It seems every week there is a new story about the molestation of children in a church setting. Stories like these often reinforce fear and distrust for millennial parents about church. Millennials grew up with the faces of missing children on their milk cartons. Many are shamed on social media for allowing their children to play outside unsupervised. The idea of the “church bubble” of safety has been burst more times than we care to admit. Pastors and church leaders must ask themselves if they have done all they can to create a safe and secure environment for children if they want to engage and retain millennial parents.
What are some basic steps that church leaders must take to build a safe and secure place for children?
Every staff member and church volunteer must have a background check before being allowed to serve with children. Reference checks and personal interviews should be conducted alongside a criminal background check as part of the procedure for approving workers to serve with children.
Background checks are not a “one and done” and should be repeated at least every three years on every staff member and volunteer leader.
Every church must have a written policy outlining procedures the church will take to ensure a safe environment. Non-negotiable portions of these policies should include a two-person rule for interacting with children, a minimum 6-month rule for membership before serving with children and youth, age limits for serving with different age groups, protocols for diaper changing and handling the toileting needs for preschoolers, mandatory background checks and a detailed process for checking-in and releasing children.
Policies are only as good as the enforcement that the church provides. When short staffed, it is easy to ignore the requirements for approval for service. In the event an accusation of molestation or abuse occurs, the courts will have no sympathy for a church that fails to follow their own written policy.
Every staff member, volunteer and parent should be informed about, and trained on, the church’s safety and security policy.
Senior staff should insure that training is a priority and allocate budget for ongoing training and background checks. A periodic review of the effectiveness and enforcement of the policy should be on the to-do list of senior staff.
Every church, no matter the size or number of children, should have a plan for securely receiving and releasing children to their parents or guardian. This can be as simple as a sign in sheet, matching tags or as elaborate as an electronic check-in system that prints matching stickers.
In today’s culture, parents may be separated and the church may have no notification of a custody agreement. A parent without custodial rights may arrive at church and the child may be released to them simply because they are the parent. Requiring proof that the person who picks up the child after service has the authority to do so is vitally important and protects both the child and the church. An emphasis on using the system designed by the church is crucial.
Many of today’s electronic check-in systems can be accessed through smart phones and are tied into the church’s software system for management of attendance records.
All of the steps listed above are important to millennial parents. If your church is diligent in ensuring the safety and security of its children, consider posting this information on your church’s website. It can make a difference in a parent’s decision to visit your church. Failure to have and enforce safety and security policies can impact a parent’s decision to continue attending your church. Senior leadership needs to take the lead in this important area of children’s ministry and understand the role intentional safety and security plays in outreach to your community’s millennial parents.