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EXPECTATIONS GAP: Four Background Check Pitfalls that Undercut Your Church’s Security – and One Easy Way to Avoid Them

Your church families have high expectations when it comes to background checks for your ministries’ volunteers. Are you meeting their expectations? According to a new study… maybe not. But you should. And best of all – you can!

Let’s take a look at how your church can close the background check expectation gap.

First, the data: Church Mutual Insurance Company, which insures nonprofits, schools, and houses of worship, has released its new Risk Radar Report – State of Volunteerism in America.

They surveyed respondents who regularly attend or frequent an organization that uses volunteers, as well as actual volunteers. Here’s what they found:

  • 52% of survey respondents expect volunteers to have undergone criminal background checks. But only 33% of the volunteers surveyed indicated that they had such a check as part of the screening process for their position.
  • Similarly, 46% of respondents expect volunteers to undergo employment background checks – but just 24% of volunteers reported being subject to this screening.
  • Finally, 41% or respondents expect organizations to conduct National Sex Offender Public Registry screening of their volunteers. The reality? Just 16% of volunteers went through this screening.

We know there’s a gap between what people expect of volunteer screening for nonprofits and churches, and what’s actually taking place. The question you’re probably asking now is: “Why?”

Let’s quickly go over four background check pitfalls that can make a church’s volunteer screening process fall short.


PITFALL #1: Believing that a Nationwide search is all-encompassing.

The truth is, not all background checks are created equal. ​​A Nationwide Search is an excellent place to start but there’s no single source for all information. Not the Nationwide Criminal Database. Not even the FBI (more on that in a moment!).​​

Think about the Nationwide Criminal Database. It sounds very comprehensive, but not all jurisdictions report to the National Criminal Database. It’s an excellent supplemental tool to point you to where to conduct more in-depth county-level searches, considered the gold standard in criminal records sources. Relying solely on a national database search provides breadth but no depth of investigations.

PITFALL #2: Thinking the FBI has all the answers.

Many people (including some church leaders and volunteer organizers) believe that the FBI has most, if not all, information regarding criminal records and is the most accurate source for background checks. In reality, the FBI database is a law enforcement tool that wasn’t designed for employers and volunteer organizations. Like any other database, it’s not 100% reliable and complete.

This is due to varying state-by-state and county-by-county reporting infrastructure and rules – with many locations not reporting up to the FBI’s system.​​ The Justice Department admits that almost 50% of their background check records are incomplete and do not contain the final outcome of a case.​​ Plus, an FBI search often relies on records of individuals who have been fingerprinted. But many crimes in numerous states get processed without fingerprints. ​​

The Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) conducted a side-by-side comparison of professional background screening and FBI fingerprint checks – the results illustrate why it’s so important for churches to go beyond the FBI database.

PITFALL #3: Assuming that church volunteers have good intentions.

We all want to think the best of people. This urge is especially prevalent in a church setting. Those who serve in our ministries are inherently “good people” – right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Predators and criminals exploit this very good-hearted instinct to gain access to churches’ families, children, resources, and operations.

A thorough, thoughtful screening process for your staff and volunteers is the best way to make sure you have the best people serving in your ministries. (And if potential predators know that your church requires extensive background screening for volunteers, they’re likely to steer clear of your church and that scrutiny altogether.)

PITFALL #4: Letting the “bottom line” undercut your background checks.

You want to be a good steward of the church budget. That’s admirable! But it may tempt you to select the lowest cost search which can put you at the highest risk. Remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Due to the careful nature of background checks and the laws regulating the collection of a person’s private information, reliable background screening providers will take two to three days to deliver results for you. And those results will be more comprehensive and trustworthy.

So is it possible for churches to establish a screening process that meets the congregation’s expectations, protects church members, and respects individuals’ privacy?

Yes, there is. The best thing you can do is consult with a PBSA-accredited provider (like Protect My Ministry) who will listen to your needs and develop a screening plan that meets your expectations and budget.

Think about those pitfalls mentioned above – our PLUS Package is a great way to avoid them!

It includes address history, National Criminal Database search, Nationwide Sex Offender search. Re-verification of criminal records, alias names, and a county or statewide criminal court search. PLUS, it includes a criminal court search that checks names for any criminal history (felony and misdemeanors where available), at the county or state level.

Protect My Ministry serves over 35,000 ministries across the nation. To see how we can provide you and your church families the most thorough, reliable screening process possible, call 800-319-5581 or connect with us here to get started.