How to create child protection policies for your church: Part 3

Interviewing and screening

July 15, 2019

Churches and youth-serving organizations attract offenders. Churches, specifically, are easy targets because there tends to be a high level of trust, as well as a great need for volunteers to ensure that programs operate and run smoothly. 

For this reason, it is imperative that churches have a methodical process of recruiting and screening employees and volunteers for suitability of service within child and youth-serving ministries and compatibility with the church’s values and child protection policies. An informed process is important; a hurried search and recruitment of employees and volunteers just to fill spots and have the right numbers can be dangerous and places children and youth in danger. An unhurried, methodical process of hiring and recruitment allows churches to properly vet, get to know, and get a feel for a person and whether he or she is a fit for a particular ministry. The process must include time and a place for evaluation and potential discovery of red flags. 

With this in mind, churches should view the hiring and recruitment process as an opportunity for the ministry to get to know the applicant and the applicant to get acquainted with the ministry. Good policy and best practices around hiring and recruitment of employees and volunteers will lower risk and increase safety for children and youth within your church. The screening process for employees and volunteers for your church should include the following:

Application process

During this process, your aim is to screen out applicants who are not a good fit for the ministry and to emphasize your church’s priority of protecting children. First, a written application allows you to gain valuable information. The application should have all of the standard types of questions, but there are key areas to cover in evaluating employees and volunteers from a child-protection perspective. Some suggested components your written application could include are[1]:

Background check 

The second task in the screening process is a background check. Any time there is a news report or press conference on abuse by an employee or volunteer, the organization is quick to wave the clean background check. We have been conditioned to believe that a background check gives us some sort of guarantee. Background checks are necessary but are never a guarantee that a person is safe. They may provide the organization with other data points of bad judgment or lifestyle issues that may inform a decision. Background checks should be run initially and then at regular intervals throughout employment or service—at least every three years. All applicants and volunteers should be treated the same. In addition, make sure that you understand what you are getting from your background check provider.

Reference checks

A third task in the screening process is a reference check. Reference checks are a must when screening for employees and volunteers. A reference is not helpful unless you follow through and actually talk to the references. Reference checks should always occur prior to hiring, not as a “check the box” step. They are most useful when they occur prior to the interview because they will provide information that will help you evaluate the applicant during the interview. View the list of employers, volunteer supervisors, and personal references as data points that should be pursued in order to verify the person’s identity and that he or she does not have any red flags from previous employment or ministry work. Employment references should be verified for accuracy and job performance. Other churches or ministries where the applicant has served should be contacted regarding those positions and the individual’s interaction with children and youth. 

Some helpful topics to cover when interviewing references are as follows:


The fourth task in the screening process is an interview. This is your opportunity to be face to face with the applicant or potential volunteer. Direct questions about prior jobs and interaction with children and youth are helpful. It is also a time for you to educate the applicant about your church/ministry area and your vision and priority for child protection. 

In educating about your church, review your child protection policies during the interview and ask if the person has any questions or concerns with following the policies. The applicant’s reaction may be a helpful indicator of the level of “buy-in” to child protection. 

Finally, as either part of the written application or a written portion of the interview, review key parts of your policy and have the applicant affirm and initial the applicant’s commitment to and awareness of policy. Some examples[2] of statements for the applicant to review, initial, and ascribe to are: 

_____ I have received and read a copy of [church’s] child protection policy;
_____ I will protect children/youth and will never engage in any behavior that is dangerous or will harm them physically, emotionally, or spiritually;
_____I will immediately report any inappropriate behavior that I observe or hear about regarding children/youth and violations of the child protection policy; 
______I will immediately report any known or suspected abuse that I observe or hear about to church leadership and government authorities.
______I will abide by all terms of the child protection policy, and if I have any questions, I will ask for clarity.

By addressing abuse and child protection policies with applicants in the recruiting and interviewing process, your church is sending a clear message about the value you place on children and your priority of keeping them safe from harm. At the same time, you are learning more about the applicant and whether he or she is a good fit from the perspective of beliefs, background, safety, experience, demeanor, and responsibility. 

Social media review

Another task in the screening process that many youth organizations have found helpful is a review of social media. By reviewing social media postings, you may be able to ascertain values, discernment, and interactions with children. A general Google search might yield information as well. In my legal experience, the red flags that are often found on social media are inappropriate pictures, suggestive or even explicit comments, and excessive commenting and interest in children or youth by someone older. You may find some of these red flags, or you may come across other information that indicates this person is not a good fit for ministry service.

Orientation and training

The final step in the hiring and recruitment process is orientation and training of your new volunteers and employees regarding your ministry area and child protection policy. While this occurs after a decision to hire or an invitation for volunteer to serve, solid training on policy and abuse dynamics must happen early and on a regular basis throughout one’s employment or service to the ministry. Many liability carriers require training on a one- to three-year basis, but consistent training, even in shorter modules, will reinforce the church’s priority on abuse prevention and child safety. 

Lastly, your church might consider a trial period for employees and volunteers where there is increased supervision and evaluation in order to do a six-month or one-year follow-up review in order to access performance and fit within the ministry. 

An organization cannot know or test for a person’s probability of offending. Instead, leaders must rely on intuition and observations. If you are uncomfortable or something does not feel right about an applicant, you are better off postponing entry into employment or volunteer positions with children or youth until the church has more experience and interaction with that person. 

Being thorough in your hiring of staff and volunteers for your children and youth ministries, requires effort, but it takes seriously the duty of the shepherd to protect the flock. It also heeds Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:6, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Screening should go beyond a simple background check and should also include an application process, a reference check, an interview, an internet and social media search, and orientation and training.

This is part three of a five-part series. (Read: Parts one and two). Visit caringwell.com to learn more about the Caring Well Challenge and help make your church safe for survivors and safe from abuse. 

The content of this post is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice. Employment laws vary from state to state. Please consult with an employment attorney in your area to review the language of your application, reference check, and interview questions in order to ensure that your practices do not violate the laws of your state.


  1. ^ Please consult an employment attorney in your area to review the language of your application and interview questions, as employment laws and regulations vary from state to state. Your church should ensure that your practices do not violate the laws of your jurisdiction.
  2. ^ Some of these examples are similar and have been adapted from The Child Safeguarding Policy Guard for Churches and Ministries by Basyle Tchividjian.

Samantha Kilpatrick

Samantha Kilpatrick is an attorney with over 20 years of experience in the practice of law. She is currently a partner with Kilpatrick Law Group, PLLC in Raleigh, NC. She is a former prosecutor with experience in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes. Currently, in private practice, … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24