With the spate of national tragedies in the last few months, all parents are asking, “Is this a safe place for our kids?” That includes churches. As children’s ministry leaders, we’re charged to take our role as both physical and spiritual guardians very seriously, and we should do everything we reasonably can to make our ministry environments a safe place for kids to be. It’s too important to “wing it” or think that the chances of something happening are slim.
Ask yourself and your team: Where are the weak spots in our ministry? Where are the places that need to be shored up to keep kids, families and volunteers secure and safe?
Here’s the challenge. Take action on at least one thing this week. It’s worth the effort and if it’s a visible change, it tells parents, “We care about your child’s safety.”
Recently, we made a slight change. We posted signs on all our doors letting parents know that our ministry areas lock down 15 minutes after the service begins. The doors actually lock and anyone coming in after that time has to be escorted. We also amped up our security check to make sure that every adult walking into our ministry areas had claim tags. Several parents expressed appreciation. Everyone is thinking about security right now.
The challenge for you, however, is to continue to hold the banner of security high. Although everyone is especially raw right now, it will pass. Security won’t be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, unfortunately—but it must be for you. Here are some simple reminders of easy steps to take:
1. Update or create a ministry policy manual. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Borrow, copy and tweak what you see and put one together. Check out childrensministryonline.com for online examples of policy manuals.
2. Make it a policy that workers are never alone with a child. Always have at least two adults with any child. This has been my cardinal rule for more than a decade. It protects the church, child and worker. If you have to speak to a child alone, pull him or her aside where you are in eyeshot of at least one other adult. If you need to help a child in the bathroom, be sure there is a set of eyes on you, watching you. Make it a policy that if only one adult shows up to help, the room is closed. This is why we always have three volunteers/staff in a room. If someone needs to leave to get help or supplies, two are left. And if someone doesn’t show up, we still have two and can open the room.
3. Train your volunteers. Yes, volunteers don’t flock to training meetings. So get creative. Put a quick five-minute training on Vimeo or YouTube. Go over training points in your pre-service meetings. Make sure every volunteer knows the essential policies and safety procedures.
4. Perform background checks and screen all staff and every volunteer. Regardless of how often someone works, if they have access to kids, they should be screened. If you don’t run background checks, do it—no excuses. If your leadership says no, give them multiple reasons why background checks are a non-negotiable. Several companies offer legitimate checks that take a day to complete for about $7-$12 per person. Make sure the company performs an identity check (be sure to look at the photo identification to ensure they are who they say they are), a criminal background check and a national sex-offenders check. Screen volunteers as well. Ask them to complete an application and call their references. This process will weed out most people who would bring harm.
5. Update your evacuation, emergency and intruder policies/procedures. Do your volunteers know what to do if something happens? Make sure they do (this is an area we’re working on right now).
Think safety now and always.
Kenny Conley is the Next Generation Pastor at Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas. A children’s pastor for more than 11 years, Conley has a passion for equipping and encouraging those who pastor and work with kids by sharing ideas, training and giving away “things that have worked for him.”