This article is an interview of Jeremy Herron, the Director of Providence Kids and Providence Academy at Providence Church Frisco. Jeremy recently led the church through the ECAP Accreditation Process. If you want to learn more, check out the ECAP Accreditation Webinar.
Why did your church decide to pursue ECAP accreditation?
From the beginning, Providence Frisco was passionate about bringing Deepak Reju’s book On Guard to life. Every new children’s minister has read it. We believe that part of shepherding is keeping those in the congregation safe from harm, and ECAP accreditation communicates to our church and the outside world that we value Child Safety.
Describe your youth and children’s ministry. What kind of programming? How many kids on a weekly basis?
We divide up our youth and children’s ministry into three sections.
Providence Kids includes children from birth-4th grade. We have about 250 kids per week and an hour-long Sunday School during service time. We cycle through the Gospel Project curriculum every 3 years. The goal of our kids’ ministry is to provide more resources for parents and push the discipleship process into the homes of our congregation.
We call our 5th-6th grade students’ ministry The Bridge. We have about 40-50 kids each week, and the goal of this ministry is to prepare those kids for Student Ministry.
We have about 100 students who are a part of our 7th-12th grade Providence Student Ministry as well.
How prepared was Providence Frisco, compared to the ECAP Standards? How much of your Child Protection Plan do you think had to change?
When we discovered On Guard, drastic changes were made in our kids’ ministry in order to align with the prescriptions in that book. So we already had a lot of good things in place.
The big difference between day-0 with ECAP and now is documentation. Because of On Guard, the kids’ ministry did a lot of really good things in place, such as volunteer training and screening. However, very little of it was documented. If there was ever an allegation of child abuse against a Worker, the church would have had a difficult time proving that they did anything to provide for Child Safety.
0-90% of the changes were pretty easy to implement. The last 10% was a lot of fine-tuning our policies and procedures to accord with ECAP Standards.
Describe the team you put together. How many staff and non-staff members? What kind of skills and experience were you looking for?
In forming our team, we realized needed people who could think critically and outside-the-box. We also recognized the importance of organization. Anybody can learn the Standards and write policies and procedures, but without organization it’s impossible to come up with a cohesive Child Protection Plan.
The team in charge of refining our Child Protection Plan included myself and another staff member from the Children’s Ministry Team. Our Executive Pastor also played a role, which made all the difference in the world. Having leadership buy-in is highly recommended.
What was the most difficult thing about completing the Self-Study?
The most difficult thing was understanding that in crafting our Child Protection Plan, we were “eating an elephant.” We had to take it one bite at a time. It took time to become familiar with the Standards and Indicators. The five main categories were helpful, but crafting compliant policies and procedures involved understanding what each individual Indicator called for. Completing the Self-Study took consistency and commitment, but the process helped us consider all the different ways we can better protect children.
What did you learn throughout the process? What were some unexpected challenges? What did you wish you knew before?
The main thing that we learned is that it doesn’t matter how good your policies and procedures, training, and screening process are if you can’t prove it. If you don’t have documentation, then it’s just your word against the alleged victim.
One of our biggest challenges was aligning various ministries’ policies and procedures (Kids, Community groups, Student Ministries, etc.). Much of our time was spent refining the policies and procedures of each to the point of uniformity.
Before we started, I wish I knew how simple the end product can be. The process of researching, trial and error in implementing, and everything else takes a lot of time to do well.
Speak to the process of leading through cultural change. Was it difficult for your congregation to adopt these new policies? What role did leadership (besides yourself) play in leading change?
The church was overwhelmingly supportive of our desire to implement a solid Child Protection Plan. Our church is probably pretty unique in our attitude towards issues of sexual abuse and care for the vulnerable. We actually opened up our sexual abuse awareness training for Workers to the entire congregation. We found that what they learned in that training is applicable to church and everyday life with kids (kids’ soccer team, going to the grocery store, attending school functions, etc.). Because our congregation was already aware of these issues, it was easy to continue the conversation of refining policies and talking about abuse prevention. The church was largely verbally supportive of this, possibly more than anything else the church has ever done. They wanted to promote themselves as a safe church.
The only pushback we received came from people wondering if implementing these things will make it too difficult to serve in kids’ ministries. But we believe that part of shepherding is protecting. It doesn’t do any good to put your head in the sand about the potential of abuse happening in ministry. We also believe that it’s better to put in the effort now for creating a Response Plan as a part of Child Protection Plan than potentially having to respond to future allegations flat-footed and unprepared.
Have you seen any fruit or positive responses from the changes you have already made?
Everybody is unified on a singular vision for safety as a church. All volunteers were eager to get new documentation to get started because they wanted it to succeed. We had over 250 submissions to a lengthy volunteer application. They were at 85% response in a couple of weeks. People have bought into the vision of their church being a safe place for the vulnerable.
Additionally, because of this, more survivors have been willing to share their own story of being abused. It would be tragic if people felt that they couldn’t share their deepest hurts with the body of Christ. Opening up these conversations has led to greater humility and unity for our whole church.
How did you prepare for the Validation Visit, if at all?
Simply practicing what we preach. Because most of what they had to change was documentation and record-keeping, they didn’t have to change much on day-to-day operations. We did have an all-volunteer training where they rolled out some of the nuanced differences between what they did and what they do now.
What encouragement would you give to organizations considering accreditation?
You don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t have a well-considered Child Protection Policy. The benefits vastly outweigh the consequences. For our church it’s a no-brainer. We have more unity in our church because of it. We have more peace of mind because we’ve made it difficult for someone who doesn’t love Jesus to serve in the kids’ ministry. The depth at which they now know their congregation’s previous hurts is worthy every minute. It’s provided so many opportunities for pastoral care and conversations about issues that effect people.