Upstate churches tighten safety policies to match changing times

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – Local churches are walking a fine line between being welcoming to all and being selective with volunteers, especially when it comes to those working with your children.

This week, a former “Newspring Church” volunteer was charged with fondling a 10-year-old boy. The church said it wasn’t on campus grounds and they followed all precautions, including performing a background check.

At Springwell Church in Taylors, Operations Pastor, David Pearson, believes changing times can challenge worship.

“There’s so much in our world that is unsafe, the one place that we want to be safe on Sunday mornings is the church,” said Pearson.

He’s charged with matching the right volunteer to the right ministry. When it comes to Springwell Kids, there are a lot of hoops to jump through.

“We want to make sure that all of our minors are incredibly safe and, so, we’re going ensure that by running background checks, by doing interviews with all of our volunteers, [and] by making sure that there are numerous volunteers in a room with a child,” he explained.

Add in armed guards walking the halls, a computerized check-in system and several volunteer policies including who can be in the bathroom with kids, and there are times that children’s ministry can seem more like Fort Knox.

They aren’t alone. He says these policies are now commonplace at churches all over the upstate.

“When I started in children’s ministry 15 years ago, we allowed volunteers just to work with kids,” he explained.

Pearson said changing times come with changing policy.

“If you’re overly anxious to work with children, if you’re overly anxious to work with a student, that’s somewhat of a red flag at times for us,” Pearson said. “In a perfect world, this would not have to happen.”

Pearson said the challenge is that the church isn’t a place for perfect people.

“Actually, the church is a hospital. The church is a hospital for people who are broken. Because it’s a hospital, we have to make sure that we’re inviting people from all walks of life to come into the church. Yet, still maintain a safe environment,” said Pearson.

That’s why there’s policy, according to Pearson.

“Everyone’s welcome to come to church here, but not everyone is ever going to be welcome to work with minors because the safety of our children, the safety of our minors comes first,” Pearson said.

Springwell Church says they perform both national and state background checks on their volunteers.

7 News checked and Newspring Church shares the same background check policy, in addition to interviews with their volunteers and armed guards in the halls.

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