Three Real Risks for your Church this Holiday Season

Most congregations will see an increase in attendance over the coming days as many individuals will come to church for the Christmas holiday. If your congregation plans to celebrate Christmas with a festive holiday service this year, be prepared for the risks that come with increased attendance and seasonal décor.

“While the type of claims at Christmastime are like those we see most often the rest of the year, we do see an increase in the number of claims as churches are more active,” says Brian Gleason, Senior Risk Manager at GuideOne Insurance. “Our loss leaders are fires (many of them electrical), water damage and slips and falls.”

Keep your holiday service full of joy by learning more about three of the most common losses and how to reduce your risk of experiencing them this Christmas.

Risk 1: Fires

Christmas Trees

  • Prior to decorating your tree, check light strands for cracked cords, frayed ends or burned out bulbs. These may increase your chances of a mishap or electrical fire. Opt for newer, safer strands that have strong connections and built-in fuses.
  • To prevent drying out a live tree, it should be kept at minimum three feet away from a heat source, and the stand should be filled with water every day.
  • According to the National Fire Protection Association, 25% of Christmas tree fires begin with a heat source, such as a candle or equipment, too close to the tree. And if your Christmas tree is underwatered, a flashover can happen in less than one minute, causing considerable damage and danger.
  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the “fire resistant” label.  This label indicates that the tree is less likely to burn and can be extinguished quickly if it catches fire.

Decorative & Religious Candles

  • “Candle lighting is often a part of holiday events,” Gleason says. “The last thing you need is to spread that flame in an uncontrolled manner." He recommends using non-flammable holders for candles or a flame-free alternative such as LEDs, glow sticks or battery-operated candle lights.
  • Do not leave candles lit in an unattended room.
  • Keep candles at least 12 inches away from any material that can burn.

Risk 2: Water Damage

Frozen Pipes

  • Frozen pipes are a leading cause of water damage and property loss during this time of year. Review The Cold, Hard Facts About Frozen Pipes, and take steps to prepare your building for winter weather.
  •  “With staff taking extra time off over the cold holidays, it is not uncommon to come back to damage from frozen pipes,” Gleason says. “Before leaving for the holidays, be sure to set the thermostat to at least 50 degrees or shut off the water and drain the system when the building will not be in use. We would also recommend installing a water leak and freeze detector or perform regular inspections during the time off.”

Puddles & Leaks

  • When snow and ice melt, water can accumulate inside the building at the entrances from foot traffic. These areas should be closely monitored for wet conditions and promptly dried if water has collected. Make sure mats are in place and replaced if they become water logged.
  • Conduct inspections for water leaks from appliances, windows, doors or roofs, which can cause additional safety hazards or property damage. Make any necessary repairs as soon as possible.

Risk 3: Slips & Falls


  • Keep extension cords out of walkways and don’t run them under rugs or furniture. “Each year, about 4,000 injuries associated with electric extension cords are treated in hospital emergency rooms,” says the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). “50% of these injuries involve fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains from people tripping over extension cords.”
  • Areas that may increase exposure to potential trip or slip hazards, such as uneven ground or strung holiday lights, can be isolated by closing them to the general public. Make sure that by closing an area off, you are not redirecting foot traffic to other slip and trip hazards. (For example, re-routing sidewalk traffic that requires a user to step off the curb into a parking lot.)
  • Make sure your Christmas trees are secured in stable stands and don’t cause any obstructions to walkways or emergency exits. 

Dim Lights

  • “If the event will be held in the dark, for example at a carols evening or in a darkened theater environment,” Gleason says, “provide sufficient lighting for visibility and to prevent slips and falls.”
  • Remove tripping hazards such as buckled rugs or loose cables or cords from walkways and aisles.
  • In stairwells, provide a light switch at the top and the bottom of the stairs whenever possible, or keep the lights on during hours of potential use.

Snow & Ice Removal

  • Be proactive about de-icing walkways to entrances by applying products, and have snow and ice removal equipment ready to be used when needed.
  • Identify walking surfaces that may be susceptible to runoff from roofs, downspouts and other areas, as ice could develop here.


Filed under Church
Amber Riffo

Amber Riffo

Corporate Communications Strategist

Amber supports the Corporate Communications team by creating and executing content for GuideOne's external audiences. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in public relations and psychology from Iowa State University. When not at work, Amber enjoys creative hobbies, such as videography and water-color painting, and will play volleyball any chance she gets. 

© 2022 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved. This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.