The media thinks that child molestation in the church is a new problem – it isn’t. This horrible crime has been going on for a very long time in churches, schools, and any other place where adults work with kids. But the good news is that in our day and age you can find churches where your children will be safe from predators.
Here are the questions you should ask when visiting a church:
How many volunteers will be with my kids?
Any respectable church has at least two adults with any child (or group of children) at any time. At my church, it’s simply not possible for a kid to be alone with an adult worker. And if there are not enough workers on any given day to ensure this then the children’s minister simply cancels that class and the kids just sit in the sanctuary with their parents (which is how we did it all the time when I was a kid). The same goes for camps and outings – many adults are with the children at all times and these adults are people who are known by the church rather than random volunteers who showed up that day. Of course, anyone could be a child predator – which brings us to…
Do you perform criminal background checks on your volunteers?
If a church isn’t doing this you should go somewhere else. Of course, there are some small churches who simply lack the budget for this sort of thing, but there really shouldn’t be any excuse for it. A church should be willing to sell its own pews if necessary to find out about its workers. Also, make sure this is going on with EVERY worker. I’m friends with the children’s minister at my church, and when I told him I was willing to help out (we were running low on volunteers) he did a background check on me and made clear to me all of the rules and guidelines – even though he knew I already knew them. He treated me the same way he would treat a stranger who just walked into the church. This is how every church should do things – no one can be trusted.
Who is allowed access to the children?
At a well run church, anyone in the children’s area who is not a volunteer worker or a parent of one of the kids is treated like a hostile intruder. It doesn’t matter if it’s the music minister headed for the water fountain to wet his whistle – it’s unacceptable for anyone to be there unless they are part of the children’s ministry that day. And no one can accompany young people on a retreat of any kind unless they are a volunteer who was invited. Sometimes adults like to visit the nursery or the children’s room just to see the kids, but that cannot be allowed.
Who is allowed to pick up my child?
No brainer. No one should be allowed to pick up your kid except you (unless you give expressed permission). Ever. Only an incredibly stupid church would just give kids away to anyone. Still, it’s a good question to ask.
Can I look at the children’s area?
A church should have no problem showing you where the children will be. Are there a lot of exits? Is it difficult for someone to sneak in? Take a look. Some of these areas are designed with windows on the doors so the children’s minister can patrol the halls and keep an eye on every kid. Others don’t have doors at all. It’s pretty easy to setup child friendly environments and a church should be trying to do this.
Can I help out with the children’s ministry?
The best way to see how the kids are being treated is to be a part of the regular rotation of workers. You can see for yourself if there are any security leaks and you’ll know what’s going on with your kids (and you’ll be able to check on them more easily). If you are part of a healthy children’s ministry for your kids then you really won’t have much to worry about.
As you can see, if a church is doing things right then it is pretty difficult for a child predator to get away with anything. It’s certainly more safe then a public school or a private music lesson where teachers and principles are often alone with students.
Churches that find child molestation going under their roofs are never doing these things correctly. When I hear about a minister abusing a child I wonder, “How on earth that minister manage to be alone with a kid?” That really shouldn’t be possible when good organization is in place, and what kind of church (or parent) allows that sort of thing? There’s no excuse for this problem being so widespread – the simple truth is that some churches just aren’t doing their job.
The good news? Most churches are doing their job, and it’s easy to find a church with a responsible children’s ministry if you do a little homework.
UPDATE: I realize that I left something out – referrals. In order to serve in any children’s ministry a referral should be required (actually, two) from people who can recommend you as a person of good and trustworthy character who can be given the responsibility of handling children. That’s very important, and I appreciate my friends in the comments who reminded me of this glaring omission.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)