Eventually most churches encounter a known registered sex offender who is either already in the congregation or desires to attend. Trying to determine whether or how to live with a wolf is dangerous and fraught with difficulties. On the one hand, churches must assure the safety of children; on the other, churches seek to help an abuser repent and reconcile through God’s redemptive love.
If the Church Was a Bank, Children Are the Vault
You must protect the vault! Make sure your church has effective child safety policies and procedures and training in place and that the policies and procedures are actually being followed. Churches must be vigilant to implement appropriate safeguards to ensure the safety of God’s gift of children to the church—before you even consider whether or how to minister to known registered sex offenders.
How Will You Handle Registered Sex Offenders?
After you have your child safety policies and procedures and training in place, consider how you will handle the case of known registered sex offenders in your church. You have to determine whether your church will include known wolves or send them elsewhere. Not many churches are equipped to properly handle known registered sex offenders, as you will see, so keep this in mind and have humility about this.
There are three basic levels of sex offenders, and many jurisdictions make these distinctions:
Level 1—These are the least severe sex crimes. The offender is on the registry for 15 years.
Level 2—These are more severe sex-related crimes. The offender is on the registry for 25 years.
Level 3—These are the most severe sex-related crimes. The offender is on the registry for life.
These legal distinctions reflect important factual nuances about each case. For example, the levels indicate that a 19-year-old male who had consensual underage sex with a 17-year-old female twelve years ago is in a different risk profile than a person with multiple offenses throughout their life with children under 13.
Level 3 Offenders
If you have a Level 3 offender, you must exclude them from attending your church. You cannot make your church a safe place for children with them present. Your vault will always be at risk and you cannot afford this kind of risk. According to the FBI and academic research, the recidivism rate for a preferential child predator is far too high for a church to consider allowing a Level 3 offender to attend.
If you need to understand this more in depth, consider that if you allow a Level 3 offender in the church and you slip up one time, and something terrible happens, then you will most likely be held to be grossly negligent by a jury of your non-church peers. Your entire tithes and offerings, and the viability of your church as a going concern, are at risk. Insurance policies do not insure against grossly negligent behavior. As you read this tool, keep this in mind as you make your relative risk assessments and conditions for attendance.
Level 1 and Level 2 Offenders
For Level 1 and Level 2 offenders you have to prayerfully consider, analyze, and think through how to decide among three basic options. All the options may be appropriate depending on both your church’s resources and the particular offender and/or offense involved. Your options with Level 1 and Level 2 offenders include:
- Whether you will allow the person to stay unconditionally and hope and pray nothing happens. This is a terrible and grossly negligent idea.
- Completely refuse to allow the person to attend your church. This is certainly a viable option as many churches do not have the time or human resources to do otherwise.
- Allow the person to attend only if certain strict conditions are met.
Wolves and Registered Sex Offender Covenants
If you have a Level 1 or Level 2 offender, and you have made a decision to allow a known registered sex offender (wolf) access to your church property (bank), then you must protect your children (vault).
Utilize a Registered Sex Offender Covenant as drafted by experienced legal counsel. The covenant should have a formal release permitting the church to contact the offender’s parole officer for specific information about the offense and any recommendations or observations the parole officer may have about the situation. The church should contact its insurance carrier about the situation and policy coverage. Our law firm has begun seeing instances of coverage being reduced by fifty percent when a church decides to allow a registered sex offender to attend services, regardless of an offender’s Level 1 or Level 2 status.
Terms and conditions of attendance should be clearly articulated in the covenant. Items to be considered include:
- Where and when the offender may attend.
- Where the offender must not ever be located under any circumstances, such as the children’s area vault.
- Whether accountability partners must be utilized.
- How bathroom access will be handled.
- Prohibiting the offender from working with, transporting, or having any contact with minors while at the church or acting on behalf of the church.
A formal release should also be included to allow the church to disclose the existence of the offender to church members as needed. This can help members protect their children and this should be done with the advice of legal counsel. Additionally, the church should adopt a zero-tolerance policy for any violations.
“I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). You can see a representation of this scripture by going to the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (United States Department of Justice, available from https://www.nsopw.gov). The Department of Justice has a mobile app for viewing the database as well as a browser-based version. Search for wolves around your church, home or business. Keep in mind that a high percentage of wolves are first-time offenders who are not registered in a database. They are wolves who have not yet been caught and tagged.
Always make sure to protect your vault diligently because you do not know all the wolves at a given moment—your children deserve nothing less.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).
This is a Tool from the Book and Workshop on
Predators in the Church
About the Book
5 E-Books with 38 Tools
Predators bring devastation to your church and the lives of your congregants. The Predator in the Church series has over 300 total pages and will help you change your thinking about predators and take steps to prevent them:
- The Introduction to Wolf Thinking presents an overview of the working concepts and the prevalence of predators.
- The Case of the Wolf at WheatFields is an insider’s perspective as Executive Pastor Dan Black at WheatFields discovers a predator.
- The Case of the Active Shooter walks through national news about the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, along with tools for church safety.
- The Case of the Child Molester presents national news about an incident at NewSpring Church of South Carolina with tools to avert child predators.
- The Case of the Church Embezzler documents national news stories from six churches of all sizes along with tools to prevent fraud.
May this material help avoid the painful tragedy of a predator in your church. Do all that you can to protect your people from the wolf. Author of the series is David Fletcher. For 35 years, Fletch led churches from 1,000-8,000 members, single and multisite, churches with camps, schools, apartments and cafés. His other books include People Patterns and Smart Money for Church Salaries.