Dan Pezet

Church Recreation – Hiring Fitness Instructors

     Many churches are offering aerobics and other classes and have asked my opinion (former recreation director) about whether or not instructors should be employees of the church or private contractors. They also ask whether or not instructors should collect the participants fees. In an effort to establish community relationships, recreation programs in churches are becoming more and more popular. Here’s my advice:

  • Consult Your Local Experts:
    Do not accept any of this advice without being in conversation with three important people – your attorney, your accountant, and your insurance agent. Laws may vary from state to state. Also, many states have pending legislation that, if passed, may change the way fitness professionals are licensed.
  • Employee verses Independent Contractor:
    Seeing as exercise classes are not considered a regular function of the church, you may retain instructors as independent contractors. In a recreation setting, all classes should be on a subscription basis (whether per month, class, etc.), and the instructors’ contracts should renew at least yearly. This gives you flexibility to adjust your class offerings based on demand. Employee status implies a more sturdy and permanent relationship.

    • Contracts:
      The independent contractor relationship is made official by a contract. This does not have to be a lengthy document filled with legalese, but I would include the following:

      • A description of responsibilities
      • Requirements (e.g. accreditation, licensing, insurance, first aid requirements)
      • Length of contract
      • Conditions of Termination (30 day notice by either party, etc.)
      • Payment terms – Flat fee, percentage, sliding scale, etc. (I always liked a 80/20 split)
      • 1099 Information – Let the instructor know in the contract that if he or she makes more than $600 that the church will have to send them an IRS Form 1099.
      • Transferability – Are you contracting with Jane Doe, or with Jane Doe Fitness? If it is just Jane Doe, then you can expect Jane Doe to conduct class. If it is Jane Doe fitness, Jane might send any of her instructors for the class! Make sure to identify who can teach.
    • Insurance: 
      Check with your insurance agent to see what the insurance needs are. Some churches require all independent contractors to carry their own Workers Compensation insurance. At a minimum, a fitness instructor should be required to carry liability insurance. If someone has a heart attack trying to follow orders from the instructor, they could sue the instructor. A $300 liability policy will cover the instructor for $1,000,000. An AFAA certified instructor probably already carries this insurance.
    • Accreditation:
      I strongly recommend AFAA. There are other quality certifications out there, but AFAA is the most popular. There is a new development called the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE). They have developed an exam that tests the competency of fitness professionals and may become a requirement in the near future.
    • Accepting Payment:
      Churches must own their programs. It is upsetting to see churches outsource their recreation facility to the YMCA or the nearest Karate studio so that the recreation building becomes a rental mall for recreation professionals. Churches must own their recreation programs for them to be a successful ministry of the church. One important way of knowing whether or not the church owns its recreation programs is to see who the participants are paying. Recreation participants should submit fees to the church, not the instructor. This keeps the church responsible for the atmosphere and quality of the program. If a participant has a bad experience, the church will have the power to refund a month’s fee, make judgment on what type of music is played, and ensure that bookkeeping is legitimate. The church, in turn, pays the instructor as per the terms of the contract.