Background screening employees and volunteers is one of the most effective tools at keeping congregations safe, yet most ministries make major mistakes when implementing background check procedures.

It’s not your fault. Background checks are inherently confusing for several reasons:

  • the scope of information you are trying to access
  • the numerous places you can look for this information
  • the various laws governing how that information can be obtained and what it can be used for

Here are the most common misconceptions about background screening, and some practical solutions every ministry can incorporate.

“All Background Checks Are The Same”

There are several ways to conduct background checks and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of screening firms. They, like the quality of the background check they may perform, are not created equally. A check can include a number of things from criminal reports and credit history, to reference and credential checks. Not every company offers comprehensive checks. The two most common types of background checks are those performed by a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) or a fingerprint check through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). An FBI fingerprint check confirms personal data like your birth, names, addresses, employment and criminal conviction history, however, it does not paint the whole picture and can have incomplete or inaccurate information.

A background check performed by a CRA that is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners will provide you the most comprehensive portfolio on your employees and volunteers. Most CRAs rely on real researchers who actively work to track down and verify information, unlike an FBI check which just aggregates computer data that may or may not be accurate.

Finally, the screening industry is heavily regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and has plenty of consumer protection built-in, the FBI does not.

“All The Information We Need Is Online”

A recent study performed by CareerBuilder, the online job portal, shows that 51 percent of employers who research job candidates on social media say they’ve found content that led them to not hire the candidate. This is 100% risky behavior for ministries.

Yes, you can find a treasure trove of information about a potential employee, such as birth date, address, and employment history. But you also put yourself and your church at risk since most social media profiles include information that could be considered discriminatory if you use it in a hiring decision (even if it’s not your primary source of collecting information).

A smart move is to create a written, standardized hiring policy that includes BOTH a background check performed by a CRA and an internal protocol for browsing social media sites pre-hire.

“Cheaper And Faster Is Better”

Being good stewards of the church budget is always a chief priority. This may tempt you to accept the lowest bid by the screening firm who promises you “instant results.” Beware of instances where something sounds too good to be true.

There is no single database of criminal information available, and instant checks do not exist.  Due to the careful nature of background checks and the laws regulating the collection of a person’s private information, it’s important to know that most reliable background screening providers will turn results for you in two to three days.

The best thing you can do is consult with various NAPBS-accredited providers who will listen to your needs and develop a screening plan that meets your expectations and budget.

“The Local Police Department Conducts Our Background Checks”

Police department’s have a wealth of information at their disposal, but they cannot match the depth of data you need to vet a candidate. The truth is most police checks search only the state you are in and do not include criminal information outside of your state; surrounding towns, states, and sex offender registries will not be included.

Additionally, most police departments only store arrest records and these are not an accurate representation of one’s criminal record (since charges or convictions may never have resulted).

If a police officer from your congregation offers to screen your candidates for free through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) used in FBI fingerprint checks, politely decline. This is illegal and you both could end up in court.

Understanding the importance of background screening is vital; actually performing checks on your employees and volunteers is critical to keep your congregation and outreach ministries safe.

Protect My Ministry is uniquely qualified to meet the specific needs of churches, religious organizations and other community groups who require background checks. Please give one of our expert team members a call at 1-800-319-5581.

*A version of this article first appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of Church Executive Magazine.