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Vetting Volunteers

Screening Applicants

Background check for employment or recruitment, criminal or drug check on candidate or employeeh

An article based on the Safety Member Certification training module “Protecting Children from Abuse” and the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW).[1][2]

From the Bible

  • The public needs to see integrity in churches:
    Provide things honest in the sight of all men (Romans 12:17b) [in the ESV: give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all].
  • Church leaders are to be honorable and blameless:
    “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3).
    A bishop then must be blameless ... (1 Timothy 3:2).
    And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless (1 Timothy 3:10).
    If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre (Titus 1:6).
  • We are warned about untrustworthy persons:
    Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them (Romans 16:17).
    Bewareof dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision (Philippians 3:2).
  • Bad actors come into churches hiding what they really are:
    For there are certain men crept in unawares ... turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness ... (Jude 1:4).
  • Introduction

    "I never dreamed he would do anything like this."Variations of this lament are often heard after a trusted volunteer, staff member, or church leader has been exposed as a sex abuser. A few times, this was the first offense ever of that person. Many times, this offender had been an abuser for some time, but not previously caught. In many other cases, the abuser either had a criminal record, or had been found out in at least one church and dismissed without being reported to authorities, denominations, or other congregations. It is the responsibility of those putting people to work with children and youth to vet the candidates, checking to see whether they have a criminal record or have a questionable record in a previous church.

    In the News

    Sweetwater, Tennessee, September 14, 2021 - An evangelist/pastor living in Kentucky was invited to preach in a two-week revival at a new church in Sweetwater, TN. During the revival, the pastor of the church heard talk about the evangelist, but thought it was just gossip. Then one night, police came to where the evangelist was staying and arrested him. He was charged with failing to notify authorities in Kentucky and Tennessee that he would be at a church in Sweetwater for two weeks. He had been put on the sex offender registry in Arkansas, then registered in Kentucky when he moved there.

    This was not the end of his record. Back in Kentucky again, he was arrested and booked twice the next year. The charges included, among others, two counts of 1st Degree Sexual Abuse.[3][4][5]

    Redmond, Washington, November 10, 2022 - A Sunday School teacher arrested for child pornography had been previously arrested for solicitation of sex with an under-aged person.[6]

    Winston-Salem, North Carolina, October 1, 2013 - The youth minister at a Winston-Salem church was arrested and charged with being a registered sex offender working with minors in a church.[7]

    Videocast and Show Notes

    The content of this article is discussed by Kris Moloney in a videocast on the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy. The audio is in a Church Security Roll Call podcast on SoundCloud. Kris draws upon his military, law enforcement, and church security experience. He has a real passion for protecting young people from abuse.

    Below the video screen is a link to the Show Notes (article summary). The Show Notes will be for this article until the next weekly article is posted (in about a week).[8][9]

    Slipping through the Cracks

    In the news stories above, registered sex offenders slipped through the cracks for various reasons. Their status as registered sex offenders should have been discovered by the churches, but were not. There are a few reasons why churches do not know that someone being considered for a position is registered as a sex offender, including:

    Who's watching the gate?

    In church safety and security ministries, it is easy enough to get team members motivated to watch for hostile persons who may turn violent. Violence sells papers and keeps people watching and listening to news programs and clicking on stories. It bears an air of danger and excitement.

    However, who's watching the gate when it comes to protecting our young people and vulnerable adults from abuse - especially sexual abuse? Watching the gate, in this sense, is not eying persons coming through the doors and walking through the hallways, looking for signs of weapons or hostile intent.

    Looking out for those who'd take unfair advantage of our children and youth is more tedious work. It requires more mental exertion, knowing where to look and what questions to ask. In actuality, vetting applicants for child care, teaching, and youth work is not done by the Safety Ministry, unless done for Safety Team members, but - depending on the organization of the congregation - by the Education Director, the Pastor's Office Assistant, a Personnel Director/Coordinator, or some other staff or leadership person. Therefore, the role of the Safety Director is working with these others in an advisory role, unless designated by the congregation for that responsibility.

    Checking for Offenders

    If you apply for work in a public school system, you will have to give permission for a criminal background check, and probably be fingerprinted. On the application, you'll be asked whether you are registered as a sex offender, and/or whether you've ever been charged and/or arrested for improper relations with minors. Expect a similar experience if you apply to work in a licensed day care center. It's even more stringent if you apply to work in prisons.

    It is just as important to check backgrounds of applicants (or recruited candidates) for any pastoral, staff, or volunteer position in the church. Do you want a convicted embezzler as church treasurer? Or a burglar for custodian? Or a repeat DUI driving the Sunday School bus? No way!

    You don't want a sexual abuser in charge of your child, teen, or developmentally-challenged son or daughter. You don't want a rapist caring for the widows. Since you do not want them, you need to screen them out.

    Truthfully, most of us do not have the time to conduct thorough background checks on all the applicants for every position in the church, not even for all those working in childcare, teaching children, and leading youth groups. However, there are resources, and there is help.

    One thing you can do on your own is contact churches where the applicant has previously worked, volunteered, or attended. A phone call is usually best, since you can immediately state follow-up questions and pick up on vocal clues, such as hesitation or changes in tone.

    Resources for Checking

    There are online databases that can be used for background checks. Not all are equally reliable. The simplest is to do an online search, typing in "[their name], arrest"or "[their name], sex offender."There are several sites listing arrests, mugshots, and sex offender registration. However, a common name is likely to bring up multiple persons with that name. For example, I did such a search for the offender in one of the news stories, and found at least two other persons with arrest records who have the same name.

    Help in Checking

    There are websites which offer to help individuals and organizations conduct background checks. Some services are free (with ads). Just type in a name and locations and their computers will check records for that person. These sites vary in reliability. There may be some records a particular site does not have access to. Some will lump several persons with the same or similar names together, creating false positive results.

    The Dru Sjodin Site

    A website with a higher degree of reliability is the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW).[2] This site is managed by the Department of Justice. The law authorizing NSOPW mandates that all states, territories, tribal areas, and federal jurisdictions establish and maintain sex offender registries and make them available to the general public. All these databases are to be accessible from the federal site - NSOPW.

    Under the NSOPW "Search"tab are two kinds of search: Search by Name and / or Zip Code and Search by Address Radius. Here's how a church can use these. If Bill Brown volunteers to lead a youth group and has filled out the application for volunteers, you can put in a search by name for Bill Brown and for his legal name on the application (Bill might be his middle name), including his address. You can also search by the zip codes of current and former addresses. This will not only show him, if he's on a registry, but also others. If "Bill Brown"is an alias, this would include others, possibly including him using an alias.

    Now if you want to search for all offenders within a certain distance of your church, fill out the address of the church under Search by Address Radius. Select 1, 2, or 3 miles. For example, there are 6 registered offenders within 3 miles of my church. Under the home address of each, "+ MORE"opens another address type, such as employment.

    At the bottom of the page is a list of links. In the middle column is "Registry Sites."Select your State, Territory, or Indian Country.

    The state site may differ from NSOPW in how it works. For instance, in Ohio, when you enter the address of the church and hit "Search"it brings up offenders within 2 miles, but above is a selection button for radiuses from 0.25 to 5 miles. You can also select from four types of address: Home, Work/Volunteer, School, and Other. In the 5-mile radius from my church at all address types are 15 offenders, 2½ times as many as in the 3-mile maximum on NOSPW. In Ohio, you can also search for all offenders of any type address for a city or village. The offender level for each is also given. You can also check the states where a candidate previously lived or worked.

    Not all states or territories operate this way, so you can try both to get the full benefit. However, this all depends on when local courts file data with the state, and when the state updates its site.

    Background Check Services

    Checking NSOPW or state sex offender registry sites gets immediate results, but do you have the time or expertise to perform a more thorough background check? For instance, what if the applicant came from a state whose sex offender registry site operates so differently from your state's that you have a hard time adjusting?

    There are companies and organizations providing background checks. This includes more than sex offender registration. You should also check other criminal records. If the person would be driving for the church, you want to check the driving record. For a staff position handling bank accounts and money, check financial records and bankruptcies. Now it really pays to have expert help.

    One organization helping churches, Christian schools, and other ministries with background checks is Protect My Ministry (PMM). Although their background checks primarily focus on sex abuse, they can check other records. There are two important PMM features that further protect our church.

    One is Re-Verification. This process is to find out whether damaging information is about your applicant or about someone else with the same or similar name. You don't want to be sued for defamation.

    The other is Monthly Monitoring. Face it. Data may be added after the initial background check. Also, an arrest or indictment may happen after the last check. Monthly Monitoring closes these two cracks in the reporting system.[10]


    We need to close the cracks through which sex offenders can slip into our churches to get access to our children and youth. This is done through effective vetting of volunteers, staff, and pastors.

    Training Notes

    "Protecting Children from Abuse"is the fourth of eight training modules in the Safety Member Certification program. Each Church Safety Team is encouraged to have all its members trained and certified through this program. A person who passes all the classes is, for two years, a Certified Safety Member.[1]

    Three training formats are available: Team Certification (church-hosted classes), Individual Certification (self-paced online instruction), and Online Events (live Zoom classes).

    Auditing of classes is also available. The person auditing a class is not taking it as credit for certification, but as training for a specific role. Persons involved with childcare, teaching children and teens, youth work, and children/youth programming in the church, as well as pastors, should audit "Protecting Children from Abuse."The cost is less than taking it for credit.

    The Online Events 2022-2023 school year has four quarters. Each quarter teaches all 8 classes. Quarter 2 is complete. Quarter 3 begins January 29 with "Safety Team Fundamentals. "Protecting Children from Abuse"will be on February 19 and April 23.

    Color coding:

    Related to Article







    Training Module


    Sep 11

    Nov 13

    Jan 29

    Mar 26

    Safety Team Fundamentals


    Sep 18

    Nov 20

    Feb 5

    Apr 2

    Active Shooter Response


    Sep 25

    Dec 4

    Feb 12

    Apr 16

    Deescalating Disruptive Persons


    Oct 2

    Dec 11

    Feb 19

    Apr 23

    Protecting Children from Abuse


    Oct 9

    Dec 18

    Feb 26

    Apr 30

    Basic Use of Force Laws


    Oct 16

    Jan 8

    Mar 5

    May 7

    Arson and Fire Safety


    Oct 23

    Jan 15

    Mar 12

    May 21

    Storms and Disasters


    Nov 6

    Jan 22

    Mar 19

    Jun 4

    Mass Trauma Emergencies

    Another training resource is the Church Security Guide with nine articles, including "Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church."This is a deep overview, covering several aspects of the subject:

    1. The Realities of Abuse Within the Church;
    2. Definitions of Abuse and Neglect;
    3. Mandated Reporting and Other Important Laws;
    4. Develop Policies with Child Protection and Elder Abuse Avoidance in Mind;
    5. What to do When Abuse is Suspected.[11][12]

    Up Next

    The next article, the last one for January, is "Home Defense"(Dealing with Domestic Abuse).


    1. Kris Moloney, "Protecting Children from Abuse v4,"Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
    2. Staff Writers, "National Sex Offender Search,"Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice [].
    3. Cole Sullivan, "'The church is for everybody' | Pastor allowed visiting speaker who was sex offender to stay day before arrest,"10News, September 16, 2021, Updated September 17, 2021 [].
    4. Editor/Compiler, "Jerry Lee Anderson"Recently Booked, February 4, 2022 [].
    5. Editor/Compiler, "Jerry Lee Anderson"Recently Booked, April 19, 2022 [].
    6. FOX 13 News Staff, "Washington Sunday School teacher arrested for child pornography,"Fox 13, November 10, 2022 [].
    7. Winston-Salem Journal staff, "Registered sex offender worked as youth minister at church,"Fox 8, October 1, 2013 [].
    8. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy, YouTube [].
    9. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call, SoundCloud [].
    10. Sheepdog Church Security sign-up link, Protect My Ministry, 2021 [].
    11. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
    12. Kris Moloney, "Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church,"Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].