NASHVILLE (BP) -- The man serving snow cones at your Vacation Bible School is a convicted sex offender. That was the news Bill Jones had to deliver to one of the pastors in his association.
The pastor came to Jones after learning a volunteer, who had been a "model church member" for two years, may have had a criminal record.
"[The pastor] asked if I would do a background search, as I often do for our smaller churches that cannot afford it themselves," said Jones, executive director of the Neches River Baptist Association in Crockett, Texas. The report did confirm a sex offense conviction.
That Texas church was one of nearly 5,000 churches and religious organizations that have used backgroundchecks.com through a relationship with LifeWay Christian Resources over the past five years. During that time, more than 84,500 background checks were run through the program.
Of those background investigations, 53 percent (44,946) returned some type of issue, ranging from minor traffic violations to felony convictions, according to Jennie Taylor, a LifeWay coordinator who manages backgroundchecks.com. Not all of the issues required any action, but more than 22.5 percent (19,202) of the screenings returned records with misdemeanor or felony offenses.*
The Texas church now understands the importance of running background checks ahead of time, Jones said.
"They now have a policy that everyone who works in [children and youth] areas will have a current background check on file," he said.
The Monongahela Baptist Association in West Virginia also uses the service to run background checks on all volunteers for their children and youth camps.
"It's a way to help keep kids safe," association administrative assistant Jerilyn Smith said. "We want to assure parents that we are doing all we can to protect their children from those who would want to harm them."
Under the LifeWay program, churches and religious organizations can use the background check service at discounted rates to screen children's ministry workers, camp counselors, bus drivers and other volunteers and staff.
"Leaders from churches and organizations who use LifeWay's background checks service say protecting those God has placed under their care is paramount," Taylor said.
Backgroundchecks.com has "an extensive collection of public record sources," including over 450 million records in its database and also gives easy to read reports, Taylor said.
Having access to a national database was important for First Baptist Church in Brownsville, Texas.
"I tried using another background check website and they only searched through Texas," while backgroundchecks.com checks records from all 50 states, said Heather Smith, office assistant at First Baptist.
Jones encourages all churches to run background checks and "have policies in effect on how those checks can be used in a redemptive manner for those that come back with a criminal past."
For more information, visit LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks
or call (800) 464-2799. For additional resources to help churches avoid the devastating effects of sexual abuse and other moral failures by staff members or volunteers, visit sbc.net/localchurches/ministryhelp.asp
Aaron Earls is a writer with LifeWay Christian Resources. *Statistics reflect results from clients who have purchased background check services from backgroundchecks.com through LifeWay's OneSource program. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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