How to Plan a Mission Trip for Your Church, Part 1

Written by Founder Raul Rivera on Nov 10, 2016 in Outreach

It is common to hear a story about church members who traveled on a mission trip to another country, and a participant became injured or sick. While there is a risk factor involved anytime members participate in missionary travel, one must ask, “How liable is the church in this situation?” and “What can the church do to protect itself and its members on a mission trip?” 

We will address, from a liability standpoint, what your church should contemplate prior to organizing and planning a mission trip, in order to best protect participants and the church. (Next week, we will examine what to consider for the logistics of conducting a successful mission trip.)

Is a waiver release enough?

As the end of the year quickly approaches, many churches begin to plan an agenda for the new year, which oftentimes includes a mission trip. As you plan, are you considering what to do if a participant is injured or sick while on a trip? 

Perhaps you are wondering if waiver release forms that are given to participants prior to a trip provide enough protection? It would seem as though the simple answer is, “Yes.” But before we stop there, we should do more research on the matter. 

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While many churches distribute waiver release forms before a trip, the majority of states do not enforce them. Despite the fact that a parent signed a waiver form, the parent can still take legal action against the church, should something happen to his/her child during the trip.

Precautions concerning waiver release forms

In an article by Elyse M. Smith of Simms Showers LLP, the precautions concerning waiver release forms are made evident. In essence, the article emphasizes that waiver release forms alone are not enough when it comes to liability coverage for the church and the attendees of the trip. 

If a minor gets injured or sick on a mission trip, a waiver release form will not completely prevent a parent or guardian from taking legal action against the church should he/she deem it necessary to do so. Waiver release forms are not futile. The forms serve a purpose and hold some “protective weight.” We will soon examine the essentials of a waiver release form.

In addition to the waiver release forms, what additional steps should your church take to better ensure safety for both the participants of the mission trip and the church?

(Recommended reading: "When a Church Trip Goes Wrong, Who's Liable?")

Careful planning checklist 

It is crucial for everyone involved to be aware of what is expected on the mission trip. Before you announce the trip, consider the following checklist for liability purposes.

1. Do research ahead of time

Although you cannot predict if anyone will get sick on the trip, you can research the country, region, or territory of destination.

  • Is the place of destination susceptible to a specific virus? 
  • Is there a current outbreak of illness? 

Before you purchase plane tickets to a location, be sure to check out information sites such as the Centers for Disease Control to read any advisories for travelers. If your destination is prone to certain diseases, recommend that members of the trip get vaccinated ahead of time. If a trip participant gets sick, does your church insurance cover the cost? 

2. The essentials of a waiver release form 

It is important to know and understand the essential components of the waiver release form that your church uses. While the form is especially pertinent to minors on mission trips, it is best practice to have every participant on the trip complete a waiver release form.

Waiver release forms alone are not enough when it comes to liability coverage for the church and the participants.

The form should be able to answer “who, what, when, why, and how.” Consider the following:

  • Who: The form is intended for parents or guardians of minors who are going on either a long or short trip away from church grounds. It can also be used for any activities that take place on church property. 
  • What: The purpose is for parents to give consent for their children to participate in activities with the church that may or may not be on the church campus. 
  • When: I recommend that the form be distributed several weeks, but no later than one week, prior to the event. Several weeks gives plenty of time for the parents to look over the form, become familiar with the event, and decide whether or not their child(ren) will participate.
  • Why: Implementing the form protects minors in your church and can permit a minor to be taken to a hospital for emergency medical care, if needed. It serves to guard the church, and any of its drivers, against liability issues whenever transporting minors, and can also prove helpful in determining who will be attending the trip or event so that those in charge can plan accordingly.
  • How: Keep this form on file and print it as needed. Be sure to give plenty of time when you announce a trip or event so that the participants can easily plan.

3. Liability insurance 

Is liability insurance pertaining to mission trips available to churches? I recently reached out to a good friend, Nolan Jackson, to ask him this very question. He has been in the insurance business since 1988, and he is able to provide liability insurance to churches in more than 20 states.

When it comes to foreign mission trips, Nolan Jackson says, 

One of the most important protections is the foreign liability coverage because most American insurance policies would only respond to a claim or lawsuit from an incident happening outside the U.S. if it is brought in a U.S. court. Otherwise, there would not be coverage under a church's policy.”

Nolan also shared that ideally most churches would pay an annual premium of about $1,250.00 minimum. This amount is just to cover the basics. For enhanced coverage, your church may incur additional costs. The amount of trips planned in a year may also affect your annual premium. 

While not every church may be able to purchase enhanced coverage, every church, by incorporating, is doing the one essential thing for protection. We will take a look at that next. 

(Related article: “Church Liability Insurance: One Step, Huge Relief”)

4. Essential liability coverage

Incorporation provides liability protection. By incorporating, state law separates the founder of a church or ministry from the dangers of liability lawsuits and misfortunes. 

Here is how it works. The laws of all fifty states provide that a corporation is a separate legal entity from its founders and members. The separation creates a legal concept known as indemnification. Under the indemnification rules, a board member, officer, or founder could not be held personally liable for the debt, liabilities, or judgments against the corporation. It prevents the consequence of one member's acts from falling personally upon all the members. 

“Be strong and courageous”

While your church continues to move forward in God’s will, keep in mind that He never gives us more than we can handle. It may seem like there is a lot to consider when it comes to mission trips, but “be strong and courageous” as God continues to use your church to make a difference in the world.

As it is important for you to protect those who participate in mission trips, it is just as important to protect your church. To do that, you must take the necessary legal steps. Our StartRIGHT® Program can help you do just that, whether you are starting a new church or your church has been operating for years! 

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If you have questions about the information in this blog, call our office today at 877-494-4655. One of our knowledgeable staff members will be happy to answer your questions. Give us a call today!

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Raul Rivera

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