Understanding Liability on Church Trips

Take these steps to protect your leaders and volunteers in the event of an incident.

In 2016, there was a tragic incident that involved an Ohio teen who died from a rare brain-eating amoeba, which can be found in warm freshwater and soil. Reports showed that the teen’s exposure to this type of amoeba was possibly linked to a rafting trip she went on with her church in North Carolina.

With this unfortunate event, there were no reports of legal action against the church or any members of the church. However, this was a situation that could easily have turned against the church or some of the leaders who were present that day.

So, what should churches do in such instances? What can you implement to ensure your leaders and volunteers are protected should an accident happen?

I pray that your church or ministry never have to experience anything like this. But stories like this are why it is imperative for your church to have the right strategies in place and that you know what to do.


As summer approaches, many churches are beginning to prepare for summer gatherings, retreats and church trips—most of which typically occur outdoors. These events and retreats usually leave individuals susceptible to accidents and injuries and make those involved wonder who is liable.

To help protect leaders and volunteers who are acting in the best interest of the church, many churches will adopt a policy to shield its members and volunteers from possible litigation.

This policy is known as an indemnification policy.

From the story above, if the church leader(s) at the event were found negligent and the family decided to pursue legal action, a solid indemnification policy allows the church to step in and help that leader.

To indemnify means, “to protect (someone) by promising to pay for the cost of possible future damage, loss or injury.” This means the church can step in and pay for fees and damages that may be related to church events or activities.

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One key to remember regarding indemnification is that your church must be incorporated to provide this protection to your staff, members and volunteers. Although many of the people who serve in your organization are likely unaware of this protection, it can be of great value. If you are looking to recruit more volunteers, this might be something to highlight in the recruitment process.

Likewise, if you are trying to establish your board of directors for the initial launch of your church, this can be a valuable tool to promote and explain. If this is not something you have in place, I hope you will take the necessary steps to adopt and implement an indemnification policy.


When you are planning to have a church trip or event, it is important that you have the following three things in place.

1. Provide Waivers.

Make sure your church has waivers for attendees to sign when planning events and retreats. Waivers are designed to voluntarily relinquish a known right, and are to be signed prior to participating in activities associated with the church. It is a good idea to have different waivers for adults and parents of minor children.

2. Establish an Indemnification Policy.

Adopt a policy that clearly establishes the church as the indemnifying body. Every church or ministry that goes through our StartRIGHT Service receives an indemnification policy. If your church or ministry has yet to adopt and implement this policy, I recommend you do so as soon as possible. If you are in need of this policy, you can call our office and we’ll be happy to provide you with one.

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3. Determine the Type of Trip.

Distinguish between a personal trip and a church trip, and make sure your team is aware of the difference. You want to be very clear as this can be a huge factor in whether or not the church will indemnify an individual or individuals. Church trips will typically include church vehicles and have a church-related purpose. Personal trips will be those that do not have a church-related purpose, such as the pastor running an errand related to his family or personal life.

This article was first published on startChurch.com. Used by permission.