Screening Our Volunteers

Two years ago I wrote “Protecting People and Ministry” on how our church, St. Peter Lutheran in Arlington Heights, Illinois, created volunteer screening policies as part of a risk management plan. Implementation took longer than expected, but it taught us much and reinforced the importance of addressing these issues. Perhaps our experience can help you. We’d love to learn from your experience, too. (The brochures, documents and other items mentioned here are on our church website.)

Initial implementation

  • We gave the changes lots and lots of publicity. It wasn’t too much. We used both an info brochure and an FAQ brochure
  • We talked often to staff (they had to be screened too) and to leaders of the affected ministries. We could have done more of this.
  • One of our best tools was a one-page handout that gave people the ‘how-to’ for each step of the screening process
  • We did not grandfather in our existing staff and volunteers. Made for more work, but was the right choice both for safety of vulnerable people and for a sense of doing this together.

Managing the process

People wait to the last minute. That makes screening oh-so-much harder.

  • Pastor’s support is essential.
  • One staff person was the lead. A second staff person did the processing and record-keeping. The work probably averaged 2 days/week from each of these staff.
  • Volunteers prepared and led the protection class. Other volunteers were trained interviewers.
  • It helped to be realistic about the time it takes to implement such a big change.
  • Be flexible and helpful when you can. We scheduled interviews during some ministry activities to save people an extra trip to church.
  • Be patience and also persistent. Hold to the policies you created.
  • We started with ‘live’ protection classes but found an online version works better for most people.
  • Records are crucial and should be complete, accurate and stored securely and confidentially. We used both paper and electronic records.

Insuring compliance

Overall, people were very supportive.

  • Now that you have policies in place, you must continue to check that you are complying with them.
  • Having all new volunteers/staff processed through one gatekeeper would not work for us. We monitor and confirm compliance by regular checks with each ministry leader.
  • Understand the realities faced by your ministry leaders, and find ways to help make compliance work for them.

Bottom Line

  • Overall, people were very supportive. The need for screening is obvious to everyone.
  • People commonly wait to the last minute to recruit, hire, fill out forms, etc. That makes screening oh-so-much harder for the individual, the leaders, and those who do the screening.
  • The protection screening leader needs to be approachable, someone people can talk to.
  • Surprise. We kept finding more staff, such as all who receive a stipend, and more ministries that involved vulnerable people, such as Meals on Wheels.

June 2013

Leave a Reply