Jennie Taylor, marketing coordinator in LifeWay's direct marketing department, said the dramatic increase "shows how serious churches and organizations are about protecting their children, students, employees and congregations."
In 2008, LifeWay endorsed backgroundchecks.com, (www.LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks), to offer background screenings for churches and religious organizations. Subscribing through LifeWay enables churches and religious organizations to conduct background screenings for their camp counselors, bus drivers, staff, volunteers and others at discounted prices.
According to records for the program, nearly 2,800 churches and organizations conducted more than 55,000 background checks in the past year. Of those, 35 percent (18,753) returned a criminal hit, "which is any kind of incident ranging from minor traffic violations to felony convictions," Taylor said. More than 33 percent of the 18,753 criminal hits, or 12 percent of the overall 55,000 checks, returned records with misdemeanor or felony offenses.
"Leaders from churches and organizations who use LifeWay's background checks program say protecting those God has placed under their care is paramount," Taylor said, noting that churches can conduct due diligence by using backgroundchecks.com,(www.LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks), as a step in their security and safety policy. With a database of more than 450 million criminal records, backgroundchecks.com, (www.LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks), has an extensive collection of public record sources, delivering reports in a concise and user-friendly format.
Garrick Conner, discipleship pastor at Park Hill Baptist Church in North Little Rock, Ark., noted, "In a culture where churches have become the last frontier of sorts for child predators, it is essential that we are diligent to properly screen and train all paid staff and volunteers who serve with preschoolers, children and teens.
"While it is true that churches should be places of grace and hope, far too often those positive traits are exploited by those who would seek to harm kids," Conner said. "God entrusts these young ones to us and we will be accountable for how well we protected them -- physically, emotionally and spiritually."
Bill Bartlett, business administrator for Oakview Baptist Church in Okeechobee, Fla., voiced a similar commitment: "We, as church staff, have an obligation to protect the children in our care and those adults who work with children.
"By obtaining a criminal background check annually on every staff member and volunteer who works with children of any age, we feel we are making the correct efforts to do just that - protect our children," Bartlett said.
At Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship in Frost Proof, Fla. -- in its first year using backgroundchecks.com, (www.LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks), -- the service "speaks highly in our community," pastor's assistant Christie Sitek said. "Families are grateful that we have concern for our children and youth."
Taylor said LifeWay's program has made checking criminal backgrounds much more affordable for churches of any size.
Today's unstable economy has made church leaders reluctant to spend money on "extras," Conner commented. "I would assert that our children and youth are invaluable, and their safety is well worth the small investment."
For more information, visit www.LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks. For additional resources to help churches prevent the devastating effects of sexual abuse and other moral failures by staff members or volunteers, visit www.sbc.net/localchurches/ministryhelp.asp and www.sbclife.net/pdf/ProtectingOurChildren.pdf.
Note: Statistics reported in this article reflect results from clients who have purchased background check services from backgroundchecks.com, (www.LifeWay.com/backgroundchecks), through LifeWay's OneSource program.
Reported by the communications staff of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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