Volunteering at church is a common activity among my homeschooling peers. Some of us are deeply involved in leadership and planning, while others are called to simply help out. The book Safe
Place: Guidelines for Creating an Abuse-Free Environment in Local Church Ministry is a great resource for all volunteers, but it is especially useful for church leaders.
Church is a place that should be safe for all who walk through its doors. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the reality. The book is full of suggestions, but it wisely starts by covering the basic safety and legal issues that need to be considered because good intentions are not enough. One lawsuit with bad results could devastate a church.
There's a section all about recruiting, training, and supervising volunteers and paid workers. It stresses the importance of having set procedures and not straying from them. For instance, although they may not be comfortable or time-friendly to enforce, background checks are not a "good to do" practice but a "must do" for all employees and volunteers. If potential volunteers resist the background check, the recruiters will be able to tell him or her that they had to do it too (no exceptions), and that it's for everyone's safety. The book includes a handy list of background agency websites.
Creating a safe environment for all is covered in the next section. Tips regarding children's ministry considerations, health and safety guidelines, injury or illness response, housekeeping, "proper display of affection" rules (interesting!), special events and overnight usage procedures, discipline policies, and Internet access rules are included. There are even plans for handling sex offenders in church.
Despite a church's best efforts, allegations of abuse can happen, and the church needs to be prepared ahead of time. The book outlines how to create a response plan and what to do if and when an allegation occurs. There is also a chapter on reporting procedures.
Another broad safety concern that requires proper planning is the handling of communicable diseases. This meaty chapter offers detailed examples of ready-to-use policy statements for such issues as infection control, AIDS, and HIV.
Before the lengthy appendices, there's a quick wrap-up on training volunteers, a section for reviewing what you've learned in the book and how it relates to your church, and a biography and resources list. The appendices, which make up almost half of the book, provide handy forms, policies, posters, telephone scripts, and various other tools. It is exceptionally complete and useful. As a bonus to readers, Safe
Place provides a password-protected website where the resources from the appendices can be downloaded.
Pros: Safe Place is thorough, well written, and practical. It's obviously well researched and well planned. It's easy to read, use, and share.
Cons: The only true negative about this book is that there needs to be a book on this subject matter! My only suggestion for the downloadable .pdf resources would be to have them as customizable or editable forms so that a church could print them out with its name already on it.
I am very excited about sharing this book with the leadership of our home church. They are all competent and smart Christian servants, but this book may point out weak spots they have not considered, or it could answer a safety question that had them stumped. I will encourage our senior pastor and all the other pastors and employees to read it