So what can you do? Follow these tips from Anita Weldon, who
executed this effective strategy at NorthRidge Church in Michigan
more than 15 years ago. (And in those 15 years, they’ve had no
situations of alleged or actual abuse, thank God.)
• Be prayerful and do your homework first.
• Contact your church insurance carrier (they provide helpful
information and appropriate wording).
• Contact other churches for volunteer application templates. Or
join Church Volunteer Central at churchvolunteercentral.com to access these
Kids LOVE these Sunday School resources!
• Obtain pastor and church board buy-in for volunteer
applications, references, and background checks.
• Form a Task Force of committed volunteers with administrative
skills (for every 20 volunteers you currently have, recruit one
task force member.)
• The task force’s purpose is to develop a New Volunteer Process
to include Volunteer Application, Background Check, Personal
Interview, Reference Checks, Policy and Procedure development, and
training. Do this quickly; don’t drag out this process.
• Meet with your children’s ministry leadership (volunteer and
staff), and have them each complete an application and follow the
process. Share at the volunteer meeting that ministry leaders have
already completed the process you’re asking them to do.
• Schedule a children’s ministry team meeting with the theme
Providing a Safe Environment for Our Children. The end goal is to
have every volunteer at the meeting complete the Volunteer
• Mail volunteers who can’t attend the meeting a Volunteer
Application with a cover letter describing your new procedure and
the value it’ll bring to children in your ministry. Require them to
submit the completed application prior to serving.
• The task force processes Volunteer Applications, Reference
Checks, and Background Checks.
• File and keep all Volunteer Applications in a secure locked file
• Stay the course. Expect some people to resist and be offended
that you’re requiring them to complete an application. This is a
• Develop and require a volunteer application for youth. (Criminal
history records for minors aren’t public, so there’s no need for a
background check. However, do request and check references.)
• Review processes and recheck backgrounds and references
annually. Jack Hayford, president of the Foursquare Church,
requires all his churches to recheck criminal backgrounds for all
volunteers every year.
Is it worth the time and money? Consider this: Last year, Church
Volunteer Central provided background checks for more than 100,000
church volunteers and discovered that 6,000 had criminal records.
Yes, it’s worth the time and money. Our prayer at Children’s
Ministry Magazine is that this will be the generation where the
church works together to do everything reasonably possible
to protect children from sexual abuse in the name of God. Let’s aim
for 100 percent of churches conducting background and reference
“We must acknowledge that there is sin in the world and it does
not stay outside of the doors of the church,” says Myles. “But
Jesus values children more than the world does, and we know that
from his life and ministry. The Church ought to be paving the way
and setting the standard in the child protection field…never
playing catch-up like so many of us are.”
Christine Yount Jones is executive editor of Children’s
safety & security protocols
“The best advice for children’s ministry leaders in regard to
background checks is: Don’t consider them totally reliable,” warns
Jon Holsten. “It’s absolutely imperative that churches run checks
on children’s ministry volunteers; however, it’s also important to
understand that only those individuals who have been arrested (or
convicted) for prior offenses will be flagged. Just because a
background check comes back clear doesn’t mean the person is
completely trustworthy. Children’s ministry leaders must keep that
reality in mind when developing safety protocols designed to
protect all children.”
So don’t stop with background and reference checks for all staff
and volunteers. Implement these policies as well. While this isn’t
an exhaustive list, it is considered “best practices” by leading
churches in the area of safety and security.
• Extensive Training-Fully train your staff in
understanding abuse and your safety and security procedures.
Require each person to sign a form of completion that they’ve
received each training. A helpful resource about abuse is the “ACT
to Keep Children Safe” video training at safechurch.com. Also, check
out the Catholic-church-inspired Safe and Sacred Churches (safeandsacred.com) for
online training and certification.
• Facility Security-Create a secure children’s
ministry area, whether it’s housed in a separate wing or no one is
allowed in the area except parents with tags or volunteers with
identification. Don’t make your children’s ministry area a
thoroughfare for church members. Unsupervised exit doors should
sound an alarm if opened. Close and lock all rooms when not in
• Staff Identification-Identify your staff with
name badges, photo badges, ministry T-shirts, color-coded lanyards,
or logoed uniforms. Identification isn’t optional.
• In-Room Visibility-Install two-way mirrors or
windows in every classroom for monitoring.
• Check-In/Check-Out System-Establish a safe and
secure check-in/check-out procedure. You can use a simple paper or
sticker receipt system. Or you can avoid the long lines and have an
intricate management system by using a computerized check-in
system, such as those advertised in this issue. Close your ministry
area 20 minutes after check-in. Any visitors dropping off kids
after that must be escorted.
• Two-Adult Rule-Use the “two-adult rule” that
requires volunteers to never be alone with kids. Married couples
count as “one.”
• Restroom Procedures-Have child-only restrooms.
And, if not, clear restrooms before children enter for use. Never
allow men to have restroom duty. Each room must have a female
volunteer for restroom duty and diaper-changing.