Resulting from an increasing awareness of abuse-related tragedies, whether through media coverage or word-of-mouth, an increasing number of churches are taking concrete steps to halt sex abuse in their midst. Stamping out abuse requires that ecclesiastical institutions have both responsive and preventive measures in place. Both require vigilance.  

Leaders within the Church should acquaint themselves with current methods in detection and prevention of abuse. Services* such as MinistrySafe can provide assessments and training to churches, camps, and educators. Churches’ insurers, owing to their financial stakes in this matter, provide access to resources to help prevent sexual abuse of children. For instance, Church Mutual* offers detailed prevention-related information, and Guide One Insurance* offers an easily digestible overview of the types of measures a church can take: for instance, implementing a six-month evaluation period requiring new church attendees to be actively engaged in volunteering with the church before permitting their serving in child-ministries.  

* The mention of these service providers should not be taken as an endorsement by Mauck & Baker, LLC; they are mentioned here only as examples of the types of services and information available online. 

If, despite precautions or for lack thereof, a tragedy does occur, the first and most important step a church can take is to report alleged abuse to the correct authorities. The responsibility for doing this should not be assumed to be the pastor’s; the individual who becomes aware of suspected abuse should consider himself responsible to follow proper reporting procedure.  Depending on the state or city wherein church is located may determine whether a given individual has a legal obligation to report suspected child-abuse. In Illinois, clergy are mandatory reporters. Legal obligation alone, however, should not be the determinant whether a Christian takes ownership of a vital duty. The gospels suggest Jesus holds a low opinion of people who approached the law (or the Law) as an excuse to do the least possible for his neighbor (think Matthew 25:41-46). Because this can be a nerve-wracking time, a church should have guidelines in place and make sure that members know how to access these.  

As noted above, vigilance is key in keeping churches safe from predators. Sexual abuse is not the only potential liability churches face. To see what legal concerns your church may face and what to do about them, we encourage you to review the Mauck & Baker Church Legal Self-Checklist