Weather-related natural disasters.
A once-in-a-century pandemic.
Civil unrest leading to property damage.
Those and many other events in the past year have played havoc with insurance rates for churches both in the Great Plains Conference and nationwide.
“What we’re experiencing right now is kind of a perfect storm in terms of insurance,” Scott Brewer, conference treasurer and director of administrative services, said. “It’s not exclusive to any of our churches or programs, but it is our reality.”
Churches in the former Kansas East Conference, who are under a mandatory insurance program, saw their premiums raise as much as 40%. Churches elsewhere in the Great Plains saw the premiums skyrocket to as much as 60%.
That’s why the conference board of trustees and Council of Finance and Administration, or CFA, are providing grants to churches who have seen sharp increases in insurance premiums.
The board of trustees has committed $850,000 from its reserves to decrease that hike to about 20% for individual churches.
“A 20% increase is still a heck of a lot,” Brewer said.
In February, the CFA committed an additional $650,000 for any church in the Great Plains that has seen an increase of more than 10% in its premium.
An application form is being developed now, Brewer said, but applications will not be reviewed or processed before June 1. About half of the churches in the Great Plains renew their policies mid-year, he said, and the conference didn’t want to give an advantage to those who renewed at the beginning of the year.
“We don’t yet know what the total financial impact is going to look like for churches that have yet to renew this year,” Brewer said. “I feel reasonably confident that that $650,000 will cover that excess increase for all of churches in the conference.”
The board of trustees, he added, is working on long-term policy changes that will stabilize premiums.
“There are many options that are on the table right now,” Brewer said. “We’ve got a small group of experts who are identifying alternatives.”
Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, chair of the board of trustees, said the board is researching some options for insurance, which may be introduced at the annual conference session in May. She said the former Kansas East churches not having their own right to choose is “problematic.”
“It just seems like a real artifact to me, at this point, to have any program of our Great Plains Conference that has mandatory participation based upon former conference lines,” said Ahlschwede, pastor of Omaha St. Paul Benson UMC. “Enough time has passed, it’s OK to move to something that’s good for the whole conference. We’ll likely have more choices for those churches.”
Rev. Zach Anderson, chair of the CFA and pastor of Goodland UMC in Kansas, said financial aid for churches was a necessity.
“Our thought was coming out of COVID and everyone in a reset mode for what’s normal, trying to figure out where we are financially, this is an added burden of top of everything,” he said. “We thought the conference could help alleviate that stress and help the local churches.”
Brewer said that churches were part of a “soft market” for insurance from 2017-2020, where premiums remained the same and were even lower than the rate in 2016.
“Our churches enjoyed three really good years, but in that period of time, the market went from soft to very hard,” he said. “That means the cost of insurance is much, much higher, and it means that insurers are much less willing to take on lots of risks and offer policies that have low deductibles.”
Churches in the Great Plains Conference saw an average of $650 increase in their premiums, Brewer said, with some churches seeing no increase and others facing tens of thousands of dollars.
Anderson said it made sense for the conference to help alleviate the insurance burden that individual churches may face.
“We’re hoping this can make it feasible for churches to do their normal ministries and not be burdened by this huge increase,” he said.
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