Do you do background checks on volunteers?

Years ago, when I first began training volunteers, I got so much resistance to the challenge of taking background checks serious. People said:

  • “That’s crazy! These are Christians!”
  • “I’d lose my job if I tried to get people to do this.”
  • “The Body of Christ is supposed to serve and we should provide hurdles for them.”

How things have changed! I ran across this infographic that reveals what is exposed in a background check. Here’s my question: If you use background checks for your ministry, what service do you use? Share it here.

Question: If you use background checks for your ministry, what service do you use? If you don’t use them, why not? Share it here.

[Are you getting Doug’s daily blog in your email inbox?] If not, it’s real easy–go here.

  • Kathy

    We use BCI checks… not FBI though.  I’m not sure what BCI stands for :-)  There was a HUGE mess when we first implemented this policy about 8 years ago.  We are a small church in a small town and people thought “well I know everyone why do we need this”  But we felt strongly that it was crucial for the safety of our kids.

    • dougfields

      Good job to you and your church for that kind of bold leadership.

  • Benjer McVeigh

    Yes, yes, yes. This is essential, and I think churches who don’t screen volunteers who work with kids and teenagers are crazy. We screen every volunteer, and then re-screen current volunteers every three years.

    We use Secure Search (, because they have a number of packages that work well for churches who want to screen lots of volunteers. They are relatively inexpensive for what they provide, and they are more thorough than other (online) background companies. (Full Disclosure: I consider Steve Durie, the CEO, a friend; he was a guest presenter at my seminary on background screenings, and he helped me out a bunch one summer when I was a denominational YM intern negotiating a contract with his company to provide background screenings to our regional churches.)

    A note on how thorough background checks are: not every company has access to the same criminal records online. Different states and counties report convictions using different technologies, so it costs a background screening company money to get those set up. Some counties simply don’t provide that information via a data link, and the only way to get a criminal record from those counties is to physically send someone there and pull the records. Only 18 states currently have a statewide system where all county court records in their state can be accessed at one place. There is no 100% accurate background check, and while many companies advertise being “multi-state” or even “national,” they may not cover very many county courts. Not all background screening companies are the same, so make sure you ask for an information sheet that lists exactly what states, counties, sex offender registry, and federal records are included in the search. And if you REALLY need to know who someone is (like when hiring a senior pastor), pay the few hundred bucks to have a company who specializes in going in-depth do the screening.

    • Steve Durie


      Good to hear from you online, my friend. I am delighted to see discussions on due diligence within the church community. We are blessed to serve over 5000 churches in all 50 states and have our services integrated with ACS, Fellowship One, Elexio, Shelby and IconCMO.

      I am available for free consultations with churches!

      Steve Durie

    • Jonathan

      Do you happen to know who is actually the one that “clears” the screenings on any of these companies? I read an article that said the pastor or volunteer leader clears them, which to me is crazy! I know my church uses a background screening company that has a licensed investigator that clears them since he knows warning signs to look for.
      On a separate note, if there is a “hit”, do you then not allow that person to serve? I ran into a church that does that, and I think it’s a tough call since they might not be a good fit for finances if they have a record doesn’t mean they couldn’t wash windows or help in parking to be involved like we are commanded.


      • Benjer McVeigh

        Jonathan: Yes, the one who “clears” a volunteer is typically the one making the “hiring” decision at the church (for instance, I sign off on the volunteers who serve with me in our high school ministry). Briefly, this happens for two reasons:

        1) Most background check companies are only in business to provide information, not to make “hiring” decisions for you. For instance, the one we use is very clear that they do not make recommendations on whether you should allow someone on your team (although they do provide training, help you know what to look for, or answer questions about a specific conviction insofar as they can from their data). They do this because they do not want the legal liability such as clearing someone who then goes on to steal from the church or hurt a child.

        2) Really, most of the time the decision is pretty clear, because you have their criminal history (or their name on a sex offender registry) right in front of you. I actually prefer to have control over “clearing” someone since I am responsible for who I allow to serve or not to serve anyways. And as your separate note touches on, “clearing” someone isn’t a blanket deal–someone may not be a good fit for a church treasurer if they have theft on their record, but it doesn’t mean they may not be a great nursery worker! I will say this: when in doubt, I do consult our church’s attorney to help make the decision.

        On what happens when there is a major conviction on the background check: the “hit” depends on why. We believe that just about anyone can serve, because there are several ways you can serve under supervision at our church. Someone who has had a recent drug conviction may not be a good fit in our student ministry, but they can certainly be a greeter and make people feel at home! The only exception are those who have been convicted of sex crimes, in which case we handle every instance very, very carefully and with an abundance of caution.

  • Sherylofhope

    We use Lexis Nexis through Church Volunteer Central.

  • Joel McReynolds

    We use a company called Prasedium

  • Joel McReynolds

    Thankfully our summer camp now requires background checks on all sponsors 18+, so I just told them that as we are doing those that go to camp, I thought it would be a good idea to do everyone else as well. Had minimal complaints. The only ones I had were worried that their divorces would show up and hinder them. After I assured them that the divorces wouldn’t affect anything, they were fine with it.

  • Roberto

    Agree with Benjer that you’re crazy if you aren’t doing at least a criminal background check on anyone who comes in contact with minors. Anyone includes volunteers from other ministries, such as audio/visual or building maintenance/cleaning.
    Make sure the criminal check goes back as far back in time as possible. If a volunteer has spent significant time outside of the U.S., figure out a way to check what might have happened in that country.
    For Californian churches, the CA Dept of Justice provides criminal background checks that also link to the FBI database, and provide ongoing notifications if something comes up after the initial screening.

  • Tom Shriver

    Let me pose this question – do you do background checks on volunteers you are personal friends with? If you know the individual and the ins/outs of his/her life, is a background check still necessary?

    Obviously if you’re not sure about someone’s history a background check should be done – just curious about this.

    • Benjer McVeigh

       Tom: Yep, for a few reasons:

      1) Personal friends don’t always tell the truth about their past. MOST of the time, we might be pretty good judges of character, but not always. In addition, in the worse-case scenarios, predators are really, really good deceivers and they will lie to get what they want. It doesn’t take long to search the internet for headlines where the friends and neighbors of a sexual abuser are “shocked” when that person they’ve known for year is arrested and charged with child abuse.

      2) You can’t tell parents that you background screen your volunteers if you don’t screen EVERYONE. I don’t care if my kid’s Sunday school teacher or small group leader is your best friend that you’ve known since grade school. I don’t know her, and I want her to go through a background screening before she gets to be a leader.

      3) You leave your church wide open for a lawsuit that any law school dropout could win. Of course, this shouldn’t be our primary reason for doing screenings, but the fact is that if (God forbid) any kid in your church is hurt by a children’s ministry or youth ministry volunteer and there are holes in your screening process, you and your church will lose in court.

      • Tom Shriver

        Thanks, Benjer. This was helpful! My Senior Pastor likes to “pick and choose” who we check.  I hope these three reasons will convince him to make ALL background checks mandatory.

        • Benjer McVeigh

          One last note: if you have an attorney in your church (or someone knows one who’s willing to do an hour or two of pro bono work), have them go over your procedures for recruiting, screening, and using volunteers (including ratios, minimum required for event, etc.), and ask for their recommendations. That’s usually the best bet.

          • Tom Shriver

            Thanks again man. I met with my Senior Pastor today to discuss this, but he feels it’s unnecessary to run background checks on people we know. I’ll keep you posted…looks like it’s time to have a heart to heart with him.

          • Josh Burcham


            Another aspect to think about: if something does happen in your ministry, I pray against this, but it happens. They are going to pull all of your records in the lawsuit, if they find you have some volunteers that weren’t background checked (even volunteers that weren’t involved in the incident) not only could be found liable for what happened, but negligent as well. Negligence adds a good million dollars to the lawsuit. Something to think about and bring to your pastor. We have to be consistant.


        • Dawis

          Every time someone is arrested for child-molestation or rape, some of their friends say: “I never knew. They were always the nicest, best person around”.

  • Gsimmons

    We use SYM tools w/ the team module. Handles all volunteer info and background checks powered by Lexis Nexis. Good, slick way to have a total tool of recruitment and training built right in without confusion.

  • Rickpierce

    has a choice of levels depending on what area of miinistry people are applying for. Can do criminal, auto and even credit

  • John Shaw

    We use Integrated Screening Partners.  Very happy with the time it takes to receive the completed report and educated us on what would give us the most bang for our buck since there is no such “national” background check.

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  • Rfisher

    We use Protect My Ministry.  

  • Bill Mitchell

    Since 1961 Mitchell Reports has been a professionally licensed investigative agency long before “data provider” came into being. It’s more important to hire a company whose mission is to be knowledgeable, available and fair in there pricing. We serve each church as though they were one we attended. Our love for Jesus is first place and building (protecting it) is at the top of our list.

    • dougfields

      Thanks for the resource!

  • Jennifer Tibbetts

    Thanks for this info. We use Protect My Ministry. How do we know if a company’s background checks are really screening well enough? We screen people from all over the country and different states seem to handle this so differently.

  • 2lumpsofclay

    I think this is terrible. Where is the discernment in your churches? With what many churches are doing here you wouldn’t even have allowed Jesus near your children. Our church is now starting this after we got a pastor in from California. Men are no longer allowed to work in the nursery. How stupid is that? We have now told everyone in this part of the Body of Christ that men are not to be trusted with babies. Well, using worldly wisdom, as you all seem want to do, men are pigs and do nothing but think about sex continually. They should never even be allowed to work with any of the females in Sunday School, high school, or college age because they might start lusting and, well, you know where that leads.
    This is highly judgmental. You are going to judge a Christian by their past. That’s biblical. That would get us all a place in glory, no?

    I say there isn’t a one of you that could pass a background check if Jesus was conducting them! How would one know what you are thinking about even now? What happened to forgiveness? How do you honestly say to someone, “we want you to use the gifts God has equipped you with since saving you and making you a new creation in Christ—-but only If you pass this background check. You see, we are lacking in any kind of Godly discernment in our elders and Pastors, so we have to rely on the world’s system to help us out.”

    • Tim

      Our church just started doing this. What’s next? Retinal scanners for the congregation before they can enter the building? I am looking for a new church.

      • Tim

        And the background checks they are requiring are for volunteers…people who greet people as they enter the building. Really???

    • Dawis

      Godly discernment is certainly necessary! Question for 2lumpsofclay: Since Dennis Rader (the BTK strangler) was a member of Christ Lutheran Church and had been elected president of their church council), are you telling me with 100 % certainty that if you attended that church, you would have discerned that he had murdered all those people from 1974 to 1991?

      • Dawis

        Please keep in mind that if you are EVER wrong in your discernment, more people will die. In the case of the child-molesters, if you are wrong, more children will be molested?

        • Dawis

          Then ask yourself: what right did you have to gamble these children on your self-righteousness?

          • 2lumpsofclay

            What does that have to do with self-righteousness? And the original question is stupid. Not I, nor anyone else, is a mind reader. God doesn’t work that way. Doing a background check just tells you what people haven’t done YET. What we need in our churches is accountability. That has to be taught from day one. If a person isn’t willing to be accountable then he idoesn’t become a member and he doesn’t do anything in the church but come to services. If churches were patterned after the New Testament churches there would be accountability. Your life would be an open book. People who are devoted to “the Apostle’s teaching, to prayer, to fellowship, and breaking of bread together” (Acts 2:42) are so often together that they can’t hide anything. The early church used to take their meals together. Now one can barely get anyone who has time to come over after church on Sunday let alone during the week! And people wonder why they didn’t know so and so would do THAT. Well, maybe if you took time for so and so….oh! but my kids have basketball, and cheerleading, and my house isn’t clean, and I’m too tired. So, are you going to say that when you stand in front of Jesus?

  • Concerned reader

    I see several companies listed in these comments that provide services that are “database only” background checks. This is very dangerous as database only checks should never be considered due diligent and should never be used as a stand along background check. Find a company that offers a comprehensive background check program and not just a database search.