One of the most disturbing realities pastors face is the vulnerability of their churches. Because churches are, by definition open to everyone, they are also seen as easy targets by predators and abusers. In her book Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, And Other Sex Offenders author Anna Salter discusses how serial abusers prey on the human instinct to believe the best about people, which makes churches particularly appealing targets.
"The guys say to me they like church people best because they look for the good in everybody," Salter said. "People have to separate out likeability and trust. People believe that if somebody is likeable, they are also trustworthy. But some of the worst psychopaths are extremely likeable."
What this means is that the old model of children’s ministry - where good volunteers are those with a “heart for kids” and signing in and checking out systems are loose and trust-based - are not only unreliable, but a non-negotiable dealbreaker. They simply can’t happen. As Salter says "We don't have to know a guy is a pedophile to keep him from getting access to our kids. We have to be pretty sure he's not to give him access."
One of the most important questions every church leader has to answer is “how are we doing everything we can to protect the most vulnerable members of our community from the most harmful people?” Fortunately, there are answers to this. It’s possible for every church to create systems and structures within their children’s ministry that ensure they are doing everything they can to protect their flock.
Background Checks On Every Volunteer
Every volunteer at your church needs to have a background check, but especially anyone even remotely associated with your children’s ministry. One of the most common practices of a predator is to leave an area where he is under suspicion, and find a new community to engage in who doesn’t know him. Simply requiring a background check would be enough to ward off some predators, and there are several organizations that provide this service for churches. (Christian Background Checks is one of our preferred service providers).
No Adult Is Every Alone With A Child
While background checks are vital, they obviously can’t catch first time predators, or predators who have never been caught. Predators are highly skilled at sensing which church cultures are actively looking for people like them, and which ones are trusting. One of the easiest ways to communicate clearly “this is not a safe place for abusers” is to institute a rule where no volunteer is ever alone with a child. While this will create a strain for some churches–especially smaller churches with a limited volunteer pool–it also communicates to everyone from predators to parents that guarding a child’s safety is one of your highest priorities.
Advanced Check-in/Pick-Up Systems
A popular tool many churches have–and that Church Community Builder offers–is a ticketed check in system. If a parent is dropping off a child for the first time they quickly fill out their basic information, are added to the church database, and receive a coded sticker for their child to wear, and a “receipt” ticket with the matching code on it. Before any child is allowed to leave the parent has to show the ticket to the volunteer, who then makes sure the code and ticket match. It’s simpler than it sounds, and creates a culture of security, responsibility, and professionalism.
There are other steps you can take–visit netgrace.org to learn more– but these three simple steps are the bare essential starting point to make sure that your church’s most precious gift hears about Jesus in a safe, loving, and appropriately-protected space.
Learn more about the latest updates to the check-in feature in the check-in webinar. Register here.