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Churches are a place of refuge. A place to heal from our hurts, repent for our sins and find peace in knowing we serve a compassionate and forgiving God.
The Bible teaches us that we are all sinners and all fall short of God’s glory. These shortcomings are what draws us to a church family and like-minded people who walk side-by-side with us through life’s challenges.
These life challenges sometimes result in complicated issues that church members or volunteers are not proud of but work toward healing, forgiveness, and Christian growth.
Many of these complicated issues are confidential in nature.
For instance, a church member may have acted out of financial desperation and committed fraud at their place of employment. A crime that no one wants to admit but a church needs to be aware of. Particularly if that member has access to church cash.
Churches Deal With A Lot of Confidential Information
People who work (free or paid) for a church are often exposed to confidential information.
Broken people come to church and the church is where they heal and work to change the course of their life.
These people come from various backgrounds – many of which they are not proud of. Churches need to respect the sensitivity of these situations and be trusted to not share personal information with others.
Church employees and volunteers are responsible for maintaining a strong code of ethics because of access to sensitive information.
What Is Confidentiality In Church?
According to dictionary.com, confidentiality is defined as “having another’s trust or confidence; entrusted with secrets or private affairs.”
Members and volunteers provide the church with confidential information – demographic, financial, and personal.
There is an implied trust that those who have access to sensitive information about members will maintain a high level of confidentiality.
Church leaders are responsible for maintaining confidentiality with this often personal and sensitive information.
The church also needs to safeguard sensitive employee information, such as social security numbers, personal and medical information.
Focus on maintaining confidentiality to ensure that sensitive information is not inadvertently shared.
5 Tips for Maintaining Confidentiality
1. Create a Confidentiality Policy
Policies set the expectation for behavior and establish processes for responding to any number of related events.
Write a policy for confidentiality.
Include behavior expectations for anyone who has exposure to sensitive information in your confidentiality policy.
Also include guidelines for discussing sensitive information and dealing with inappropriate inquiries.
For example, it is common for people to call the church office and ask for church members’ phone numbers or addresses. A confidentiality policy should include how to handle such inquiries.
Volunteers and members need to understand that sensitive and confidential information should be shared only on a need-to-know basis.
2. Confidentiality Agreement
A confidentiality agreement is a form that explains the church’s commitment to protecting sensitive information.
The goal is to assert the organization’s commitment to maintaining and respecting personal and private information.
Ask employees and volunteers who have access to sensitive information to sign a confidentiality agreement.
This agreement acknowledges that they understand the importance of safeguarding sensitive information.
Maintain a copy of the agreement in the employee or volunteer file.
3. Confidentiality Training
Training clarifies intent and process for policies and procedures.
Once you have a policy in place, take the time to train employees and volunteers about the importance of maintaining confidentiality.
Incorporate this confidentiality training into the employee and volunteer orientation process.
The training aims to make people mindful of the expectations, heightening their awareness and compliance with maintaining a confidential environment.
4. Need-to-Know Approach
Sometimes there are issues with members or volunteers of a pastoral matter and need to be kept at that level.
Sharing this information with other employees and volunteers is inappropriate, except for a need-to-know situation.
For example, suppose the volunteer office receives a background check and discovers that a volunteer was convicted of sexual misconduct. In that case, a pastor will need to be informed to help manage the communication to that volunteer.
Gossip is never appropriate in a church setting, particularly with others who have no reason to know the past mistakes of others.
5. Control Access
Control access to confidential and sensitive information.
Electronic files need to have limited user access, and paper files need to be locked at all times.
The policy should clearly state who has access to what data and specifically who is exposed to donor and background check information.
Church Management Is Responsible For Safeguarding Sensitive Information
The are many responsibilities that come with managing a church office. Still, one of the most significant is creating an environment that protects and safeguards sensitive employee, member, and volunteer information.
Create a policy, train employees and volunteers, and control access to information that members expect to be safeguarded by your church.
Access Our Library Of Forms
If you are a member, you can access a sample confidentiality policy for a church here. If you are not a member and would like access to our growing library of forms and documents, you can learn more here.