I imagine the worst-case scenario for many churches would look something like this: you receive a phone call from one of the members in the congregation informing you that their child has been abused by one of the youth ministry volunteers. To make matters worse the parents are so furious they demand that the church be held liable and you will be hearing from their attorney soon. Within a few days the church attorney contacts you and asks the following question: “What policies do you have in place to help prevent things like this from occuring?” Slowly the sinking feeling grows in the pit of your stomach as you answer – “Nothing.”
While this example may seem a bit extreme it happens every single week here in the United States. According to a recent Barna study, only 57 percent of the pastors who were polled said their church conducts background and reference checks on those who work with children and youth. This type of negligence is exactly why many risk-consultants fear that the church may be the pedophiles’ last refuge because screening doesn’t exist in churches where volunteers are so desperately needed.
So how can you avoid your worst-case scenario? Here are a few things you need to know as you get started:
1. Start at the top – Even if you know for an absolute fact that there is nothing to find on your executive staff it will make it much easier to explain to your volunteers when you lead by example. Volunteers will be much more understanding if you have told them you have already had a background check done on yourself! Be sure to screen all staff members working with minors and regularly re-screen those staff members so you always have a current background check on file.
2. Create a policy and document it in writing – The old saying “we’ve always done it this way” isn’t going to cut it when it comes to this area of your ministry. And people need to understand the need to accept new ideas and methods of operation when it comes to something as important as child protection policies. Having a clear policy that includes background checks that is written and accepted by the staff and leadership of the church is crucial. Make sure that it explains why backgrounds are important and which volunteer positions will be checked. Also be sure the policy is approved by your church governing board and incorporate it into the staff handbook.
Next month we will discuss more steps you can take to ensure that your church has an effective child safety policy in place.
For more information please call (800) 319-5581