Main Menu

Risk management urges conference to embrace new mindset: protecting ministry

Risk management urges conference to embrace new mindset: protecting ministry

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Risk management urges conference to embrace new mindset: protecting ministry

Oct. 9, 2006  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0558}

An e-Review Feature
By John Michael De Marco**

Mickey Wilson wants to see the Florida Conference risk management program embraced as ministry protection rather than building insurance. The Florida Conference Cabinet agrees.

“I’d like to change the thought process around risk management,” Wilson told e-Review in early September, the same week he made a successful presentation to the cabinet on why this change in perspective is essential.

Conference treasurer Mickey Wilson said protecting ministry should be the conference's goal in order “to assure we continue to have UMYF, church schools, camps and other ministries.” Photo courtesy of Florida Conference Camps and Retreat Ministries, Photo #06-446. Web photo only.

It’s one of Wilson’s first big pushes as the conference’s new treasurer and director of administrative services. “It’s about making sure we can still have ministry and that we’re insuring the ministry,” he said. “We’ve got to think differently if we’re going to do that. We can look at that as a ministry issue, not as an insurance issue.”

Many congregations have battled rising insurance premium costs in recent years, particularly those associated with the rash of hurricanes that have impacted numerous districts since the fall of 2004. At the beginning of 2006 churches found themselves paying higher deductibles and an average of 65 percent more for property and casualty insurance premiums. With that experience and the potential for future strong storms it’s been hard for some churches to keep from getting bogged down in the numbers.

At the risk management committee meeting last month members considered calling themselves The Committee for Ministry Protection, according to Wilson.

The Rev. Dr Anne Burkholder, director of the conference’s Connectional Ministries office and a member of the cabinet, says she has always been concerned about the impression an office of risk management in a church body represents.

“The church is not called to be about the business of managing risk,” she said. “We are called to risk and sacrifice much on behalf of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but the work of this office should be about ensuring the ministry we are called to fulfill can be accomplished. We should not be wrapped up in protecting the institutional church.”

This progressive thinking about risk management dovetails with the conference’s new participation in the national CONNECT database, which enables churches to have more input and control over their property insurance coverage, potentially leading to cost savings and more accurate policies. The database was activated Sept. 12, and information on how to use CONNECT is posted on the conference Web site at Churches have been using the database to verify their property coverage information.

With a ministry-focused mindset about risk management, Wilson said the conference can look to other sources for assistance in dealing with insurance expenses. “With this shift there is the potential for outside funding. We can look internally at our own annual budget to see about making it a line item,” he said. “There are a variety of things we can do to help us fund this ever increasing insurance problem.”

Wilson asserted ensuring the protection of ministry is not a problem unique to the Florida Conference. The state of Florida faces its own challenges in protecting the services it provides to a growing population. “It’s a problem McDonald’s has, that the warehouse guy has, that the Shell Station has. Insurance in Florida is going to be a big problem, and we’ve got to start looking at it as protecting the ministry of our churches.”

Pastors should be thrilled with this new manner of approaching risk management, Wilson added, because they will now be able to place it in the same category as new church development or ministry excellence.

“I think pastors ought to be encouraged by a different mindset that says the reason we insure our buildings is not to build them back, but to ensure what goes on inside that church,” he said. “It starts with understanding what we’re all about as The United Methodist Church, having us be aware that we will still be a United Methodist church without buildings. ... Christ never had a church building. What we’re asking the person in the pew is not to give money so we can buy insurance for our building, but to give money so we can ensure the church school still exists, that we have Wednesday night services, that we still have room at the inn.”

It’s also a shift from processing claims to education — teaching churches how to prevent accidents. That, said Wilson, will help assure the future of ministry.

“We don’t send our kids to driver’s education in order to save 15 percent on our insurance policy. We send them so they become safe drivers and they and others on the roads are kept out of harm’s way,” he said. “We do background checks on those working with our children to avoid unwanted incidents, because that’s part of our ministry to children and youth, not because the insurance companies want us to.”

Wilson says that may sound a lot like managing risk, but the distinction is an important and necessary one in order “to assure we continue to have UMYF, church schools, camps and other ministries.” “The change in culture and vision is different when we focus on ‘protecting the ministry,’ rather than protecting the buildings,” he added.

Wilson and other conference leaders have taken recent field trips to investigate creative approaches to risk management and compare how other conferences and denominations are dealing with the issue. The North Texas Conference has embraced a conference-wide risk management plan, which Wilson said is the wave of the future, while other conferences leave each church on its own in terms of property insurance coverage.

During a trip to Chicago, Wilson and others sat at the same table with their counterparts from such denominations as the Catholic Church, Southern Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Salvation Army.

“Everyone had the exact same problem in insuring buildings — whether that insurance was mudslide and earthquake insurance in California or wind damage insurance in the plain states or flood insurance,” he said. “Every single religion was absolutely on board that this has nothing to do with insuring the parsonage, but making sure we continue our ministries.”

Wilson said this same multi-denominational group will convene again in February 2007 to “begin forming some alliances and using the purchasing power of all the religious organizations to spread the risk and, in doing so, lower the premiums for every one of our churches.”

So what can a local church or pastor to do help internalize this new attitude toward risk management within the congregation?

“I think when the congregation understands why they’re being asked to give (insurance premiums), and the reason is to protect the ministry of the church, I feel people embrace that process,” Wilson said. “The first step is that the bishop and the district superintendents are absolutely on board with the redefinition of risk management to ministry protection and they articulate that to the individual pastors and that we all support that change in philosophy.”

This article relates to Risk Management/Administration.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.