By Aaron Earls
Almost half of the background checks requested by churches through Lifeway’s program with backgroundchecks.com reveals some type of criminal offense.
Most of those are minor incidents such as speeding tickets, but 21 percent of inquiries discovered misdemeanors or more serious crimes, according to Lifeway’s Jennie Taylor.
Since 2008, when Lifeway began its relationship with backgroundchecks.com, more than 11,300 churches and religious organizations have conducted almost 230,000 background checks using the program. In the past year, more than 2,100 churches have signed up through the Lifeway ONESource program.
CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach, Florida has been using backgroundchecks.com for five years. Sandy Watts, ministry assistant at the church, said, “We feel it is vital to be able to assure parents who entrust their children to us that the adults caring for and supervising their children are safe and have a clear background.”
Watts said most of their checks returned clear, but the few that have been flagged allowed church leadership to talk more deeply with the individuals and sometimes suggest other areas of the church that might be better suited for their service.
Chris Smith, pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Beckley, West Virginia, said his church began using the service last year to screen volunteers for their AWANA clubs and the congregation was “eager to participate.”
“We wanted to make sure the children are safe and the parents can have confidence in our volunteer staff,” he said. “Having the information available to the leadership has given folks a greater sense of safety for the children, the youth and adults.”
For Smith, it also serves as an avenue for community outreach. “Our church not only has a greater level of comfort knowing our volunteers and pastor are screened,” he said, “but we can share that as a part of our outreach to neighborhood parents who send or might send their children to our ministry.”
For Westwood Baptist Church in Alexandria, Alabama, the program allows church leaders to screen those participating in mission trips. Any adult who wants to volunteer must submit to a background check, said Janice Sheitlin, group leader for the church’s World Changer missions team.
Sheitlin said she has been impressed with both the cost and speed of the service. “Since the background checks are inexpensive that helps your missions budget,” she said. “Also, you’re able to quickly enter the person’s information and receive a report within a few moments.”
Despite the risks involved, Taylor said, many churches have never done background screenings. Because of this, she said Lifeway negotiated a discounted screening price to encourage churches to take this precaution. The relationship with backgroundchecks.com is invaluable if “even one child or church is protected as a result,” said Taylor.
For more information on background checks, 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 Lifeway.com/OneSource, Protecting our Children or the Southern Baptist Convention’s resources for sexual abuse prevention.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.