5 ways to guard against child abuse in your church

August 28, 2018

We may tend to think sexual abuse cannot happen in our church, but it is that very mentality that makes it possible. How do abusers manage to have access to children and teens in our churches? This process often begins with intentional “grooming” of children and their parents.

In an article titled “Understanding Sexual Grooming in Child Abuse Cases,” the American Bar Association says “Sexual grooming is a preparatory process in which a perpetrator gradually gains a person’s or organization’s trust with the intent to be sexually abusive. The victim is usually a child, teen, or vulnerable adult.”

Some first steps in the process of grooming a child is gaining the trust of the child, their parents and church leaders. This person may appear to be the ideal volunteer or staff member. Grooming often begins with non-sexual contact such as hand holding, frontal hugs, holding a child on a lap, tickling or wrestling.

The child may become the “special” child in a class or ministry setting who receives extra time and attention from the abuser. The abuser intentionally befriends the parents through special attention and affirmation by the abuser. The person gradually crosses appropriate physical and emotional boundaries into fondling and other inappropriate touch and contact.

Often abusers “hide in plain sight.” They seem to enjoy serving with children and teens and actively seek opportunities to work with them. One significant red flag for parents and church leaders is the abuser’s choice to have more underage friends than adult friends. They may live in the “kid’s world” and have games and electronic equipment that draws in children and teens to their home. They may plan special events or trips where they have extended access alone with children or teens.

God has entrusted the care and nurture of children to parents and the church. Churches must do everything they can to be worthy of this trust.

What can churches do to thwart the efforts of abusers to groom and abuse children and teens? An important first step is the creation of written safety and security policies that are consistently enforced at all times with no exceptions or exemptions for leaders. There are at least five imperatives that should be required in every policy statement.

The two-adult rule
There should always be at least two adults over the legal age of 18 in any classroom or ministry setting. These two adults should not be a married couple since spouses cannot be compelled to testify against one another in court. If a married couple is allowed to work together, a third non-related adult should also be in the room. No adult or older child should ever be alone with a child.

The six-month rule
Anyone volunteering with children or youth must be an active church member for at least six months before access is granted to serve with children or youth. If a person chooses to not join the church, there should be active attendance of at least one year.

Background screening
Every worker should be required to undergo a criminal background check before serving with children and youth. Background checks should be repeated at least once every three years and ideally at least once a year. It is important to recognize that screening is only one step in providing a safe ministry environment. Less than 10 percent of abuse is reported to the authorities, and a conviction is required before abuse goes on a person’s criminal record. Screening is never the only step a church should take to protect their children and youth. Interviews and reference checks are another part of the vetting process that must occur before clearing a new volunteer to serve.

Secure drop-off and pickup procedures
A secure system for dropping off and picking up of children ensures that the person who receives a child at the end of a teaching session has the authorization to do so. This can be accomplished with sign-in sheets, matching name tags or an electronic check-in system.

Clear sightlines into every room
There should never be a location in the church in which an outside observer cannot see what is occurring in the room, even in offices and adult classroom spaces. Parents, likewise, should always have their children in view after services or teaching sessions end.

Churches can be a source for equipping parents on how to spot potential abusers. Training for parents on how to have important conversations with their children about personal privacy and what to do if they are uncomfortable around certain adults or older teens is a great way to help in the protection of children and teens.

If there is an allegation of abuse by a church volunteer or staff member, a formal report to law authorities must be made within 24 hours of receiving the allegation. North Carolina has a mandatory reporting law for in cases where there is cause to suspect child abuse, neglect or dependency. Clergy are not exempt from this statute. If the staff member or volunteer is currently serving with children or youth, they should be removed from service until the allegation is resolved. The confidentiality and seriousness of the allegation by the victim should be respected at all times.

God has entrusted the care and nurture of children to parents and the church. Churches must do everything they can to be worthy of this trust. For more information about what your church can do, check out the resources available at ncbaptist.org/children.


by Cheryl Markland
 /  Childhood Evangelism and Discipleship  /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

How churches can serve students, families amid school uncertainty

Many parents are facing difficult decisions in this time of COVID-19 about how best to school their children this fall. Schools may or may not reopen or may be available for in-person attendance on a limited basis. Households with working parents will be challenged to provide...

6 practical ways to disciple your children

Pastor and author John Piper has said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” The only way to glorify God and be satisfied in this life is to be His disciple. Discipleship is therefore God’s gift to us, not our burden. Through this process, God transforms...

Church, let thy children play

For many churches, children’s ministry will hopefully regather this fall after children have been worshipping and growing in their discipleship at home after an extended time away. As children’s ministries welcome children back to the church building (whenever that takes place),...

3 ways to encourage your child to play (and why you should)

For months, children have been sequestered at home with distance learning from both school and church. Closed parks and playgrounds disappointed children and parents alike. Fear of contracting COVID-19 has disrupted life as we know if for months, and when we return to gathering as...

25 ways to make your service ‘family friendly’ as you regather

By now, your church has probably regathered in some format, either outside the building in cars or lawn chairs or inside the worship center with modifications for social distancing. Many churches will wait until fall to reopen children’s ministry areas. If your church is...

6 new rhythms and new normals for your summer

COVID-19 turned our spring upside down and forced us to create new ways to offer discipleship training to our families. Hopefully, parents have embraced the call to disciple their children at home. As summer arrives and teachers no longer send school work home, parents may have...

6 questions to reframe your ministry vision after COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all into new rhythms. Stay-at-home orders for all but the most essential of professionals, caregivers and service providers have dramatically impacted families, businesses and government.Churches are not immune from this impact. Social...

9 ways to prepare families (and churches) to worship with children

As we slowly ease out of quarantine, many of us are excited to head back to our church campuses. While we have been grateful for online worship services, nothing can compare to worshipping together with our brothers and sisters. However, there will still be some restrictions and...

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

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

Stay connected by signing up for the N.C. Baptist monthly newsletter.

Select Language ^

Share This

Share this with your friends!