in that process: risk identification, analysis and evaluation.

Now, we undertake the next step in our journey: risk avoidance.

BOUNCY HOUSETo properly consider this step in the process, we have to acknowledge a very important reality: namely, that — as people of faith and followers of the Lord, we believe that we are called (indeed, compelled) to do ministry. This ministerial phenomenon would be nothing other than wonderful in a perfect world where justice, fairness, righteousness, compassion and consideration for your fellow humans prevailed. We all know that this world is not that and will never be, until the Lord returns and sets it right.

In this world, you need to understand that the performance of ministry creates risk for the Church. You next need to understand and recognize that risk entails various costs. These costs are multifarious, but certainly include: emotional anguish and distress; potential bodily injury (and perhaps even death); significant liability with its attendant substantial defense costs; destruction of personal property, vehicles or buildings; damage to the Church’s reputation; and disruption or destruction of certain Church operations and activities.

Finally, now that we recognize that ministry entails risk, and that risk can be extremely costly in a negative sense, we must confront and accept the fact that we are called to be the best stewards of the resources we have been blessed with — and that means we must make choices to undertake (or not) specific ministries.

Some examples will demonstrate the point.

Scenario #1: Your charitable outreach division is contacted by the state. It would like to pay your church to convert one of your unused buildings for use as a halfway house for paroled convicts.

The contract would include the costs of renovation, provisions for the men, and the salary expenses for three church representatives to manage the facility. So far, it sounds like a great ministerial opportunity to help rehabilitate some men and restore them to society.
Then, you learn the rest.

These are all “hard-timers” and very serious felons whose crimes include murder, rape and pedophilia. There will be an average of eight to 10 residents at any time. Your three employees will be just enough to staff revolving eight-hour shifts, one person at a time — supervising up to 10 men, alone. Your unused building is less than two blocks from a local public grade school. The state wants your church to assume all liability for anything that might “go wrong.”

Remember those risk costs?

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Unless you can get the state to contractually share responsibility, to increase the contract value so that you can be assured of two church staff representatives on each shift, and to negotiate at least some limited right of placement refusal, this is a risk you should avoid. You’ve got it: risk avoidance!

Scenario #2: Your church carnival — a local community summer favorite and opportunity for outreach, plus a successful revenue generator for your church — is coming up. The church council suggests something new: a “bounce house” for the enjoyment of your littlest congregants and guests.

Aware of some recent issues with these, you contact the most highly regarded amusement operator in the city. Here’s their deal: they will complete all set-up — done with only the finest equipment and to the highest standards — but you must then appoint a “maintenance supervisor” who they will instruct on how to check the rigging over the four-day duration of your carnival.

And, by the way, your church is completely responsible for the rigging throughout this time period.

Here is yet another risk (the “bounce house,” not the carnival) you are likely best served to simply avoid.

Being the best stewards we can be demands some tough decisions. One of these is to avoid pursuing a ministry simply because of the risks involved.

Michael J. Bemi is president & CEO of The National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc. (Lisle, IL) — a recognized leader in risk management. To learn more about available coverage — and to get valuable tools, facts and statistics — visit


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