Background Screening: an Important Safety Measure


Many people are surprised to learn they need to have a background check in order to serve as a volunteer in the church nursery or as a leader of a church program.Why screen church staff and volunteers?

Careful screening can:

  • Support your ministry in selecting staff and volunteers whose skills and background are appropriate for their positions.
  • Protect children and other vulnerable individuals from abuse.
  • Help your ministries select drivers who have safe driving records.
  • Reduce your ministry’s liability in court if something goes wrong. Proper screening protocols show that your ministry takes reasonable care to safeguard its members.

Background Screening Checklist

Brotherhood Mutual offers a helpful Background Screening Checklist that can assist your church in evaluating how well you are doing with your background screening process. This checklist can also help identify where improvements may be needed.

Who Should be Screened?

Church staff, leaders and all church volunteers should be screened. “While background screening is a good way to prevent incidents of child sexual abuse, it’s also useful in selecting the right people to assist with ministry finances and other valuable resources,” explains the Brotherhood Mutual website.

Of particular priority for screening is anyone who has frequent contact with children, the elderly, or people with disabilities; pastors, treasurers, and other people in leadership positions; and drivers of ministry vehicles.

In addition, there are different levels of screening offered, and your church will need to explore which levels will best meet your needs.

Reducing the Risk

Christianity Today offers another helpful resource, Reducing the Risk, to support churches in developing screening protocols and taking other steps to reduce risks related to abuse. This resource includes a DVD training program, a leader’s guide and trainee workbook, and screening forms and records file to keep track of your church’s screening procedure and related documents.

What Does the Law Require?

You will need to consult the laws in your state or province to find out whether screening is required or not. Your insurance provider is another valuable source of information for screening requirements. If you are unsure of legal requirements, check with a local attorney to learn more.

Screening is Just One Piece of an Overall Process

“As important as a criminal background check is, it is not a panacea and does not stand alone as a method for screening church staff and volunteers,” explains Bonnie Nicholas, Director of Safe Church Ministry for the Christian Reformed Church.

“Screening is one part of an overall process, which includes an application, an interview, checking references, and getting to know the person in other ways," Bonnie says. "Because no screening can perfectly predict behavior, policies must also be in place and must be followed that limit risks for abuse. For example, a policy that doesn’t allow an adult to be alone with a child, and includes provisions for transportation, discipline, etc., provides an extra measure of safety.”

“The goal of screening is to create and maintain an environment where all people may worship and grow in their faith, where they will be treated with dignity and respect, safe from any threats of abuse,” adds Bonnie. “Working toward this goal will require resources of money, time and effort. But if you’ve ever dealt with the horrific impacts of abuse, you will understand that these efforts are very worthwhile."

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