This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue.
By Larry Hipps
Larry Hipps heads the Bring Them In Ministries, www.bringthemin.com. He is the president of the International Bus Ministry Association and the author of several books.
In my line of work, I am often asked about permission slips and medical release forms when it comes to churches and their bus ministries. Many churches pose the following questions:
* Should we use them?
* Which ones are best?
* Are they worth the trouble?
* What can we do to get people to return them to the church?
These are the issues that come up the most at our training events and by e-mail. Here are the answers we usually give.
Should we use them?
Your church will have to decide this one. Many churches with bus ministries would never let a child on their bus or van without a completed permission form.
By the same token, some of the largest churches with bus ministries have never used permission slips and have never had any problems.
Our suggestion is that your church should talk to a lawyer; get his advice and then follow it.
Which ones are best?
The churches that use permission slips and medical release forms use all sorts of documents written all sorts of ways. There are some general forms available; you will just want to personalize them for your church and use your own information.
Are they worth the trouble?
Ask any lawyer and you get, “Yes and no,” for the answer. “Yes,” they help protect you and your riders. “No,” they won’t keep you from getting sued.
If a child gets sick or hurt at your church, the medical release form can allow you to get treatment at the local emergency room, and a permission slip will show “due diligence” should you ever have to go to court.
But, just because a parent signed a form that says, “I will not hold First Church or any of its members responsible for any injury my child should receive while in their care,” doesn’t mean they will not sue your church in the event of an accident.
What can we do to get people to return them to the church?
Most churches have their workers get the information and parental signatures when they enlist or follow up on new riders.
Robby Greene, the children’s pastor at Lavon Drive Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, has one of the largest bus ministries in the country. He shared that, once a year, his church has a special month in which any rider that returns an updated form gets a special treat. He says it works well and helps keep their rider records up-to-date.
Keeping good up-to-date records and getting permission slips and medical forms from parents are difficult tasks, but most churches using these forms believe it is worth the effort. Just do not fall into the trap of “living in fear.”
Some churches have stopped their buses or vans simply because they are worried about lawsuits. They get so concerned about the possibly of getting sued, they figure that using buses or vans is not worth the risk. That is faulty thinking, and a church that is constantly afraid will never be able to minister as it should.
Whatever your church decides about permission slips and medical release forms, just be sure to get the best information you can as you make those decisions. Remember the mission of your bus ministry: to help your church successfully reach boys and girls and their families for Christ.