“I’m going to tell my daughter! She thinks I’m too overprotective!”
This was my friend’s response when I told her about an email I received of an attempted kidnapping just a few miles from where we live. A 14-year-old girl was walking home from the park and was approached by a strange man she did not recognize. When the man tried to grab her arm, she punched him in the stomach and ran home. Thankfully, she was only frightened, and suffered no serious harm.
It gives you pause, though! Here she was in her own neighborhood, a few blocks from home where she should feel safe and protected. Instead, an intruder threatened her sense of security—and her actual well-being! I can only imagine what her mother must have thought when she received that phone call from her frantic daughter…
As parents, volunteers, church and ministry leaders, we cannot afford to ignore the times in which we live. I’m not talking about living in fear, or an out-of-balance distrust of people. I am talking about being aware of certain realities and the responsibility we have to protect those who need protecting.
I think there are some basic DO’s and DON’Ts to be sure we are doing our “due diligence” and protecting those on our watch.
1. Communicate with others about any real or perceived threats
Talk to parents, teens, children, and volunteers. Ask on a regular basis if anyone has seen or heard anything out of the ordinary that could become a potential risk. Open the lines of communication so that everyone knows this is important to you and the church and that their input is valuable. Like my neighborhood email system, have a way to share information with the parties who need to know.
2. Implement a secure check-in/check-out system
While this may seem like it only matters in large churches, I can assure you, the risk of a child being picked up by a non-custodial parent or estranged relative is the same in every church.
3. Train ALL volunteers on safety measures
It happens to all of us. At the last minute a volunteer doesn’t show and we grab any “body” to run the check-in table or supervise the toddlers. Unfortunately this is a prime area where mistakes happen and safety policies can get overlooked.
4. Share articles and updates with parents
Take the time to share helpful articles and tips on safety, not just as they relate to church participation, but in other areas, too. This will remind parents to be extra diligent and also let them know that you take the safety of their kids seriously.
1. Don’t overlook other vulnerable ministries in your church
I read an article recently about a ministry director who threw a special needs adult in the dumpster for doing a poor job cleaning the church bathroom. Anyone who works with special needs or the elderly must have proper training and supervision.
2. Don’t think church background checks are for other churches
Develop a background check program that screens volunteers who will be working directly with these vulnerable people, especially children, youth, the elderly, and special needs. It may be a delicate issue in the beginning; remind people that you are mainly concerned with protecting those who need it.
3. Don’t ignore common sense, intuition, or the Holy Spirit
These are ways God warns us and help us avoid danger. Stop and listen; and train your volunteers to do the same!
4. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer
Make a point of praying for protection before every service or activity involving these vulnerable groups. This will help raise awareness in your volunteers, and bring the wisdom necessary to protect those in your church.
[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 https://www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/preventionmonth/]