By Aaron Earls
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As churches begin to regather and eventually restart their children’s ministry during COVID-19, leaders should keep other unseen dangers in mind—like sex abuse.
A Lifeway Research study found more than 1 in 10 Protestant pastors say someone on church staff has sexually harassed a congregation member at some point in the church’s life.
An additional Lifeway Research study revealed around 3 in 10 Protestant churchgoers believe there are many more incidents of Protestant pastors sexually abusing children or teens than has been exposed (32%), as well as many more incidents of pastors sexually assaulting adults (29%).
As these concerns have come to the forefront, more churches are using background checks as one of the means to help keep children and other congregants safe through Lifeway Christian Resources’ OneSource program relationship with backgroundchecks.com.
From 2009 to 2019, more than 20,000 customers have conducted more than 416,000 screenings through the program, according to Jennie Morris of Lifeway. “On average, we add 150 customers a month,” she said.
Morris attributes the continued growth to the $10 price point for a search that includes nationwide sex offender registry, various terrorist watch lists, over 650 million felony, misdemeanor and traffic records, as well as Social Security number validation.
She said around half of the searches return some type of offense. While most of those are only minor incidents, historically, close to 1 in 5 discover a misdemeanor or more serious crime.
This rise in background checks has coincided with more churchgoers believing their church is safer today than a decade ago.
Seven in 10 Protestant churchgoers (69%) believe their church is more prepared to protect children from sexual abuse than 10 years ago, according to Lifeway Research.
Stacy Hatcher, special events coordinator at Hopewell Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga., said conducting background checks was the “first step in protecting our children inside the church.”
She said using the backgroundchecks.com service “gives parents a peace of mind that we are doing our due diligence in checking the volunteers.”
Timothy Sanford, pastor of First Baptist Church of El Monte, Ca., agrees that the background checks offer peace of mind and said he cannot say how much his congregation appreciates the service. “Our staff, leadership, and most importantly our parents are all very pleased to know that those who are going to be with their children are all background check cleared,” he said.
“It’s quick and easy, and for us being a small church, very much cost effective,” Sanford said. “We especially appreciate that in a matter of minutes we can have a completed background check, and if we needed it, we can have a more detailed check for only a few dollars more.”
As a staff member of the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association, Jen Maxedon has seen the benefit of Lifeway’s relationship with backgroundchecks.com beyond the local church.
“We have a ministry called Good Neighbor Initiative that matches American families with refugee families to form friendships and be helpful neighbors,” she said. “We thought it was best to have a background check done on every head of home that would be involved in the ministry before pairing them with a refugee family.”
Maxedon said she has no complaints about backgroundchecks.com. “I would absolutely recommend it,” she said. “It is convenient, inexpensive, the customer service is wonderful, and the search and details are thorough and exactly what we need for our ministry.”
For more information on background checks, visit LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks or call (800) 464-2799. For additional resources to help churches prevent sexual abuse or other criminal issues by staff members or volunteers, visit SBCLife.net/pdf/ProtectingOurChildren.pdf or SBC.net/churchresources/sexabuseprevention.asp.
Aaron Earls is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.