For many people, churches are much more than just buildings. They are sacred spaces that carry great meaning to all who gather there for prayer, community, connection and spirituality. It is for these reasons that churches must take steps to provide safe spaces for occupants and mitigate risk on their properties. Purchasing insurance is a great way to fully protect congregants, visitors and assets of a church. This week, AkitaBox interviewed Walt Wellborn of Whitman Insurance Agency to help you gain insight on insurance best practices for your church (you can read part 2 of this FAQ series here).
AkitaBox: Walt, tell me a bit about yourself. How did you come to work in the insurance industry?
Walt Wellborn: I am fairly new to the insurance business, having first spent 20 years in IT. Today, I work with Whitman Insurance agency and focus on church insurance and personal lines. For the last 15 years, I have worked with asset management systems, which has given me great insight on the asset life cycle. Asset management is extremely important when joined with insurance.
AB: Why are you passionate about insuring churches?
Wellborn: I've always been passionate about churches. I was called to the ministry when I was ten years old and spent much of my youth doing revivals and music for the church. Now I serve as a commissioned minister with the Disciples of Christ. Every day, I see the struggles that churches have when it comes to understanding and buying insurance. I consider my work with these churches a ministry.
AB: What sets Whitman Insurance Agency apart from other insurance companies?
Wellborn: Whitman Insurance Agency is an independent agency. While we focus on churches and their needs, we are also able to help churches and congregants with everything from auto, health and life insurance to homeowners insurance. Being independent gives us the flexibility to find the right products to meet your needs, both financially and securely.
11 Frequently Asked Questions About Church Insurance
AB: What types of insurance should a church consider purchasing?
Wellborn: Many churches wonder what types of insurance they need for their organization. Examples of insurance that a church can buy include property insurance, contents or personal property insurance, liability insurance, commercial auto insurance, flood, wind, hail and earth movement insurance, workers’ compensation, event insurance and umbrella insurance.
AB: Typically, what is included in a church insurance package?
Wellborn: A church insurance package will generally include property insurance, liability insurance and workers’ compensation. Commercial auto and event insurance are usually separated out.
AB: What assets, equipment and machinery are typically covered within a church’s insurance?
Wellborn: Insurance will cover sanctuaries, air conditioning and heat, electrical, plumbing, commercial kitchens, family centers, schools and similar assets. Sometimes, insurance will also have endorsements for high-end property, including stained glass windows, pipe organs, expensive audio or video equipment, alters, railings and artwork.
AB: What qualities should a church look for in an insurance company before creating a partnership?
Wellborn: Churches should conduct research on insurance companies and work with one that directly deals with churches and their needs. Church Insurance is not like standard commercial or business insurance. There are similarities, but churches have specific needs that have to be met. It’s a good idea to make sure that the insurance company you choose to work with can meet your church’s unique insurance needs.
AB: Do churches have higher insurance premiums than other building types?
Wellborn: Sometimes, yes. Church buildings are different than regular commercial buildings. Churches, for instance, tend to be older and require more maintenance. Church buildings also elicit emotional attachment from the people who use them. For many, a church is much more than a building and assets. When we insure churches, we do our best to use replacement cost value over actual cost value. Our hope is to return a church to its ‘whole’ state as much as possible, especially after an incident occurs.
AB: Do churches have to carry additional insurance if volunteers (rather than employees) are performing custodial or maintenance tasks?
Wellborn: Many churches try to save on expenses by having volunteers take care of building maintenance. However, what many churches do not understand is that if a volunteer gets hurt, the church can be held liable. Volunteers are not covered by workers’ compensation. While the volunteer may not file a claim against the church’s insurance, significant medical costs or other costs associated with the incident may prompt the injured person’s family to file a claim. While a single incident may not affect the insurance premium too much, multiple claims can drive up the cost of liability premiums and even result in cancellation of insurance. Because of this, our insurance company likes to ask questions regarding who is doing maintenance at a church. The church’s answer will play a part in the cost of liability insurance.
AB: Are there any insurance-related discounts for new or updated equipment in a church facility?
Wellborn: Generally, there aren’t any discounts for new roofs, but there can be penalties for roofs that are in poor condition. Similarly, various mechanical-related changes can help a church save on premiums. For instance, many older churches have boilers. Converting boilers to forced air systems can help churches save a significant amount on their premium. Updating electrical, alarm systems and safety equipment can also save on premiums.
As far as discounts go, there are opportunities to save by adding lighting strike preventers, installing sprinkler systems, conducting regular inspections of alarms and utilizing fire prevention equipment. If your church has a school associated with it, hosting regular drills for fire, storm and active shooter situations can save on premiums as well.
AB: How do you handle a church’s insurance if they own a school or motor vehicles?
Wellborn: If the church owns the school, it can generally be added to liability without a problem, but schools that rent space from churches need to carry their own insurance. Vans and motor vehicles that are owned by the church are covered separately by a commercial auto policy. Many general policies for churches have endorsements that cover non-owned and hired vehicles.
AB: Does hosting community events at a church (such as funerals, fish fries or weddings) have an impact on church insurance?
Wellborn: Functions that are part of church activities are usually covered under the church’s general liability policy. Similarly, if a church member hosts an event (such as a wedding) at the church, this event will also be covered by the church’s general liability policy. If the church is rented by a non-member, the renter should acquire event insurance.
AB: Is it important for churches to have equipment breakdown coverage?
Wellborn: Having equipment breakdown insurance is generally not necessary. Most mechanical systems at a church will not cause life-threatening conditions if they fail. However, when it comes to components that are extremely expensive to repair, I do recommend that the church has some kind of service agreement in place.
AB: As a whole, why is it important for churches to buy insurance?
Wellborn: Today, most churches live on a very tight budget. Truth be told, a single incident without insurance can wipe out many churches financially. And yet, I still run into churches that feel they don’t need insurance.
FREE RESOURCES FOR CHURCH FACILITY MANAGERS
Oftentimes, pastors and church facility managers know the inner workings of their churches like the backs of their hands. However, there’s always room to learn and improve. To boost your knowledge on church insurance and church facilities operations, check out the following three online resources.
AkitaBox’s 2019 Guide to Church Care and Religious Facility Management: This free ebook is your essential guide to church facility management. Inside, you’ll find innovative church design ideas, budget best practices, efficient cleaning tips and more. Learn more about the ebook and its contents here.
Facility Management Software for Churches: For more information on the benefits of facility management software for churches, watch a video demonstration of AkitaBox software or contact a friendly AkitaBox representative for help.
Church Insurance Insight: To learn more about church insurance, follow Whitman Insurance Agency’s blog here.
About Walt Wellborn
Walt Wellborn serves as a full time pastor for First Christian Church in Fort Stockton, Texas. He also works as an agent for the Whitman Insurance Agency, where he advises churches on insurance best practices and provides education on how to best protect religious facilities from harm. In addition to helping religious organizations during his day job, Walt enjoys directing and teaching theater arts, writing classical orchestral and choral music, practicing photography and spending time with his five children and six grandchildren.