Background Checks

Background checks are one of the many things in the past few years which have changed the way we do church. It is a legal necessity and not doing them can put a church in a legal hot spot. The best question to ask is the prudent person rule: What would a prudent person do in this situation? That is the rule of thumb I’ll use to answer the following

  • Frequency

o   There is no legal requirement for how often a background check should be done. A good rule is to do them once every three years. Every five years is too infrequent and every year is too expensive.

  • Cost

o   Basic background checks cost $10 to $15 for a social security number check, sex offender, criminal check, and address confirmation. However, some state, county, or city governments do not put their information online which means the background check companies spend extra money to obtain that info and they’ll pass that cost on to their customers. These additional fees can push a check up to $30 or $35.

o   There are more extensive background checks which cost more money but those should only be done if there is cause.

  • Who

o   The scope of who gets a background check must be defined clearly. The recommendation from a professional in this field is that your “average” volunteer have a basic background check. If something is uncovered, then a more extensive background check could be done or using that information, eliminate the person immediately.

o   Minors cannot have a background check without the permission of their parents. Typically I do not do background checks on minors. However, minors can be charged with adult crimes. For instance, I did a background check on an 18 year old woman who, the year before, had been charged with two counts of attempted murder.

  • How “deep”

o   Most background checks are pretty superficial and that is sufficient. You don’t want to go prying into someone’s past. That is not what a prudent person would do – do just enough to get the necessary info without being intrusive.

  • Who receives the reports?

o   There should be one responsible person to receive and review the background checks. Never share this information unless it is absolutely necessary and typically it is not.

o   If something is discovered, it is best to meet with the person and explain what was found and how, if at all, that will affect their work at the church, whether as a volunteer or employee. The person already knows the reason for the visit but it is good for them to know that the church knows, too.

o   For instance, I have a three-year rule for traffic citations but DUI citations are a lack of good judgment which require more time to elapse (about 5-10 years).

  • Sharing the information

o   The data in the report is personal and confidential. Only a very few people at a church should have access to this information. The person on whom the check was done can get a copy of their background check – that is perfectly acceptable since it is all about that person. I’ve even given the background check to an employee who volunteered in another organization; he gave the report to them and saved them the cost of a background check.

  • Finance Office Staff

o   Those with access to the church’s money have a higher threshold. For this staff I recommend an annual credit check. That is more expensive but it means that once a year, someone is reviewing a document which will reveal if a person has undue debt and is thus open to embezzlement to take care of their financial problems.

Always be sure that you can, with integrity, answer this question:

“Can you stand in front of a judge and tell him or her that you did everything that a prudent person did to protect the children who were in your care?”


Lead On!