Most churches are working hard to get every member of the church community involved with one ministry or another. Some screen every potential volunteer to ensure safety and a good fit while others choose to save time and money by skipping this process. After all, most churches don’t have unlimited resources.
But as the need for background checks increases and the number of providers grows, the cost continues to drop. Even churches with a tight budget can afford to run background checks. In fact, they can’t afford not to.
Why you should be running background checks
Many churches see hundreds of kids come through their doors each weekend. Although we’d like to think that our families are completely safe there, not everyone worshipping with us has a clean record. And some of those people are trying to volunteer within the church—including the children’s ministry.
LifeWay found that in their program, of the 142,000 background checks conducted by 7,700 churches since 2008, nearly half revealed a criminal offense, and 21% contained serious offenses including over 9,000 felonies.
God changes lives—even the lives of those who have a criminal record. But the church needs to actively seek out this information in order to keep predators away from children and protect the church community.
If you don’t do your research before opening up volunteer opportunities, your church and those who are serving could face unfair accusations and a damaged testimony. Conducting background checks and training everyone who serves will help to protect your ministry.
Parents’ peace of mind
When parents know you’ve done your homework to ensure that their kids are in safe hands, they’ll be able to focus on worship and want to come back. As the holiday season approaches and attendance spikes, make sure your church is an environment where visitors feel safe.
Background check best practices
Determine how often you’ll perform background checks on current staff and volunteers. Many organizations choose to repeat them annually, while others wait two to five years to update records. But some insurance carriers will deny coverage unless churches repeat background checks every 12 months.
You should also consider how you’ll handle any situation where someone leaves the church or takes a break from serving, then comes back. Most churches will restart the process.
Will you make each staff member and volunteer go through the background check process before they can serve or only those who will be working with children and financial information? Because many duties will overlap, enforcing background checks for everyone involved in ministry is the recommended practice.
Make sure that you’re not only running background checks on people who are new to your church but also those people who have been serving for 25 years before you implemented new standards. You might get some pushback, so help them understand the importance of these policies.
Create a process for handling results and respect the privacy of your church community. Keep hard copies in a locked file and digital records secured with a password. Limit the number of people who handle this sensitive information.
Make a plan for dealing with any unfavorable issues that come up from background check results. You may have to ask people to volunteer with another ministry because of a checkered past. Handle these situations delicately.
You’ve got a lot of options when choosing where you’ll get background checks done. Consider companies like SecureSearch that understand the unique needs of your church.
The extent of background checks will probably vary based on the person’s role, but you have a variety of resources available to you. (Keep in mind that some information also varies by state)
- County and state criminal records
- National criminal and sex offender database
- Motor vehicle records
- Employment and education verification
- Credit history
Develop a policy for background checks and stick to it. Otherwise people may feel like they’re being singled out or you could make an exception that could be devastating to your church.
Don’t stop there
Background checks are important, but they’re not always enough. You can do even more to make sure you’re providing a safe environment at your church.
- Use discretion when assigning volunteers. Look for warning signs. Just because someone doesn’t have a record, doesn’t mean they should be working with kids.
- Be smart. Avoid private one-on-one situations and always keep at least two adults in a room with children.
- Be proactive and keep people accountable. Enforce a policy that requires staff and volunteers to alert the church of any arrests or legal issues.
- Invest in training. Help those serving in your church know what characteristics and behaviors to look out for and how to avoid risky circumstances.
Make it easier with technology
Integrate background checks with your church management software to save a few steps and run automated reports. You’ll avoid entering those details into your database, always find the results when you need them, and have a simpler way to get updated information.
Check out these other resources on background checks and making your church a safe environment:
Image credits: istockphoto.com