May26ThuMay 26, 2016
Relationships are the priority for the children and youth’s ministry at Central Baptist Church in Edmonton.
But for children and youth to build relationships with God, they need to be able to trust the church leading them.
“I want all of our volunteers to be just as convinced as I am that the church should be the safest place on earth and that the church should be a place that children can know that they are safe and that they are cared for,” said Jud Stade, the church’s emerging generations pastor, meaning he’s responsible for overseeing ministries for children to young adults in their mid-20s.
It’s a large job. The church’s two sites run Sunday morning children’s programs. Youth events are held on Friday nights. This requires hundreds of volunteers. More than 200 are involved with the Sunday morning programs. Another 25 help run the Friday night program.
The church knew it couldn’t train volunteers alone. In 2009, Central Baptist joined Plan to Protect®. The consulting company works with organizations throughout Canada to help them recognize the signs of abuse and prevent it from happening. Plan to Protect® reviewed the church’s policies and gave advice about how to implement them. The relationship continues. The church has a “Going the Distance” membership, the most comprehensive package Plan to Protect® offers. It includes one-on-one coaching, help for keeping policies up-to-date and training so church staff can teach staff and volunteers about abuse awareness and prevention. All church volunteers are trained in Plan to Protect® as part of their training and receive annual refreshers.
Sometimes, there’s resistance if people think this training is simply about fulfilling insurance requirements or protecting the church from lawsuits. But people change their minds when they realize “the very reality of trying to create a safe place for kids, that that in and of itself is ministry,” explained Stade, who is a national trainer with Plan to Protect®. The church isn’t shy about its commitment to protection. Its website mentions the Plan to Protect® training volunteers receive. Registration forms for the children’s ministry include spaces to identify allergies, special needs and if any individuals are not authorized to pick up children. Youth are often divided into gender-specific small groups with leaders of the same gender. Those leaders are encouraged to contact students personally, on the phone, through email or social media and to meet with students in-person outside of regular church activities. But parents or guardians need to give written consent before that happens, and provide separate consent for every face-to-face meeting.
These measures protect volunteers as much as they keep children and youth safe. Churches are supposed to be welcoming, trusting places, said Iain McAuliffe, Central Baptist’s executive pastor. But not everyone who wants to volunteer has the same understanding of what protecting children means or how to do so. The church wants volunteers, no matter what their cultural background or previous church experiences, to know “when they come to Central Baptist Church, they’ve come to a safe place,” he said. Plan to Protect® keeps volunteers safe by making sure everyone has the same understanding of abuse prevention and showing volunteers how to prevent situations that could lead to allegations of abuse.
“It would be pretty foolish of us to operate in a way that we assume that common sense is common to everyone,” said Stade.