I had someone ask if it was necessary to run a criminal background check on all volunteers.
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 that hiring an employee with a questionable past can become a challenging management problem.
It also give light to issues in a person’s past that may disqualify them for a 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 were respectful of the environment and the people who called the church home.
The last 20 years have been a time of change for churches and their legal liability. Prior to that period there was a concept of “sacred immunity” that many churches operated under.
This simply meant that churches were given the benefit of the doubt and it was uncommon for a plaintiff to challenge them.
But attorneys found out 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.
3 Reasons to Run Background Check on All Church Volunteers
1. Protect Church Assets
Church members tithe on their income to help a church fulfill this mission.
These contributions are how churches are able to meet every week and fulfill their mission.
There would be no church without the generous contributions of their 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 a slippery slope to church fraud.
This makes it important to have very specific cash handling policies in place for anyone who touches 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 to make sure 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.
Until 2016, the number one reason churches go to court is because of sexual misconduct. Today it is property disputes.
The theory is that more churches are being proactive with their screening and training in regards to sexual misconduct and this is bringing 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.”
The problem this presents for the church, is that background checks are not going to help with identifying these 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.
Church members by nature are one of the most vulnerable people 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.”
Take the time to know who is part of your team, train them according to your standards and keep a watchful eye to ensure safety for your church kids, members and resources.