It is incredibly tragic when a child is placed in the care of a church and something horrible happens. You’ve probably seen stories of molestation occurring in a church and even during a church event. This is a very heavy topic and a hard blog to write, but it’s very important. There are even instances where the accusations proved false but the simple allegation destroyed a church’s credibility. So two things are at stake; The safety of the child and reputation of the body of Christ.
Here are some basics that you need to cover this week. Like, right now. Like, don’t do anything else on your to-do list until this is done.
1) Hard-screen volunteers. Do a formal application that includes references and permission to do a background check. Follow up with the references and do state and federal checks. Repeat this with volunteers a minimum of every two years.
2) Run volunteers through an initial orientation where they hear you clearly articulate every single rule and procedure. (See #3)
3) Write written procedures for every possible scenario you can imagine. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Write rules for adult-child ratios. Write rules for number of adults per rooms. Develop procedures for potty breaks for kids. Vet out check-in and drop-off procedures. Leave no stone unturned, as they say. Did I mention that writing these is not enough? You need to make sure that your leaders know and understand them.
4) Be consistent in enforcement. Small exceptions lead to larger exceptions, which soon become the norm. For example, I know that I know the pastor’s wife. I know that she knows that I know her. However, the guests in line behind her don’t know either one of us and they may get very upset when I allow her to pick up her sweet children without her security tag.
Here are a few things to try. You wouldn’t want any leader to be embarrassed in this process, so use discretion when conducting these tests.
1) Visitor Test – Have a trusted friend visit your church. (Someone that no one would recognize.) Have them test the boundaries of your ministry’s security. See how long they can roam around your area until they are questioned. See if they can get a badge and put it on, appearing to actually be on your team. You’d be surprised that many churches have their “security badges” with no photos, hanging out for anyone to take. In larger churches, many volunteers don’t even know each other, so this neutralizes badges as a security measure.
2) Lock-down Test – You don’t need to have an actual test, but your leaders need to be well-informed in the case of an emergency. What happens if an intruder is identified? What does a “lock-down” look like? Does your pastor/leadership have codes and procedures clearly defined? Where are kids taken if there is a fire? You don’t have to run drills, but you should ask your leaders if they know what to do in these cases.
3) Who you gonna call? Test – So that multiple people are not communicating many messages to several people, you need to test and see if everyone knows your “chain of command.” If anything were to ever happen in your church, the first question that comes from the outside will be “Who’s in charge.” You want everybody to be able to answer this question.
4) Have your own insurance company audit your security process. They’ll know what to look for.
Consider video monitoring of all public spaces. This not only allows for a more secure environment, it is a great deterrent to potential violators.
Obviously, our priority to lead kids to Christ is our prime directive in ministry. However, your ministry area needs to be secure. We can’t offer them eternal security until we offer them security on Sunday morning!
Jeffrey Reed serves as the KidMin partner for Lifeway Christian Resources. His ministry experience includes everything from worship leader to senior pastor to, of course, children’s pastor. He, his wife, and their four kids live in Spring Hill, TN.