Church Background Checks: The foundation for safety in your church

Church Background Checks: The foundation for safety in your church
April 7, 2015 Bob D'Ambrosio

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The most recent figures from the 2014 Children’s Defense Fund’s Annual State of America’s Children report that 1,825 children are abused or neglected each day in the U.S. And considering it’s believed that less than 10 percent of sexual abuse cases are ever reported to authorities, the number of actual incidents each year is far greater.

How safe is your church? When it comes to risk management, talk is a great place to start, but action is required. Churches need background check programs to protect the at-risk members. Ministry leaders need to advocate for safety in services that are provided to children, youth, and the elderly.

Here’s a plan to get started. Follow this checklist to make sure all ministry groups are compliant with basic safety practices:

1.    Conduct a criminal background check on all employees and volunteers who work with children and youth. Start with the paid staff and ministry leaders, then screen all your volunteers. Also be sure to rescreen workers with a consistent schedule that is determined by your leadership. Many insurance providers now require that churches need to conduct background checks annually.

2.    Verify prospective employee and volunteer references.  Ask for this information on an application and follow-up through phone calls or send out a reference survey. It can be mailed to each person listed as a reference or used as a phone interview tool.

3.    Conduct personal interviews with each ministry worker annually. Many churches interview workers to make a placement decision but don’t have continued contact during their term of service. Set up a timeline to touch base with workers to update any life issues that may impact their service.

4.    Provide continuing training for children’s and youth ministry workers. Training is the key to a safe ministry environment. Someone once said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” There is no replacement when it comes to making sure your workers know what to do-and how to do it.

5.   Regularly review written child-abuse-prevention policies and background check programs. Safety procedures are worthless if they’re not taught and re-taught on a continuing basis. Make sure all new volunteers are aware of the policies and procedures as a part of their orientation. Retrain often as a part of your continuing education efforts.

6.    Update church background check policies as needed. A policy is only effective when it’s current and applicable. Local and state laws constantly change, so you’ll need to keep up with the practices that reflect what other child-care providers are doing in your community.

My son’s math teacher tells his students, “When you don’t know what to do….do something.” When it comes to safe ministry, you have to start by doing. It’s a continuing process that evolves as you grow and expand. God bless your efforts, and thank you for making your church a safe place for children!


[Editor’s Note:  April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to recognize that we each play a part in promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families in our communities. Learn more on the National Child Abuse Prevention Month website To honor this effort to protect children, Group is offering Shepherd’s Watch Premium membership for the price of Basic during the month of April. Call 800-447-1070 to join. Use discount code:  SW15100]


  1. Jim 12 years ago

    Do you require background checks for parents who volunteer only sporadically, such as to help drive their and other children to an off-campus event? Our process has become paranoid, and cumbersome to the point where the few “approved” workers are worn out and parents are neither asked nor expected to help.

    • Author
      Bob D'Ambrosio 12 years ago

      Jim – the rule of thumb has generally been frequency of volunteer service, and amount of unsupervised time spent with children. So the occasional parent that comes in as a helper is not as critical as the teacher who is with the kids each week. In reality your budget may dictate the outcome, but start with those who are in primary roles. And you know what they say…it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  2. Joy 12 years ago

    When Sunday school teachers who have been teaching our children for many (MANY) years were asked to comply with the new background check requirement we almost lost them. They are also teachers and administrators in the local school system. They flatly REFUSED to comply. How can we, a small church, institute a church background check that applies to all when we face losing our “older/wiser” teachers?

    • rjd440 12 years ago

      Guess the question is why did they refuse? It seems odd that your professional teachers had this response since now most public schools regularly screen staff, vendors who access the building…and parent volunteers! (Just had mine done so I can help out with marching band competitions.) Help your teachers understand it’s not about them, but about the safety standard your church has implemented. Screening everyone, protects everyone (even the volunteer) and creates a safe ministry environment.

    • Mary 10 years ago

      Hi! In our area, parents and others who volunteer in schools all need their clearances! Very sad to say, but better safe than sorry. I’m sure these Sunday school teachers thought that people did not trust them…NOT THE ISSUE! We also need to “cover” our churches!

      • Author
        Bob 10 years ago

        Thanks Mary for this confirmation of safety. You said it right, “Better safe than sorry.”

  3. Stephanie Landrud 9 years ago

    Do you have sample reference check sheets?
    Thank you.

  4. Wanda Gordon 8 years ago

    I recently got certified and had background check done so I could work in kitchen at vbs. I am 65 and have 5 yr old triplet grands. I am very demonstrative with my affection for small children. I probably wont fit into the box of rules so I am going to bow out. I also am going to look for a smaller church. I have prayed about this and have come to this conclusion.

    • Author
      Bob D'Ambrosio 8 years ago

      Wanda – you may want to check with your children’s ministry leader regarding any policy’s on affection with small kids at your church. There are appropriate methods of affection which should keep you in the game. The size of the church should not be a factor in this type of guideline. Seems you have a love of kids so I’m hoping you continue to serve God through VBS ministry.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *