Having solid policies and procedures in place at your church, first and foremost, protect those you’re serving – children, youth and vulnerable adults. Second, they protect those that serve them – volunteers, staff and the church at large. Once your plans are developed, being intentional about following them is imperative for the protection of everyone involved. If your church already has policies and procedures in place, now is a good time to review them, and make sure they are current, and that they are being followed by staff and volunteers. Policies and procedures can only protect everyone if followed and adhered to. Here are four ways to ensure your policies and procedures protect everyone.
1. They need to be accessible. It sounds simple, but many times I’ve found churches can’t locate their policies or they only have hard copies with no ability to update them digitally. Oftentimes policies and procedures are found deep in a filing cabinet somewhere and are outdated. Make sure your policies are in a digital format to allow for updates and additions. Make sure the latest copy is available in hard copy format and readily accessible for referencing and sharing.
2. They must be tailored to your church. Church policies will differentiate based on leadership structure, building layout, ministries offered, ages served, volunteer requirements, etc. It’s acceptable to start out with a basic framework from which to build. But, as you begin to compile them, they will differ from church to church. For example, if your church has a single-stall bathroom in each kid’s classroom, you’re going to have a different policy from a church that has a multi-stall bathroom that is used by everyone in the building. If your church has a van ministry, you’ll have a transportation policy that speaks to that ministry. Your church may be led by deacons and elders, while another church is led by deacons and a church management team. The procedures that adhere to the policies will be different based on the leadership style of each church. Churches do not have to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch, but they must be specifically tailored to address the uniqueness and structure of each church.
3. They need to be agreed to and taught. Once approved by your leadership, all staff and volunteers must agree to and be trained in the policies and procedures. As part of your onboarding process for staff and volunteers, provide them with a hard copy of the policies, ask them to read them, and then sign and date an acknowledgment form stating they have, in fact, read the policies and agree to abide by them. Keep that document in your personnel files. Providing training on the policies and procedures is imperative for compliance. Having them read them and trained in them creates a culture of zero tolerance for compliance. Annual refresher training is a helpful reminder to staff and volunteers of the importance of keeping themselves and the ones they serve safe.
4. They need to be reviewed annually. Annual policy reviews allow for updates such as phone numbers, staff turnover, reporting procedures, and ministry changes. Having a safety team, or your leadership, review your policies and procedures annually provides an opportunity to evaluate the implementation and make adjustments based on any changes you’ve had within the church. Has the insurance carrier changed? Have you added a new ministry? Have you eliminated a ministry? Are your technology policies current based on today’s communication methods? Have any local reporting laws or phone numbers changed? Are there any procedures that need to be changed to better protect those you serve? Regardless of any changes made, but especially if there are, annual refresher training for all staff and volunteers should be a part of your team development.
There is much more to be said about having policies and procedures in place to protect both those you serve and those who serve. They should be comprehensive and written from a knowledge of how predators push boundaries and what their grooming patterns look like so that violations can be immediately reported and addressed. You should have them reviewed by your legal counsel and insurance companies for further input and guidance. Policies and procedures are the bookends to a solid prevention plan.
Editor's Note: This column originally appeared on Baptist Press.