Critical safety policies to protect your
church and the children in it.
by Pastor Steve Alley
On Palm Sunday in 1998, a 12-year-old girl
disappeared from Memorial United Methodist
Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was 11
a.m. when someone noticed that the girl was
missing, and a few adults searched for her as
the worship service began.
Ned Owens, the pastor of the 903-member church,
instructed his ushers to go quickly throughout
their building to find the child. A few moments
later, a child said, "She went with a man to get
Indeed, 41-year-old Robin Wayne Martin allegedly
entered the second- floor education area,
pretended to need help from children, and lured
the girl to his van. Throughout the afternoon,
church members prayed, passed out fliers, and
searched for the child. Seven hours after the
abduction, a motorist found her on the side of
the road, her hands bound by duct tape. She was
Martin, it turns out, had been a member of
Memorial, had grown up in this church, married
there, and even raised his two children in it.
Martin's mother is still active in the church.
Seven months earlier, Martin had allegedly
molested an 8-year-old in another community.
That case was pending. In this abduction case,
Martin has been charged with 13 counts including
kidnapping, sexual assault, and rape.
Think this could never happen at your church?
Safety issues-not only those like this situation
are the top critical concern for children's
ministries today. And for good reason. God is
all-trustworthy but people and situations aren't
always to be trusted.
Church safety is something for which the wise
prepare. To wait until a crisis happens to
create safety plans is too late.
To believe that
"this will never happen to us" is risky.
Churches are sued every year. Lawsuits arise for
several reasons including accusations of
negligence in the areas of screening and
training staff, supervision, event planning, and
emergency preparedness. Church Mutual Insurance
Company, the leading insurer of churches in
America, averages four to five new sexual
molestation and misconduct claims each week.
Consider these statistics from James Cobble, the
executive director of Christian Ministry
Resources in Matthews, North Carolina:
In the past five years, one out of 25
churches has responded to an allegation of
sexual molestation in children's ministry.
One percent have actually gone to court.
Less than half of all churches screen their
paid children's ministry workers.
Less than one-third of all churches screen
their children's ministry volunteers.
The frequency of court cases involving
injury to children is directly proportionate
to the size of the church. Urban churches
are at a higher risk of being accused.
Suburban churches with more than 500 members
have the highest risk of being sued.
During the past three years, 52 percent of
churches reported having accidents that
required medical attention. That percentage
increased to 68 percent for churches with a
worship attendance between 250 to 1,000 and
84 percent for churches over 1,000.
Steve Alley is the children's pastor at
Crossroads Christian Church in Corona,
California, and an associate professor of
children's ministry at Hope International
University in Fullerton, California.
CHILDREN'S MINISTRY NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1999