Every church that decides to share space with a non-church group needs a set of policies. These policies will help your tenants know exactly what is expected of them. It will also protect the church from liabilities for accidents or taxes. It will establish the procedures you will follow from initial inquiry to a successful evaluation of each event.
Policies for Building Uses
Most churches have some understanding about whom they will rent to and what those groups may do on the property. It is always wise to have these policies spelled out so everyone understands exactly what is permitted and what is not.
Do you allow smoking on the premises?
Do you allow alcoholic beverages on the premises?
Do you allow marijuana or other drugs to be used on the premises?
You will be asked, and it really helps to have these answers and any others written down as policies so there is no confusion and no argument from tenants.
What equipment is available the users may want to use:
May anyone play the church organ or is it restricted to the organist?
Typically, if the church pays a professional organist, the public would be restricted from using the organ. Nothing is more frustrating for an organist who has practiced the music for Sunday and set all the pre-set stops, than to arrive on Sunday morning and find someone has reset all the pre-sets.
May anyone play the sanctuary piano?
Pianos do not have pre-sets, however a piano that is open to public use will take a lot more abuse and need more frequent tunings.
Is the audio/video equipment available for outside groups to use or is it restricted to trained church members? Soundboards, video projectors, wireless microphones are expensive pieces of equipment and should be locked up. Early in my career I felt that everyone could use the equipment. However, after thousands of dollars of lost and damaged equipment, sound and video settings that were altered before Sunday morning so the worship service could not proceed until they were fixed, changed that opinion. I decided that groups which were big enough to require A/V use were big enough to hire our trained people to operate it for them. This assured everything was properly used and ready for Sunday worship. Sound equipment in a fellowship hall should be set up so that at least one microphone is available and the system can be operated with a simple on and off wall switch and all the electronics should be locked away.
If there are other meeting rooms that can be set up like the fellowship hall – so sound and video are usable, yet not available to alter – a special fee can either be built into that room use, or listed as an add-on for a nominal fee.
If there will be a large gathering on the property lasting several hours, is the group required to pay a church hosts/hostess to oversee the event?
Almost always when a large group uses the facility, something goes wrong. Having a church employee on site ready to handle those irritating eventualities is critical to maintaining the church and making sure it’s ready for Sunday.
If the tenants require a lot of setup from the church custodian (an unusual number of tables and chairs, moving tables outside or to another room, etc.), you may want to require that the group pays for and uses an on-site custodian during their event.
These policies should be clearly spelled out in the church policies and procedures and noted on the back of your Fee Schedule.
Procedures for approving rentals
Who approves building uses? The Pastor? The Trustees? The Bishop? The church secretary? The Youth Counselor? The Worship Committee?
If you answered “Yes” to all of them, go to the head of the class. At some point in the process, it is important that all of these people or groups be consulted and sign off on all building uses. This doesn’t have to be a herculean chore requiring three months of meetings to let the Girl Scouts use the Committee Room for a District Board meeting. In a perfect world all the relevant groups can sign off with a week.
These are the processes that might typically take place:
Example: The Eggs Were First Society wants to hold a fundraiser in the church social hall. Mr. H. Dumpty comes into the office to inquire about rooms. The church secretary listens to his plea and suggests the Fellowship Hall could accommodate their meeting. The secretary checks the church calendar and notes there are no obvious conflicts that she knows about. The secretary also checks with the pastor to see if there might be a conflict that isn’t on the calendar. Finding none, the secretary gives the big egg the Fee Schedule and suggests he contact the person on the sheet. If there is a facility coordinator, the secretary notifies the coordinator of the possible building use with a note that the calendar has no conflicts.
Humpty contacts the coordinator who answers a couple additional questions. He then returns the form a few days later which starts the process cooking. The secretary pencils the building use onto the calendar, copies are made for the pastor and staff to sign off on. If this is a large church with multiple staff and many programs, it may be wise to bring up all prospective building uses at the next regular staff meeting. This allows the staff to check their plans, their upcoming events, and be informed that the building will be in use by outside groups at that time. If they have nearby events, they can successfully plan around it. (So, yes indeed, the Youth Counselor may be consulted and sign off on a building use.)
Depending on your extended church affiliation, you may need to have someone from your District or Conference approve all outside building uses. I even know of some Bishops who wanted to approve every building use in the whole conference. So, be aware of your affiliated requirements.
Whatever process you decide is wisest and best needs to be written down and circulated to all the affected parties. The important thing is transparency within the church and with your renter.
Once you have established what your policies, fee schedules, and procedures will be, make sure to seek the approval of the church Trustees and probably the Administrative Board or Church Council. Again, the idea is that everyone knows what will happen in order to make the best-informed decision.
Resources available from TEOLIS:
Articles in this series:
- Who can you rent to?
- Understanding the types of rentals
- Understanding the actual costs of renting.
- Creating a policy for community groups and events.
- Creating a policy for sacred events.
- Creating a contract that protects everyone.