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I had someone ask if running a criminal background check on all volunteers was necessary.
The short answer is yes. But let me explain why I think it is important.
Businesses have long done background checks on employees to ensure an understanding of the person they are hiring.
This has been commonplace for decades because businesses know hiring an employee with a questionable past can become a challenging management problem.
It also highlights issues in a person’s past that may disqualify them for the job they are applying for.
For instance, if a person has been convicted of fraud, a business may not be interested in hiring them for an open accounting position.
It hasn’t been that long ago when churches didn’t conduct background checks.
They respected the environment and the people who called the church home.
The last few decades have been a time of change for churches and their legal liability. Before that period, there was a concept of “sacred immunity” that many churches operated under.
This meant that churches were given the benefit of the doubt, and it was uncommon for a plaintiff to challenge them.
But attorneys discovered that churches were lax in policy, and churches became a prime target for litigation.
This has resulted in churches becoming more on the offense while watching litigation with churches on the rise.
But Background Checks Are Expensive
The standard was to conduct a background check on volunteers who worked with children or youth.
However, there are legitimate reasons to learn about the criminal activities of anyone who serves in a volunteer capacity.
There is no question that there is an expense to conduct background checks. Work with your budget committee to get this valuable budget item added to your annual church budget.
3 Reasons to Run Background Checks on All Church Volunteers
1. Protect Church Assets
Church members tithe on their income to help a church fulfill its mission.
These contributions fund the church’s operation and enable them to hold weekly services and provide programs for its members.
There would be no church without the generous contributions of its members.
It is a sad but true statistic that one in ten protestant churches has had someone embezzle funds.
I know it’s crazy to imagine how this happens, but it happens more than any of us would like to admit.
People with easy access, no controls, and a (financial) need are on a slippery slope to church fraud.
This reality makes it important to have very specific cash-handling policies for anyone with access to church cash.
It also makes it important to know the criminal background of everyone serving on the team.
The goal is not to keep someone from serving on a church volunteer team.
The goal is to ensure volunteers are placed in the right role and not put in a position that might tempt them to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do.
For instance, if a volunteer has a conviction record of embezzlement, maybe a better fit would be the parking ministry rather than an offering counter.
2. Protect the Kids
Children are the most precious asset a church has.
Protecting those children from harm is one of the most important responsibilities of church leaders.
It is unfortunate, but the number one reason churches go to court is because of sexual misconduct.
More and more churches are being proactive with their screening and training regarding sexual misconduct, to help keep those numbers down.
However, many of the sexual offenders are juveniles under the age of 18.
- 23% of all sexual offenders were under the age of 18.
- 40% of offenders of victims under age 6 were themselves juveniles.
- 13% were 7-11 years old; 27% were 12-17 years old.
- 39% of the offenders of victims ages 7-11 were juveniles.
- 27% of the offenders of victims ages 12 -17 were juveniles.
“Juveniles who commit sex offenses against other children are more likely than adult sex offenders to offend in groups and at schools and to have more male victims and younger victims.”
This problem for the church is that background checks will not help identify these juvenile perpetrators. Meaning, policy, training, and oversight is also an important aspect of protecting our kids.
3. Protect Church Members
People go to church to renew their minds and to focus on God for a few hours.
This makes church members particularly vulnerable to people with an intention to do harm.
It is important to have a plan in place to protect your church from outside intruders, but it is also important to know who is among you and if they have a criminal past that might warrant paying attention to.
For instance, you would want to know if a new volunteer in the facility department has a criminal record. This fact may not eliminate the volunteer from serving in that capacity, but it may warrant more closely watched supervision.
The Church Sees The Good In Others
Church leaders and members are one of the most vulnerable people groups because we try to see the good in others – that is our mandate.
However, it is also important to “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
Conduct background checks on all volunteers and commit to renewing those checks every couple of years.
Take the time to know everyone who is part of your team, train them according to your standards for behavior, and keep a watchful eye to ensure the safety of your church kids, members, and resources.
Does your church run background checks on all volunteers? If not, you might want to consider making that important financial investment.
If you are a member, you can access a background check form by logging in here.
If you are not a member but want to access an editable copy of a background check form, click here.