Is Your Church a Safe Church?

November 2, 2005 by

The DesMoines Register covered church security this weekend, a topic that usually doesn’t get a lot of attention. Some of those church safety precautions include:

  • Training and screening church leaders and volunteers.
  • Issuing ID cards for parents that are required in order to pick up their kids from children’s ministry programs.
  • Installing security cameras.
  • Monitoring sex offenders.

Making churches safe should be a no-brainer, especially after the spat of Catholic sexual abuse cases. According to the article, there are more sexual abuse incidents in Protestant churches than Catholic churches. And in the last 10 years churches have averaged 70 child abuse allegations per week.

Training & Screening Leaders
More than 78% of churches conduct background checks on paid staff, but only one-third do background checks on volunteers, even though volunteers are more likely to be abusers.

My church mandates safe church training for anyone working with children. It can be a barrier to getting volunteers, but it also weeds out people who shouldn’t be there and gives us as volunteers some training to protect ourselves and keep kids safe. It covers basic stuff like what to do if you see signs of abuse (in most states you have a responsibility as a mandated reporter to inform child protection services within 24 hours) and guidelines to help avoid situations where abuse or false allegations can happen (i.e., hang out with youth group kids in public spaces, not one-on-one in private spaces).

Child Check-In
ID cards and check-ins seem especially important, and not just for mega-churches. Even in a small church you can come across someone you don’t know, and you need to have guidelines in place. A lot of church management software, like Fellowship Tech, can make check-ins easy (and give you all sorts of other cool features), but a high-tech solution isn’t the only way to check kids in.

Monitoring Sex Offenders
This one is where it gets especially touchy. It’s likely in any congregation to have people who have been abused and people who have done abusing. It’s not a great combination, but that’s what the body of Christ is: a motley crew of broken people.

Churches have to balance the responsibility to show grace to a sex offender but also protect people. It’s not easy, but that’s the way it is.

From a marketing standpoint, safety is a must. Who’s going to come if people don’t feel safe? But churches should be concerned about safety for so many reasons beyond marketing. (link via CoffeeSwirls)

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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5 Responses to “Is Your Church a Safe Church?”

  • Anitra
    November 3, 2005

    Low/medium tech Child Check-in
    The church I attend uses a remarkably effective solution, with 2 parts (one low-tech, one medium-tech – the medium tech requires a camera of some sort):
    Each child/family has a “cubby” to store bottles, special toys, etc. Each cubbie has a permanent number painted on, and a hook. The hook holds a plastic sleeve with the child’s name, allergies/preferences, and a picture of the child(ren) with the parents. This is especially helpful for new or infrequent nursery workers.
    The cubby hook also holds a ribbon lanyard with a wooden medallion – the medallion is painted with the same permanent number that is on the cubby. When a parent drops their child off, they must take the medallion with them, and then return it when they come back for the child. This is especially useful for visitors (as well as being a reminder for all parents that they must come back and get their child!)

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  • Michael Rew
    November 3, 2005

    Conducting background checks on leadership and volunteers is totally understandable. Improving locks and other deterrents, and reminding parishioners to lock the doors on their cars and not to leave their pocketbooks unattended, also is understandable. But if you have to issue ID cards for parents in order to make sure their children are safe because there are so many children and parents that children’s ministers cannot remember names or put face to face, then your church may be too big.

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  • kevin
    November 3, 2005

    Michael, I think you’re missing the point. The issue isn’t that big churches have to deal with this. It’s not an issue of your church is so big people don’t know one another, boo big churches.
    It can happen at any church, no matter the size, that a child care worker can run into a parent they don’t know. What if the mom drops off and the dad picks up? What if the family is visiting and nobody’s seen them before? What if the child care worker who was there when the kid was dropped off suddenly has to leave–how is the replacement supposed to know which parents can pick up?
    Simply thinking we’re such a small church we all know each other will not keep kids safe. It is a great attitude to kill growth, but that attitutde won’t protect children.

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  • Frank
    November 7, 2005

    This is one of the few areas where the Methodists (in Missouri, anyway) are getting it right: we have a statewide Safe Sanctuaries program for all volunteers who work with children and youth, whether it’s at the local church or at a higher level. It’s not required for local church folks, but highly recommended, and a good number of churches in the state have approved policies that require the training for their volunteers.
    I was just recertified this past weekend and I particularly liked having a role-playing lesson where one person played the victim and another played a trusted adult listening and learning the victim’s story in confidence.
    One of the sticky situations in this respect is the fact that pastors are “mandatory reporters” of suspected child or elder abuse under state law, but the pastors receive little guidance on how to file a report or call the state hotline. I have seen cases in Missouri in other denominations where the pastor tries to talk to the parents/caregivers about concerns before filing a report and the pastor has been prosecuted for failure to act.

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  • Sean Gore
    June 25, 2008

    I agree with Michael in that it would be best for everyone to know each kid and each parent, but I also agree with Kevin that even in smaller churches that isn’t always possible. What our church has done to help find a happy medium is that we’ve started using a child check-in software called excellerate. It lets us track attendence and do reports and all the other impersonal stuff that has to get done, but it also had the advantage of allowing us to use technology to become more personal. Since every kid has a namebadge they wear as part of the tracking and every parent presents a receipt with their child’s name on it when they pick them up after church, we can call even the vistors by name. The ability to track attendence also gives us the option of seeing which kids have missed class for the last so many weeks and we can call to say hi. Or, if there’s an event coming up, we can contact recent vistors and invite them since we registered them as part of the check-in process. We’ve been happy. The site is

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