Almost every church has expectations for safe ministry, but few churches have those expectations written down as official policies. A basic standard today is to have written policies that help staff and volunteers understand what to do—and how to do it.
Policies are printed expressions of the value placed on children. A policy is simply a statement of the church’s plan for caring for children and preventing situations that may cause harm.
To better understand the value of safety policies, think in terms of fire blocks in the walls of your home. Construction and fire codes in many states require that short blocks of wood be built into the walls. These fire blocks are designed to slow the progress of the fire as it burns up the wall toward the roof. Fires start low and burn upward; the fire blocks give the firefighters more time to put out the fire.
Many “fires” start low in children’s ministry as a safety violation and can “burn” all the way up to damage the ministry of a church if not quickly caught and corrected. With safety policies in place, the progress of any fire is slowed—and hopefully put out—before it causes harm or becomes a danger to the kids at your church.
July is the perfect time to review (or create) safety policies that you’ll use to train your fall staff. Here’s a quick process to make sure your safety policies will extinguish any potential fires!
- Clarify the areas of risk. Identify the potential risks that may exist at your church. Factors that may impact safety include church location, space used, number of volunteers and kids involved in the program, and whether food or outside activities are included. Churches in different regions of the country may need to put policies in place that wouldn’t be necessary for all churches; for example, a church in Florida may need to include a policy on hurricane evacuation that a church up north would not need to consider.
- Ask critical questions about each area of risk. What could happen? What can we do to prevent that from happening? Ask these questions about the areas of risk you’ve identified.
- Gather information from other churches or child-serving organizations regarding their policies and procedures. Establish the baseline of care for your community. This could be used in litigation to determine if your church performed due diligence in what is considered the standard of care for your community.
- Formulate procedures based on the answers to your questions. Determine what needs to happen to make sure the risk is eliminated, or at least reduced as much as possible.
- Ask others to critique the policies and their wording. Let the people in your church who work with children in other organizations (public schools, day care centers, pediatric hospitals) review the policies to provide feedback on whether they’re clear and doable.
- Consult your senior pastor, church attorney, and church insurance agent for final wording. The final policy should meet the approval of your church governing board and legal counsel.
Policies are standards of operation with plans for carrying out or supporting those standards. They should state what you believe and how you plan to fulfill that belief in action. Snuff out any potential fires at your church by looking at your current policies or by writing some new ones. Check this off your summer to-do-list, and you’ll be ready for fall.
– – Taken from a recent Shepherd’s Watch newsletter. Sign up today for Shepherd’s Watch Background Checks and receive your free monthly newsletter filled with advice and tips on keeping your church safe.
(We love to provide tips to keep your ministry safe. You may also want to consult your local legal advisors to get their perspective on this topic!)