Have more questions? Contact:
A Policy as an Act of Hospitality
Christians are called to live according to the gospel of Jesus. All persons are created by God. God intends all persons to have worth and dignity in their relationships. We are a connected body, and when one part of this body is injured physically, emotionally or spiritually, the entire body is rendered less than God intended.
The scriptures witness to a God who brings about justice, mercy and grace. This policy is an act of hospitality to those who may be at risk due to their age, size, and mental and/or physical capacities.
The purpose of a Protection Policy (also known in The United Methodist Church as Safe Sanctuaries) is to protect all children, youth, and vulnerable as well as volunteers and staff who work with these populations. While this policy may help limit legal liability, it's main purpose is part of our theological task to care for ALL God's people.
This page includes guidelines, templates, training, and reporting resources, as well as information about Safe Gatherings.
What is a protection/safe sanctuary policy?
A Protection Policy (known by lots of names, for this conversation I will refer to it as a Protection Policy, or PP) is a document local churches adopt, implement, and follow through to protect children, youth, vulnerable adults and those who are in ministry with those populations from abuse and allegations of abuse. It’s not just for children and youth! It also protects vulnerable adults who are at risk of emotional, sexual, financial and other forms of abuse. The PP may also provide guidelines around staffing, transportation, media, overnights, and other considerations of a local church. The PP establishes guidelines and a process for how one becomes trained and authorized to work with children, youth, and vulnerable adults. It also contains information about what to if abuse is suspected or alleged.
Who does the policy protect?
The Protection Policy protects children, youth, vulnerable adults and those who are in ministry with them as well as the local church.
Which churches need protection policies, and why?
ALL churches need to have a Protection Policy. There are several reasons why churches need to have a protection policy. First, it cares for God’s children by establishing guidelines and expectations to minimize the risk of abuse in vulnerable populations. Second, it cares for those who are in ministry with vulnerable populations, both paid and volunteer, with training and guidelines for care. Third, it creates a policy to minimize the risk and limit the extend of liability for a local church. In addition to the policy, the local church must conduct thorough training and individuals must complete applications and background checks.
Is this really about ministry, or is it fear of lawsuits?
Yes. The Protection Policy is foremost about ministry and it is also about limiting liability for local churches.
I can vouch for my long-time nursery volunteer. Does she really need a background check?
Yes! And everyone needs to complete the training, application, and background check.
Does everyone need training?
Yes! Everyone who wishes to be in ministry with children, youth, and vulnerable adults need to complete the training, application, and background check. There is good news! If you do not feel qualified or prepared to lead such a training, there are resources on this page for you or Safe Gatherings may be a good option for you.
Budget? What budget?! Give me the bottom line...
The cost of creating, implementing, and following through with a Protection Policy is far less than potential litigation from not having one. There are several tools that local churches may use to create and implement their own policy. Conference staff created a Template that Local Churches may use to create their own policy. This resource is free and includes an appendix with sample forms and information about background checks. Each church needs to decide how they want to proceed with background checks. Free background checks from the Michigan criminal data base may be done for free (with proper application through ICHAT). Nationwide background checks may be completed for a fee that varies depending on the provider and the scope of the check. Churches also should consult their insurance company and attorney before adopting their Protection Policy to ensure accuracy and completeness.
Protection Policy & Training
Protection Policy Template
The Michigan Conference Protection Policy Team and staff liaisons prepared resources for local churches to support and guide their work in keeping children, youth, vulnerable adults and those who work with them safe. As well as providing information about abuse and neglect as advocates for vulnerable populations.
The local church policy must be adapted for the specific context and it is recommended that the church consults with their insurance company and an attorney to ensure it is complete and adequate for the local church context.
It is also important that the policy is abided by and reviewed regularly.
The Protection Policy Template for local churches to adapt can be downloaded here: Protection Policy Template for Local Churches
Additional considerations for Online Ministry can be downloaded here: Considerations for Reviewing your Online Ministry Protection Policy
Considerations for Third-Party Organizations
Churches often open their building space for outside groups. It is very important that churches consider the risks and responsibilities for providing space. Examples of third-party organizations are MOPS, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, preschool programs, Alcoholic Anonymous, Al-Anon, etc. Discipleship Ministries and Ministry Safe offers an article with initial considerations and questions to get started here. Contacting your church's liability insurance company may also be helpful.
The Michigan Conference Protection Policy team has developed a training guide that can be used to train persons for ministry in their local church. An outline and PowerPoint are available below.
Sample application, reference forms, and information about background checks are included in the Protection Policy Template for Local Churches starting on page 34.
Another training option is Safe Gatherings.
Reporting Abuse & Neglect
Anyone, including a child, who suspects child abuse or neglect, can make a report by calling 855-444-3911. Learn more about keeping kids and adults safe from the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) created this video for mandated reporters and it is also helpful for anyone who works with children, youth, or vulnerable adults.
Safe Gatherings is an online abuse prevention program that screens and trains clergy, staff and volunteers to help prevent abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults in group settings. When employees and volunteers are trained to identify potential abusers, recognize the signs of abuse, and know how to handle reporting, they are better equipped to prevent abuse.
Upon successful completion of the Safe Gatherings application, background and reference checks, and online training program, each applicant will receive documentation of approval valid for three years and will have continued access to the online training program for one year.
Michigan UM Churches may contact Safe Gatherings at 888-241-8258 to learn more about setting up their account and getting started.
Local Church & Safe Gatherings FAQ
Q. Is my church required to use Safe Gatherings?
A. No. Safe Gatherings approval is required for individuals who wish to be authorized care providers for a district or conference event (childcare, youth chaperone, etc). Local churches MAY choose to use Safe Gatherings for their training and application, but are not required to do so.
Q. If my church uses Safe Gatherings are we still required to have our own Protection Policy/Safe Sanctuaries Policy?
A. YES!! Safe Gatherings includes an on-line training and application process including background checks. Local churches must have their own policy. See below for a local church protection policy template.
Q. Are there training resources for churches who don't wish to use Safe Gatherings?
A. Yes! A training guide, PowerPoint, and link to the DHS Mandated Reporters video that can all be used to assist local churches with volunteer training are provided on this page.
Last Updated on October 31, 2023