Churches ramp up background checks to ensure safety

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By Aaron Earls

NASHVILLE (BP)– As churches become aware of potential safety issues, more are signing up for background check services through LifeWay Christian Resources’ OneSource program.

“The numbers have increased dramatically since we began our relationship with backgroundchecks.com,” said LifeWay’s Jennie Morris. “On average, we add 160 customers a month.”

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Since January 2009, more than 16,000 customers have conducted more than 320,000 screenings with backgroundchecks.com through the LifeWay OneSource program. In 2018, more than 1,800 new churches signed up for the program.

Part of the growth, Morris said, comes from offering a $10 price point for a search that includes nationwide sex offender registry, various terrorist watch lists, more than 600 million felony, misdemeanor, and traffic records searches, as well as Social Security number validation.

According to Morris, around half of the searches return some type of offense. Most are only for minor incidents, but historically, close to 2 in 10 discover a misdemeanor or more serious crime.

Churches have begun to recognize how pervasive abuse in churches can be.

A 2018 LifeWay Research survey found 12 percent of Protestant pastors say someone on church staff has sexually harassed a congregation member at some point in the church’s life, while 16 percent say a staff member has experienced sexual harassment in a church setting.

Having some peace of mind is part of the reason Rachel Steele, a ministry assistant at Mountain Creek Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., said her church uses the service. The background checks are the “first level of due diligence,” Steele said.

“We want to have a basic idea of who we are working with,” she said. “For volunteers with kids, we need to make sure there are no offenses of note that would make it unwise to allow individuals to serve in those circumstances.”

Les Seal served as a pastor at Harper Creek Baptist Church in Battle Creek, Mich., and started using backgroundchecks.com for individuals working with kids and students. He said it was part of “taking steps to provide a safe and friendly environment for the children.”

Protection for children at church is one of the primary reasons Oak Grove Baptist Church in Covington, Tenn., decided to use backgroundchecks.com through LifeWay, according to Jim Martin, a retired deacon and Sunday School teacher.

The church added a background check requirement for all teachers of students to their child protection policy. Martin said no one has been disqualified from serving because of a background check, but church members are at peace knowing someone is checking the history of those working with youth and children.

He feels having the background check requirement in place may also have kept some potentially problematic volunteers from applying.

A lawyer recommended Oak Grove use background checks for their volunteers to provide not only protection for the children, but also legal protection for the church itself.

Martin said Oak Grove uses it for Sunday School teachers, AWANA leaders, Upward coaches, children’s church volunteers, mission trip leaders, and church staff. “If you love kids, you have to protect them from folks with evil intentions,” he said. “You cannot just leave it up to a volunteer selection committee and hope for the best.”

Steps the Georgia Baptist Mission Board are taking to increase child security can be found here.

For more information on background checks, visit LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks or call (800) 464-2799. For additional resources to help churches prevent sexual abuse or other moral failures by staff members or volunteers, visit LifeWay.com/OneSource, SBCLife.net/pdf/ProtectingOurChildren.pdf or SBC.net/churchresources/sexabuseprevention.asp.


Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.

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