by Aaron Earls
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The man serving snow cones at your Vacation Bible School is a convicted sex offender.
That was the news Bill Jones had to deliver to one of the pastors in his association.
The pastor came to Jones after learning a volunteer, who had been a “model church member” for two years, may have had a criminal record.
“[The pastor] asked if I would do a background search, as I often do for our smaller churches that cannot afford it themselves,” said Jones, Executive Director of the Neches River Baptist Association in Crockett, Texas.
The report did uncover a sex offense conviction, so the pastor and one of his deacons dealt with the volunteer.
That Texas church was one of nearly 5,000 churches and religious organizations who’ve used over the past five years, through a relationship with Lifeway Christian Resources. There have been more 84,500 background checks run through the LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks program during that time.
Of those checks, 53 percent (44,946) returned some type of issue, according to Jennie Taylor, a Lifeway coordinator who manages the backgroundchecks.com program. The issues range from minor traffic violations to felony convictions,” said Taylor. Not all of the issues required any action, but more than 22.5 percent (19,202) of the screenings returned records with misdemeanor or felony offenses.
Jones said the Texas church now understands the importance of running background checks ahead of time.
“They now have a policy that everyone who works in [children and youth] areas will have a current background check on file,” said Jones.
The Monongahela Baptist Association in West Virginia also uses the service to run background checks on all volunteers for their children and youth camps.
“It’s a way to help keep kids safe,” said Jerilyn Smith, administrative assistant at the association.
“We want to assure parents that we are doing all we can to protect their children from those who would want to harm them,” she said.
Under the Lifeway program, churches and religious organizations can use the background check service at discounted rates. The service is used to run background screenings on children’s ministry workers, camp counselors, bus drivers, or other volunteers and staff.
“Leaders from churches and organizations who use Lifeway’s background checks service say protecting those God has placed under their care is paramount,” Taylor said.
Taylor said backgroundchecks.com has “an extensive collection of public record sources,” including over 450 million records in its database. It also gives easy to read reports, she said.
Having access to a national database was important for First Baptist Church in Brownsville, Texas.
“I tried using another background check website and they only searched through Texas,” said Heather Smith, office assistant at First Baptist. Backgroundchecks.com, she said, checks records from all 50 states.
“All churches should run background checks and should have policies in effect on how those checks can be used in a redemptive manner for those that come back with a criminal past,” said Jones.
For more information, visit LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks or call (800) 464-2799. For additional resources to help churches avoid the devastating effects of sexual abuse and other moral failures by staff members or volunteers, visit http://www.sbc.net/localchurches/ministryhelp.asp and http://sbclife.net/pdf/ProtectingOurChildren.pdf.
Note: Statistics reported in this article reflect results from clients who have purchased background check services from backgroundchecks.com through Lifeway’s OneSource program.