The Ins and Outs of Church Inventories

Submitted by Jan Thames

As much as we would like to think that it will never happen, every parish has the potential of a devastating natural or man-made disaster: a tornado, flood, fire, earthquake, and ice or snow storm, bombing or shooting. While we can only minimally prevent them, we can prepare for them. If disaster strikes, is your church prepared?

Developing a detailed property inventory is the first step towards ensuring your church will survive a damaging loss. As noted in resources available from Episcopal Relief & Development, the three first steps to protecting your property are:

  1. Identifying what you have. Make a list of your major assets.
  2. Recording the details of this property.
    • Make a written inventory of any property, buildings and building contents. It should list what you have and provide appraisals when possible. (If you need a starting place, first begin to identify the big ticket items at your church such as sound equipment, audio-visual equipment, musical instruments and kitchen equipment.)
    • Make a visual record with a camera and/or a handheld video camera: lay out your valuables – vestments, silver, artwork, historical items, etc. Take photos of each or, with a camcorder, pan slowly across each. Continue the visual record by walking through buildings/properties, stopping at specific points for more detail as needed. Although it is important to document specialty items, such as rare artwork or artifacts, and big ticket items, such as audiovisual, musical, sound and office equipment, remember also to include smaller items in the inventory. Small items, such as hymnals, folding chairs, books and sheet music, add up when you have them in large quantities.
    • Keep one copy of the written and visual inventories in a protected place at the church and keep a second copy in a remote location.
  3. Determining what needs to be removed or protected.
    • Identify what should be protected or removed. This may include protecting the organ, piano, windows, or archives; quake-proofing furniture, etc.
    • Decide and record what will be protected, by whom, when, where, and how. Buy any supplies needed to protect those objects, and have them readily accessible.
    • Draw a simple floor plan of your building(s), showing the location of the organ, piano, paper records, archives, etc. and file it with your local fire department.
    • Make sure copies of your insurance information are kept in a safe on site and in a safe place off-site.
    • The property inventory should be updated on a regular basis, either annually or biannually.

If you periodically replace your church’s computers or other technology, it probably would be a good idea if you repeat your video or photo session every two or three years so that it’s up to date. Even better would be to use the new items as seed entries on a written inventory. The purchase information regarding where, when, and how much you paid for something will never be more readily available along with its description, model number and serial number.

A standardized Parish Inventory workbook is available from the Church Pension Fund.