Q&A: Background Checks for Small Churches

The importance of screening workers regardless of church size or location.

I know criminal background checks are supposed to be part of the screening process before allowing people to work with minors, but we’re just a small-town church of about 100 members. Everyone knows everyone. People would be offended if we asked them to submit to a background check. Is it really that important for small churches to do background checks for children’s workers?

Absolutely! There is no doubt that certain crimes, such as carjackings and drive-by-shootings, can be more prevalent in urban areas, but crimes against children are not exclusive to large cities. Child abusers are savvy manipulators and are often described as nice and caring people until their crimes are revealed.

People are always shocked to learn someone they thought they knew well did something unthinkable. Consider this: We live in a society where more than half of all marriages end in divorce. Each of these couples entered their marriage believing they knew their partner. If so many intimate relationships can be misunderstood, how is it we’re confident we can really “know” people well in casual relationships?

Furthermore, typically the only person that finds a background check offensive is a person who has something to hide. Certainly, we understand that a church is a hospital for sinners, and by virtue of this, we may have volunteers with criminal records from their past. While not all criminal involvement disqualifies individuals from serving with minors, just having legal records disclosed could be cause for embarrassment for people.

For this reason, it’s important for churches to have a strong written privacy policy that outlines who will have access to a final background check report. Only those individuals who need to know this information should be authorized to review the report, and all results should be kept confidential. Also, whatever policies you decide to implement for screening, it’s important that you enforce them consistently for all children and youth workers.

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