Skip to main content

In our jurisdiction, background checks cost money. Many men are having to submit to an additional level of background check involving fingerprints because their birthdays are the same as a pardoned sex offender. This is an additional cost. The police do not hold on to the information, so if the insurance company requires new background checks every three years, the costs will be repeated.


It’s important to note that any criminal background check has limitations. For starters, it’s only good until the moment it is completed. It doesn’t predict first offenses, and doesn’t include any offenses that went unreported. It may not reflect an accurate record of an offense (often plea bargains are made in court for lesser crimes, so the background check may not record the actual offense committed, only the plea deal reached in court). Depending on the criminal background check, it may only be good for the state or province in which it is conducted; and may say nothing about offenses that occurred in other places. As important as a criminal background check is, we must be aware of these limitations. Each church must weigh risks and costs, and then make a decision about how to proceed in terms of criminal background checks for staff and volunteers. It’s a good idea to check with the church’s insurance provider to see what is recommended or required. Insurance agents can be good sources for information and help to churches who may face obstacles in meeting requirements.


A criminal background check is not a panacea and does not stand alone as a method for screening church staff and volunteers. It is one part of an overall process, which includes an application, an interview, checking references, and getting to know the person in other ways. 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.


So, back to the question; do background checks need to be repeated every three years? Given all the limitations just described, is it worth spending the money for a new background check? Some churches instead require self-reporting each year by their volunteers. In other words, each year a document is signed by the volunteer that says nothing has changed with regards to certain offenses in the last year. If a rigorous selection process was originally done, and if there are strong policies also in place, is this enough? Again, we come back to the fact that each church must continually weigh the risks and costs of its actions. The church must come to a decision that it can live with; one that gives peace of mind that due diligence has been done to create and maintain a safe environment. There are costs (time, energy, money) involved in providing a safe environment in our churches. If you’ve ever had to deal with the horrific after-effects of abuse, you know that the resources spent preventing it from happening in the first place are well worth it.

Thank you, Bonnie, for your answer.  It is helpful.  The local Police Dept told me there is no law in our state regarding background checks, and our insurance agent told us there is no requirement from an insurance standpoint, so we need to use our best judgement.  I decided to follow our Christian School's practices.  You are reminding us of the importance of using our "common sense".

I find it hard to understand that the implementation of a proper screening policy is being viewed by some as an unnecessary expense.  It is an INVESTMENT in the safety of your children.

And, if such a policy is required (either by state or insurance), non-compliance may result in the "directors" of your church (council members) being deemed negligent and being held personally liable for any resulting damages.  It is cumbersome that checks have to be repeated every 3 -5 years (depending on your insurer or local law) but I know of at least one church where a volunteer who had previously cleared screening was forced to resign when a subsequent screening failed to clear the volunteer.  So, while weighing risks and costs, take a good look at your children and youth... and then make the INVESTMENT!!  

As for the use of "common sense", I can't help but think of the days when "common sense" meant we didn't have to use seat belts for our children, smoking while pregnant was acceptable and hockey helmets weren't required.  Of course the use of common sense is a good idea but who defines it?  And should financial expense be a major determining factor?

Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post