Social Enterprise Resource Bank

After Background Checks: What’s Next?

Originally posted on April 20, 2016 at Admin Is Ministry
Content by Rev. Micah James, CCA

Step 1: Have all staff and volunteers do regularly scheduled background checks (every two years is best).

Step 2: Uh…….????

This is a situation facing many of our communities, organizations, and congregations. We have heard, repeatedly, “You must do background checks!” but then after we take that step we are unsure what is next. Background checks are the first, and very important, step in a multi-step process to creating a safe environment. So, here are some basic steps to best practices for background checks:

Step 1: Have all staff and volunteers do regularly scheduled background checks (every two years is best).

Step 2: Talk about worst-case scenarios. What if a background check comes back with a report with legal records? Do you have a process for handling such background checks? The best practice is to have a process that allows you to have a confidential conversation with just a few leaders and tailor the consequences to the findings. For example, someone with a record of financial malfeasance should be restricted from working in finance, not all areas of ministry. Another example: a person who is a registered sex offender should be restricted from working with children and youth, not from participating in worship. You have to maintain the safety of community while creating a space for recovery and growth.

Step 3: Make sure no one works alone. The two-adult rule is no longer a matter of convenience, but a sign of a healthy ministry and organization. Background checks, even clear ones, do not prevent abuse. Background checks are only to show earlier transgressions. Regular supervision and team teaching protects both the students and the teachers. (Note: Husband, wife, partners, significant others, or spouses are not the best way to create the two-adult minimum. In many states, married couples are not required to testify against one another in legal proceedings.)

Step 4: The element of surprise! Don’t sneak up on your teachers, but they should expect a ministry or service leader to pop in unexpectedly from time to time. Not being able to plan around a visit of another leader will keep everyone safe and makes it known that there are no secret times or spaces in your organization.

These are just a few of the steps you can take in your ministry or nonprofit to do your best to maintain a safe environment for all involved.

Rev. Micah James is an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Micah serves as Associate Minister of Faith Formation at First Christian Church of Edmond, OK. In February 2015, Micah and her father, Rev. Mike Hunter, launched AdminIsMinistry, a free resource on church administration topics that helps better equip smaller congregations to do the ministry of Jesus Christ.

The NBA incubates new ministries, supporting social entrepreneurs of faith who are serving their communities in a variety of innovative ways and empowering these Disciples-led health and social service projects to focus on growth, impact, and sustainability. Learn more at