Volunteers are the backbone of any ministry. Even a large church cannot run its children’s ministry solely with paid staff—they need to develop a solid core of reliable volunteers. In some cases, recruitment can be challenging. However, that does not mean you should ever compromise on your standards for volunteers. Your volunteers are the first line of defense in keeping kids safe and secure within your ministry. They should be people of good character who are spiritually sound and trustworthy, and who have been through the background check process your church has put in place.
People want to be part of an excellent team, and keeping the bar high for volunteers will attract quality people. Ministries that require background checks will attract the caliber of volunteers who care enough about child safety to comply.
1) Background Checks
Interviewing a potential volunteer is a good start, but not enough. Abusers tend to be very good at deception. Every volunteer should also be cleared by a criminal background check. Unless someone has something to hide, they should have no problem with anyone looking at their background.
For help with this, you can contact local law enforcement, or use a company like Protect My Ministry. Accessibility to criminal records varies by state—so do your homework.
These background checks should be repeated every one to two years. Unfortunately, volunteering in a children’s ministry does not keep people from making bad choices, and you need to have up-to-date records to be sure kids in your ministry are safe.
2) Volunteer Training
Even volunteers who have experience parenting their own children can benefit from training that covers some basics of child development. Train your volunteers in effective teaching techniques, in how to communicate with parents, as well as in safety and security procedures and practices. If you are using an electronic check-in system, you will need to train your volunteers to use it properly. It’s only as safe as those using it. Many systems provide free training and support.
Make training a requirement for serving in your ministry. This not only helps volunteers do their job better, it keeps everyone on the same page and moving forward together.
Decide whether you will create the materials to train your volunteers, or use training resources developed by experts, which may be available as a curriculum or an online course.
3) Volunteer Procedure
A specific plan for how you’ll handle volunteers will help your ministry run smoothly. A written plan that answers the following concerns will help:
- What will your volunteer application look like? What questions will you ask, and what level of commitment will you require (such as serving weekly, or monthly, etc.)? It should include questions about the person’s background.
- Who will review the background checks, and how will they respond? Having a committee rather than an individual reduces your liability and provides check and balance.
- Which volunteers will be required to have background checks, and how often? Anyone in direct contact with children should be checked, ideally annually.
- Put in writing what to do if there is any incident involving a child.
- Provide training for volunteers to set them up for success. Clearly define your mission and values, and your expectations regarding attendance, behavior, and so on. Have a written volunteer agreement that spells everything out (see below).
- What are the age requirements for your volunteers? What are the policies for high school kids who serve in your children’s ministries? Are they paired with adult volunteers who can guide and supervise?
4) Volunteer Agreement
A safe and secure children’s ministry is built on clear communication. No one, even the best volunteers, can exceed your expectations if you don’t clearly spell out what those expectations are.
Create a simple volunteer agreement that spells out responsibilities and expectations, and have each volunteer sign a copy. This provides accountability and helps them understand their role.
You may also want to include language about a volunteer’s responsibility to nurture their own walk with God, to refrain from negativity or a bad attitude, and proper channels for resolving disputes or problems within the ministry team.
5) Social Media Policy
The volunteer agreement should include your policy on social media and phone use. You may want to have a “phones off, no photos” policy for volunteers. If a young volunteer posts a photo on social media of a child whose parent hasn’t given permission, that’s a liability.
Decide as a staff if the church’s intent is to require all parents to sign blanket release forms once per year giving permission to use their children’s photos online or in social media, or if asking permission on a case-by-case basis is better for your ministry. In the event that an image is shared online and the parents request it to be taken down, comply immediately. Having a section within your volunteer agreement with specific bullet points to tackle social media is a great way to get everyone on the same page.
Many experts warn against naming and tagging children in photos posted to social media due to increased threats of online stalkers. For instance, do not name children, “From left to right, Johnny, Suzie, Mary . . .”, and do not state the location and the names together.
While these issues are complicated and ever-changing, talking to other children’s ministry leaders, and reading publications and blogs that are constantly looking to improve this area of ministry are key to staying current on the issue of social media.
The strength and quality of your ministry, as well as the safety of the children in your ministry, are only as good as your volunteers. Don’t compromise on quality, training or expectations. Set standards high, and your ministry will thrive.
[This article is taken from the third chapter of our free ebook on Children’s Check-In technology.]