Background Checks - An
Church Pre-employment Background
No Longer an Option for
Employees or Volunteers
Since the 1980s, there has been a explosion of
litigation and media attention relating to misconduct by
ministers and teachers who violate their position of trust
in the church. When these incidents occur within the church,
the consequences are devastating for the individuals
involved, their families, the denomination, and the
community at large. It also provides a poor witness to the
failure of a church to use reasonable care in the selection
of both paid employees and volunteer workers can subject the
church to law suits for liability and legal damages for the
actions of a problem employee or volunteer. Suits can allege
that the church failed to accurately check references,
criminal records or general background information that
could have shown the staff member’s likelihood for criminal
or improper behavior. The legal concepts of "negligent hiring" and
"negligent supervision" are themes in many of the lawsuits
arising from sexual misconduct and accidental death or
injury. Ultimately, it will be up to a jury to determine if
your church exercised reasonable care in the screening
More important than avoidance of litigation is the
safety of the children and members of the church. A proper
screening and hiring process can save members of your
church from sexual predators, criminals and church bus
drivers with bad driving records. It is the responsibility
of the church to do everything possible to protect
Staff and Volunteer
Background Screening is no longer an option;
it is a necessity to protect the members and the institution.
Regardless of size of your church, it must be more
careful than ever;
for the sake of its members, their finances and the
witness of the church. Job applicants, existing staff
members, volunteers and independent contractors must be
asked to submit to a background check. For some positions,
screening is required by federal or state law. Your church
may be in violation of the law and you not know it!
Sexual Misconduct -
One of the greatest risks facing churches today is the
problem of child sexual abuse. Every year, an estimated 2.4
million children are physically abused. In the last few
years, the abuse of children by church staff has earned
headline attention, making the public more and more aware of
the need to background check. Thoroughly screening workers
helps to ward off potential molesters. If sexual abuse does
occur in a church program, churches that have screened the
alleged perpetrator will be in a better position to reduce
their liability risk by showing they acted with reasonable
care in the selection of the worker
Accidental Death or Injury - Another risk
facing churches is the negligent selection of drivers.
Conducting a Motor Vehicle Check is important, both for the
safety of the passengers, as well as to reduce potential
liability risk to the church. Suppose a death occurred
following a tragic van accident and it was learned that the
church driver who caused the accident had a history of
driving violations and did not have a valid license.
Furthermore, suppose the church did nothing to screen that
driver. An allegation of negligent selection may follow.
Theft and Financial Malfeasance -
Conducting a Credit File Check helps to protect the
financial assets of the church. It makes sense to screen
individuals who have responsibilities for the oversight and
management of the church's finances. Credit checks should be
an absolute requirement for the position of Senior Pastor or
any other position that will be involved in church finances.
Background checks on church
staff and volunteers help:
- Safeguard the church, its members,
and children, and
- Reduces the risk of a lawsuit if a problem
should occur later.
On the other hand, the cost of not doing proper
background can be quite high.
- The trauma to victims.
- The emotional and spiritual impact on the
- The negative news coverage.
- The stress of litigation and the investigative
- The financial cost of defense, even when not
- The personal impact on church leaders.
Today, security and safety aware churches have opened
their eyes (and checkbook) after understanding the inherent risks
in not performing pre-employment background checks. While it
may feel intrusive, ministries must apply a background check
not only to people being hired as full-time employees, but
also volunteer workers. Churches are legally responsible not
only for their paid staff, but for volunteer workers.
The issue of volunteer workers is very relevant given that
many children's and youth ministries require large numbers
of volunteer workers.
- The Two Edged Sword of Background Screening
Part 3 - Selecting a Background Screening Vendor for Your Church