In 2011, I was a brand new interim director of Safe Church Ministry gathering with a group of about 20 active safe church team members from across the US and Canada. On our agenda was a discussion of what it means to be a safe church. What are its characteristics? How will we be able to measure progress or success if we don’t know what we’re after? We made lists, combined items, discussed, voted, discussed, and edited. We came away from that meeting with Five Guiding Goals for Safe Church Ministry. These are the goals that guide the work of safe church team members:
1. Every church has a written safe church/abuse prevention policy in place.
2. Every church is using a curriculum in church school and youth programs that teaches respect and promotes healthy relationships.
3. Every church has protocols in place for responding to misconduct by a church leader, which are carefully followed.
4. Issues of abuse can be freely discussed.
5. Leadership at all levels is committed to the importance of safe church ministry.
Let’s begin by focusing on goal #1. About half of CRC churches have an abuse prevention policy. (That means that about half don’t, YIKES!) There are many reasons to have safe church policies; for example, we want to provide a safe environment at church for faith to flourish. No one wants to believe that abuse could happen in church. The sad fact is that it does happen. Did you know sexual abuse and misconduct by a church leader is the #1 reason that churches end up in court? A church policy should include careful screening for all staff and volunteers – application, interview, criminal background check, and references. All staff and volunteers must be made aware of the policy, be committed to follow it and be regularly trained regarding expectations for working with children, youth, and other vulnerable populations. The policy should include consequences for those who do not follow it as well as a system for regular review of the policy. So, how are we doing now?
Having a policy is our first line of defense against abuse at church – it’s a good place to start. Safe Church Ministry is here to help with resources such as: Safe Church Fact Sheet, Sample Volunteer Training Presentation, and Why Church Policy? (attached below) More can be found on the Safe Church website.
Providing a safe environment, free from abuse, is the responsibility of every church community. Abuse prevention policies are usually considered most applicable to children, youth and other vulnerable populations who need and deserve our protection. However, adults can also be vulnerable, at various times and for various reasons. Staff and volunteers are also vulnerable to false allegations. Therefore, guidelines for adult interactions are also recommended. A sample guideline for ministerial relationships can be found here.