How Church Leaders Can Proactively Approach Abuse Risk – Part 1

There’s no doubt that a very hot button topic amongst churches in recent years is the apparent increase in sex abuse scandals. This is not isolated to one denomination but rather throughout churches nationwide. Your client may think that they will never have to deal with such a claim, but the fact of the matter is that it happens. The good news is the situation is not hopeless. Many church leaders are taking a look at their responsibility in these matters and how they can proactively approach abuse risk.

Richard Hammar, legal counsel for the General Council of the Assemblies of God, notes that there is an impression that churches should just inherently trust people rather than question their motives and background, when it comes to hiring staff or utilizing volunteers. According to Hammar, many church leaders are also under the impression that screening workers will make it increasingly harder to recruit volunteers.

However, tax and legal advice publisher Christian Ministry Resources reports that church volunteers are more likely than paid staff to be abusers, at least in Protestant churches. In order to be proactive and hopefully prevent this from occurring, churches have taken steps such as requiring completion of a background check prior to involvement in children’s and youth ministries. Other churches go beyond just simply requiring background checks and develop a policy stating that an adult will never be alone with a child for any reason, employing ushers to make rounds through children’s areas to ensure that this policy is upheld.

No matter what denomination and what the church’s history is, all church staff, ushers, and children’s ministry leaders should be aware of potential problems and should be instructed to alert the police should a questionable situation arise. In our next post, we will delve further into how churches can work to reduce their legal risks in regards to abuse.

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