Several years ago, as one of the authors of the Plan to Protect Manual, a protection manual for churches, I surveyed churches of different sizes. The question I asked was, “As a small, medium, or large-sized church, how do you view the implementation of safeguarding?”
The responses were consistent.
Large churches said … “Small churches have it easier; they have fewer people to screen and train!”
Small churches responded … “We don’t have the budget or people that large churches have to make this possible!”
Medium-sized churches chipped in …. “It’s easy if you are a small church or a large church, but it is really challenging for medium-sized churches!”
Unfortunately, having consulted thousands of practicioners, we have found and heard that the majority of small churches tend to approach child safeguarding as a low priority. The reasons cited include being in a rural community, or they think they know everyone, or they only have a handful of children.
One insurance company reported that over 86% of their claims for child abuse were in small, rural or mono-cultural churches. Abuse happens in every segment of our society. No group is immune to abuse, and no church demographic is excepted from taking steps to prevent abuse.
If you are a small church, you may find it challenging to implement safeguarding measures, but we would encourage you to consider these Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to safeguarding from abuse in a small church:
- Demonstrate your commitment to child protection by committing time and financial resources for safeguarding. You will find that most organizations that specialize in child protection have a small church model or scholarships for training, screening, policy development, and information management systems. So, don’t hesitate to ask for small church solutions and discounts.
- Screen and train your volunteers, staff, and Board members. One small church we worked with decided they would screen and train everyone in the church because they wanted the children to consider the church a family that could be trusted. While screening 100% of your members is only one solution, we would advise at the least screening and training your staff, volunteers and Board members. Staff and Board members are often called on in a case of an emergency or if an incident of abuse occurs.
- Recruit a Hall Monitor. Often with small churches, you may need to make an exception to the standard “Rule of Two”, which refers to the necessity of two screened and unrelated adults in every classroom. All exceptions to this policy should include keeping the door open, providing clear sight lines into the classroom, and having a Hall Monitor on duty. This is a workable solution when you find you don’t have enough staffing to provide for the two-adult rule.
- Don’t wait until your ministry grows, or for an incident to occur. Lay the foundation for safeguarding when you only have a small number of children. It is much easier to secure buy-in from the congregation as a church plant than if you are well-established and habits are already formed that will need to be changed when you implement new policies and procedures and when you are responsible for taking care of even more kids.
- Don’t delegate safeguarding to your Sunday School Superintendent or children’s ministry director. This should be an intentional ministry of the church, with leadership support. If possible, recruit a small committee of individuals with varied giftings and backgrounds–including administration, human resources, and training.
- Don’t borrow or beg other churches to share their policies with you. Rather, seek help from professionals, and with their help, customize the policies and procedures for your own context and congregation.
In closing, view safeguarding as a ministry, not just something you must do because your insurance company requires it. Read and listen to the lived experiences of victim-survivors of abuse. These stories will open your eyes to the prevalence of abuse and the risks we face and they will equip you in your safeguarding role. Don’t let your guard down … even one child deserves a safe environment.
 Robertson Hall Insurance, Abuse Prevention Newsletter 2005