Churches I pastored, starting around 1997 or so, had written child protection policies. Before that, there were unwritted rules and expectations of those who served the church in positions that involved preschoolers, children, and students.
I’m not a part of a church staff at my present church unless you count some volunteer responsibilities that get me invited to weekly church staff meetings with the pastor and other paid staff. Our church is a medium-sized congregation with 350 or so average weekly worship attendance. The number of volunteers with preschool, children, and student ministries is around 50 with one fulltime and one part time staff with responsibilities for nursery through highschool aged kids.
I suggested the church use MinistrySafe and volunteered to implement it with one of the staff taking over after a year or so. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has had a partnership with this organization for several years and training events are held around the state each year, one of which I attended six months ago.
This article contains my impressions about the system and it’s implementation in my local church, not a full description of the organization. We’re only a few months into the process.
- The day-long training provides an awareness of child sex abuse. My session was led by Gregory Love, one of the principals in the organization.
- The system is easily implemented. All volunteers are ‘managed’ on the MinistrySafe web page for our church. I can assign training and am kept abreast of progress.
- Volunteers are initially assigned awareness training which consists of about an hour and a half of watching videos online. The videos cover “Facts vs. Misconceptions,” “Characteristics of an abuser,” “The grooming process,” “Methods to reduce the risk,” “Peer to peer sexual abuse,” “If a child reports,” “Impact on children,” and “Responsibility to report.” The largest segment of the awareness training is on grooming.
- At the end of the online training sessions, a test is given.
- More extensive training is available for church staff. I’ve done one five hour course but haven’t done all of those, so I don’t have anything to report.
- Sample child protection policies are available.
- Background checks are available through MinistrySafe but we do this locally and haven’t submitted any through MinistrySafe.
- The cost for my church for the year will be well under $1,000, I believe. There is an annual fee plus a nominal charge when a volunteer completes the online training.
A few observations.
- I worked with our church staff to arrange one after church lunch and session. State laws vary on reporting, so I used the time to cover that as well as convey the importance and value of the training.
- It was important that the church and all volunteers understood that this was being done proactively and not as a result of any issues of child abuse in the church.
- Many of the workers, especially teachers and law enforcement types, already had some exposure to this but still, all had to complete it.
- One teacher said that their training was far less extensive in this area than the MinistrySafe online awareness training.
- Church staff had some familiarity with the issues on this but appreciated being better informed.
- I conveyed to the pastor and staff that if the church was going to do this, it had to be followed through and all volunteers must do it. No one works with children unless and until they complete the initial training and other things.
MinistrySafe seems to be the preferred provider for SBC churches and entities. It’s simple, inexpensive, and easy to implement and the organization has extensive experience and expertise. Most of the seminaries require it (and I assume they require the same online awareness course and test). I understand that there are other similar things available. I have no hesitancy in recommending this one.
MinistrySafe has been criticized for not being sufficiently aggressive in victim advocacy. I wouldn’t agree with that characterization based on the materials provided. I understand that the organization, as a “guiding precept,” will not engage in lawsuits against churches but have represented victims against a variety of other organization. I am not aware of any other organization that has been used as widely to educate and train churches in the area of child sex abuse.
No one was talking about any of this when I started pastoring in 1982. Today, it is essential that all clergy be educated and take steps in their churches to keep children safe.