It’s the conversation no one wants to have. A child says he was touched inappropriately, and that child is a member of your church. Whether you’re the child’s parent, Sunday School teacher, godparent, youth leader, pastor, or his accused molester, you can expect that things are about to get really ugly in your world. How did this happen? Was it my fault? Will the church be sued? What if the child is mistaken? What if the accused denies it and there’s no evidence of molestation? Who do you believe?

With statistics as they are, I would guess that everyone (and I do mean everyone) in the United States has either been affected by molestation, rape, or other sexual abuse, or knows someone who has. Recently, an acquaintance was recapping that day’s Oprah show and told me that he heard that 1 out of every 6 men experiences some sort of sexual abuse in his lifetime. For women, the number is even greater: 1 of every 4. Of course, I had to double check, and unfortunately, his numbers were correct. It’s disturbing.

I know you’ve heard countless stories of the Catholic sex abuse scandals, the COGIC sex abuse scandals, LDS scandals, and all the other independent churches who have gained notoriety for mishandling sex abuse allegations.  Our children are our most vulnerable church members; the Lord said the kingdom of God is theirs. As such, we must protect them at any cost. Children who are abused typically grow into damaged adults who struggle for years to overcome the negative effects of abuse on their spirits, their psyches, their hearts, their sexuality, self-esteem, relationships, attitudes, and emotions.

I know we don’t like to talk about it, or even imagine that anything like this could ever happen at our church. We often hear the horrific stories of children abused at church and how we can prevent it, but rarely do you hear people talking about those who are falsely accused and how to prevent that. Here are 5 things you can do to decrease the likelihood that any sort of unlawful sexual misconduct occurs and protect against false accusations.

1. Know them that Labor Among You – You’d be surprised how many churches don’t perform criminal or sex offender background checks on the people they entrust their children to. Sis. Sally may be saved now, but you don’t know what she was saved from. And if she is a registered sex offender somewhere, you need to know that before you trust her with children. Don’t dismiss the importance of knowing those that labor among you. Check the backgrounds of ALL ADULTS who work with children. A $30 background check can protect your children and your church from potential abuse and resulting law suits or criminal charges.

2. The Two-Adult RuleNever allow anyone under the age of 18 to be alone with any adult while on church grounds or during a church-sponsored outing, meeting, gathering, or fellowship. Youth workers should always be paired up. It doesn’t just protect the children, it protects the adults from false accusations, misunderstood gestures, and suspicion.

3. Teach Them ( the adults, I mean) The church isn’t the place to teach children what’s appropriate touching and what’s not. That should take place at home. But the church IS responsible for making sure its youth workers know what is acceptable and what isn’t. What is normal to one may make another feel uncomfortable… or it just may not look right. To avoid the appearance of wrongdoing, youth workers must be told (specifically) what is okay and what is not. Use the internet to find a sample youth worker policy and implement it immediately.

4. Have an Open-Door Policy and Maintain Confidentiality – Children, parents, and even adults who may struggle with sexually perverted desires must have someone in the church they can come to without fear of betrayal. It’s a pretty tough balancing act, but you have to do it. Children who have been abused or touched in a way that made them uncomfortable have to trust that they can go to their pastor, even if they’re not comfortable telling their parents. They will need to feel listened to and shielded from further abuse or retaliation. Parents who have noticed odd interactions between youth and youth workers will want to know that they can share their concern with the pastor without fear of having their names associated with such a very sensitive suspicion. Adults who struggle with perversion need to know that they can confide in the pastor without being exposed irresponsibly.

5. Study to Show Yourself Approved – Churches must know the laws that govern their states. In many states, churches and clergy members have a mandatory obligation to report abuse and/or suspected abuse to law enforcement authorities. Failure to do so may result in charges, law suits, and of course, further abuse. Not only must you know the law, church leaders must also utilize resources like books, workshops, websites, seminars, and articles to learn all they can about preventing abuse. You may also want to discuss getting an insurance policy to protect against related lawsuits.

Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. — Luke 18:16 KJV

If you need help implementing a written policy or procedures to keep the children of your church safe, contact me; I’d be happy to help you.  For more information on how to prevent abuse or false allegations in your church, visit these safe links:

Legal Considerations for Your Church
Guide One: Children and Youth Safety Resources
Protecting God’s Children