To make our churches safe from abuse, we must be proactive.
Developing policies and procedures ahead of time, training and educating staff and volunteers, as well as partnering with abuse experts will set your church up well to be a safe place for your community. It is up to the pastors and leaders of a church to lead this charge.
Here are five essential action steps you can implement to begin protecting your church from predators and caring well for survivors of abuse.
The five essentials
“Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you” (Prov. 2:11).
It is imperative that church leaders are aware and understand the scourge of sexual abuse that exists in our country, world, and even inside the Church. Statistics tell us 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys (though many believe this is much higher) are sexually abused before they turn 18. Only a small percentage of these victims ever reveal their abuse. Church leaders must help our churches understand that the mission to prevent sexual abuse and our response to it is a clear and compelling gospel issue. It is not one we can ignore. We must face it head-on and not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear because it may be difficult.
Every church must train their members on how to prevent, identify and respond to sexual abuse. Sexual abuse awareness training is a foundational component of onboarding new staff and volunteers who will have access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. This reinforces a culture of zero tolerance. Church leaders must help dispel the idea that abuse can’t happen in our church, must not minimize it as a mistake, or must not think that doing a criminal background check is enough. Each church needs to be committed to an ongoing process of training and continually raising awareness of this issue.
“Therefore, each of you must put away falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25).
It is critical that churches implement a thorough screening process for anyone that will have access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. A thorough process ensures that individuals are suitable and compatible with your church’s policies and procedures. Every potential staff member and volunteer should go through the same screening process. Studies show more than 90% of children who are abused know their perpetrator as someone who they trust.
Relying only on background checks does not protect those in your ministry. While background checks must be done, churches need to gather more reliable information from several sources on applicants to determine their fitness for service. An in-depth screening process can drastically reduce the risk of abuse and increase safety for those in your church’s care. The six best practices for screening anyone wanting to serve with children, youth and vulnerable adults are:
- implementing a six-month waiting period,
- a written application,
- requesting and checking references,
- an interview,
- a background check,
- and a social media review.
Below are some helpful resources that can assist you in developing your church’s screening process.
- Sample application
- Sample reference questions
- Sample interview questions
- FCRA Summary of Rights (must be given to anyone having a background check run on them)
- Authorization for Background Check Form
To read all five tips from the ERLC, click here.
NOTE: This article was adapted from sbcabuseprevention.com, the website created by the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). This will be the future site of Ministry Check, which “will provide leaders with the ability to search for information about individuals who have been convicted, found liable, or confessed to abuse.” For future updates on the work of the ARITF, follow their website.
The information contained here is general in nature and is not intended to be legal advice. The Southern Baptist Convention encourages each church to consult with legal counsel when implementing local policies and practices.