Seven Essential Policies for Children's Ministry… And a Free Sample Checklist.

At Sojourn Church Midtown where I lead, we use several different checklists for training. This first one covers the essential policies and procedures we want every volunteer who serves in children's ministry to be aware of. These are the most basic things that you don't want to leave out of your training. I've attached  a free sample checklist of general policies and procedures that incorporates each of the basics overviewed below.

  1. Check-in & Check-out Procedures. Deepak Reju reminds us, "In addition to teaching children, Christians also have a fundamental responsibility to protect them. We learn this... from God, who throughout the Bible has a special burden for the young, weak, and oppressed in society." A key area for protection is check-in and check-out. It's a key security pressure point. One tool we've found helpful are security sticker name tags. Check-in software systems like KidCheck or the check-in modules for church management systems like The City from ACS Technologies print security name tag labels with alphanumeric security codes and matching pick-up tags. For churches who have chosen not to use a computer system, there are great three-part security tags available from vendors such as ChurchNursery.com. The security name tag is placed on the child, and a pick-up tag with a matching code is distributed to the parent or guardian at check-in. Teachers record the code on the classroom role sheet as the child enters the classroom. They then match the pick-up tag to the child's name tag at check-out so that the child is only released to the same person who dropped her off. We train our classroom teachers to collect the sticker name tag as the children are checked out. This is a signal to the parents that we have released the child from our care.

  2. Food Policies & Allergy Precautions. It's essential to ask about about allergies on a child's first day in the children's ministry. Check-in software systems usually have a database for keeping track of allergies and they will sometimes print an allergy alert on a child's security tag. My daughter Lucy's tag has an alert for her teachers that she's allergic to strawberries. It prints on her sticker every week. I've also found it helpful (both for budgeting and safety purposes) to feed the kids the same snack every week. For us, this is usually Goldfish Crackers and water. I know some churches that have a similar policy but use Animal Crackers instead. There will be times when you want to mix up the snack as a teaching tool. During Advent, we'll sometimes have a birthday cake for Jesus for our entire children's ministry. When you do something like this, be sure to post Allergy Alert signs. These should list what is being served instead of the regular snack, and they should include any major allergens that item may include. Major allergens include dairy, gluten, soy, tree nuts, eggs, and peanuts. We don't allow peanuts at all. And we keep some allergy alternative snacks on hand for kids who can't have Goldfish as well; these are usually raisins or veggie straws.

  3. The Two-Person Rule. This is a big one. Gone are the days of having a lone ranger children's Sunday school teachers. Many church insurance policies now require that churches adopt the "two-person" rule. One adult should never be alone with a child or in a classroom, and, under no circumstances, is a child to be left in a classroom or anywhere unattended. This protects children from abuse, and it protects our children's ministry volunteers from accusation. Our policy is that two or more unrelated volunteers will staff all classrooms. It's not a problem if a husband and wife want to serve together, but we assign a third person to serve alongside them in their classroom. Often this provides a great discipleship opportunity if a more seasoned couple is serving with a younger single person. The most difficult time to enforce the two-person rule is during restroom trips. This means that another leader (such as a coordinator, director, or Sunday school superintendent who is free to float between classrooms) must be available to help out during these times.

  4. Sickness Policy. It's important to have a clear policy about when children should not come to children's ministry. When a child has been sick, the most loving thing for a parent to do is keep the child home so that other children are not exposed. We publish our sickness policy in our Parent Handbook, and we include it in our training checklist. During the Fall (when cold and flu season is beginning), we make posters that explain our sickness policy and post them near check-in and registration areas in our children's wing. If a child has been sick (temperature, vomiting, diarrhea, severe coughing, nasal drainage, etc.) in the last 24 hours, we ask that he not be checked into a children's ministry classroom. Also if a child gets sick during children's ministry, the parent is immediately paged so that the child can be removed from the classroom.

  5. No Photography Rule. With the advent of smart phones, everyone now carries a camera with them to their class. We make clear in our training that children's ministry volunteers should NEVER take photographs of children and post them online. In addition to the fact that this is a violation of privacy and upsetting to some parents, it is also potentially dangerous for some of the kids in our care. For example, when a child is in foster care, there is a need for added privacy. A child may have been removed from a previous guardian who is a danger to her safety. Photos posted online could inadvertently expose the child's whereabouts.

  6. Diapering & Toileting. The "two person" rule definitely applies when diapering children and during bathroom trips. Also, it's important to train children's ministry volunteers on how to change a diaper in the most sanitary way possible. Many young people are eager to serve in children's ministry, but they may not have much experience with young children. It's essential to train, equip, and prepare them. We have two other policies for diapering and toileting as well. First, for the protection of children and adults, we do not allow male volunteers to provide toilet assistance or change diapers. Lastly, we do not change the diaper of children over age 5 who are not potty trained. When a child with special needs requires additional toileting assistance, we will page their parents or another certified guardian. Often church insurance companies are careful to only allow a certified nurse or guardians to provide this kind of intimate care to children who are particularly vulnerable.

  7. Rules for Cleanliness & Sanitation. When I worked at McDonald's, I was trained on thorough hand washing practices. I think it's essential that we do the same in children's ministry. Moreover, I think it's essential that we train our teams to clean and sanitize all toys and areas that are in contact with children. It's essential that we keep disposable gloves and the necessary cleaning supplies on hand at all times.

Once again, here is the free sample checklist of general policies and procedures from Gospel Centered Family. Our goal in providing a resource like this for free is to serve you. Please take it and use it as you are thinking through policies for your own church community.

What key policies have I missed? What would you add? Leave a comment below to let me know.

Why We Do What We Do: Redeemer Fellowship

For those of you who don't know, I am a pastor at Redeemer Fellowship, a nearly nine year-old church in St. Charles, Illinois, that is, in the far west suburbs of Chicago. As Community Life Pastor, part of my responsibility is to oversee the children's ministry we call Journey Kids. Yes, the ministry is named after Jeff's church ... don't judge! We have set up this ministry in a specific way based on the convictions and values we hold.

The workers spend their time not just caring for the kids but also praying for them.

Right now, we have 5 classes that look to reach newborns through 5th grade with the gospel. The youngest children are in class for the entire service time. They are our Infants (0 through when they start walking), Walkers (starting to walk to age 2) and Toddlers (ages 2 and 3) classes. We separated the Infants and Walkers because (with the recent baby explosion our church experienced), we didn't want the ones who could walk stepping on the ones who could not get out of the way. The workers, typically 2 or 3, spend their time not just caring for the kids but also praying for them.  In the Walkers class in the midst of caring for these little ones, the workers do share a short lesson from the Children Desiring God toddler curriculum. We use this 12 lesson course and spend a month sharing God's character with the kids through pictures. The Toddler class does the same lesson in a more direct way, while sharing a snack around a table, usually about 7 to 10 minutes.

So much of what kids learn is caught rather than taught. We want parents to lead by example teaching kids about corporate worship.

From ages 4 through the 5th grade, kids start out in the service with their parents. We do this intentionally for a few reasons. The reason we do this is because we believe that parents are the primary disciple makers of their kids. So much of what kids learn is caught rather than taught. We want parents to lead by example teaching kids about corporate worship.. We want our kids watching Mom and Dad singing. We want our parents to explain the meaning of communion and pray with their kids. We want the kids to see people being baptized. We believe this is critical for kids to experience and better prepares them to be worshippers themselves. The last announcement that is made every week, right before the sermon is that kids are dismissed to their classes. We want to be intentional about age appropriate instruction which is why we dismiss them at this point. These kids meet their teachers and helpers in the back of the sancturary and head to their classes. The Primary class is for those 4 yrs old through 1st grade and the Intermediate class is 2nd grade through 5th grade. Both classes use the age appropriate lesson of the Gospel Story curriculum published by New Growth press. These teachers and helpers lead the kids through the Bible's grand narrative that points them, through every lesson, to Jesus and their need for a Savior.

For the safety and security of the kids, as well as the peace of mind of the parents, we use KidCheck© for our check-in process for all of our classes. I have written on this before, and while I personally struggle with the need for such a system, this is one of the best. The kid's name tags that are printed out provide teachers with name, allergy information, and a secure way for them to know which kid belongs with which parent. The other security system we have in place is that we do background check on all of our workers. This is another step of security that protects everyone; the kids, the church, and puts parents even more at ease.

This is what we do and why we do it. My hope and prayer with sharing this is that it helps others think through the same things. 

Interview with KidCheck About Their Check-in Application

About a month ago, Pat wrote a personal testimonial about why his church uses the KidCheck Check-in system. Today, I'm following that up with some their answers to the questions I've been sending to various check-in companies. I hope this is helpful for you as you consider check-in systems for your church community. 

1. What is the heart of your company? Why does your company exist?

KidCheck has an unwavering commitment to child safety, to our customers, and to being the best children’s check-in solution available.  At KidCheck we have a passion for child safety and how technology can help churches caring for children.  The reason KidCheck started was the desire to help equip churches with effective, easy-to-use solutions that improve safety and efficiency, and to deliver them at an exceptional value.  

2. What makes your company different than others?

Relationships are at the heart of KidCheck. Relationships with the churches we serve; and the relationships we hope to help make stronger between the church, and the parents and children they care for.  

When someone signs up for KidCheck, one of the first things they hear is, “Welcome to the KidCheck family!” Our customers are important to us, each and every one of them.  We want to partner with our customers. This means being readily available to help in whatever way we can, and bringing additional value beyond our children’s check-in software.  

We’re here to help and are readily accessible. We provide free phone, email, and chat support six days a week, including Sunday mornings. We offer free training, both right at sign up with KidCheck, and any time after a customer feels it may be helpful.   We have a blog on our website and a podcast series that provide best practice information, suggestions, and tips cross multiple topics such as safety, technology, and relationships. We take the time to show churches how KidCheck works with a free demo prior to signing up, so they can see KidCheck in action, obtain the information they need, and answer any questions before making a decision. 

KidCheck works with each customer individually to set up the check-in system in the way that best meets their individual needs. It’s “your KidCheck” and we work together to understand each church’s campus environment, programs/services, data and reporting needs to set them up to get the most value out of KidCheck. 

3. What should people consider as they choose a check in company?

There are so many important benefits for churches associated with implementing a children’s check-in solution. These include: improving child safety, streamlining the check-in process, improving attendance tracking, creating a positive parent and visitor experience, less time on administrative tasks and more time ministering to kids. 

There are also multiple factors to consider when choosing the right children’s check-in solution. Items to consider include: the features available, especially those around child safety, including medical/allergy information; how easy and intuitive the system is to learn, use, and understand; how well you’ll be trained and supported; how quickly and easily you can access that support; how complete and easy-to-use the data output and reports are; and the value for the money. 

One thing to keep in mind, regardless of the check-in solution a church uses, it’s only as strong as the people using it. No check-in system will keep the kids safe without proper implementation, staff training, and design. The system and procedures a church implements must be ones personnel and volunteers can quickly understand, consistently use, and easily follow.  

4. What size church would you say your company works best with?

KidCheck works well for any size church, whether it’s a small growing church, middle sized, or a large established church.  KidCheck provides a robust feature set across various edition levels, allowing each church to choose the edition and number of check-in stations that best meets their individual needs and size. Our goal is to make easy-to-use, effective check-in solutions available and affordable to churches of all sizes. 

Plus, KidCheck offers a level of flexibility others don’t. Customers can change editions or the number of check-in licenses needed at any time. There are no hidden costs, set up fees, or long term contracts.  

5. Are there any other benefits to your company people should consider as they are contemplating a check in company?

At KidCheck, children’s check-in is specifically what we do. It’s our focus, it’s our passion, it’s our heart. 

Another unique feature of KidCheck is our parent maintained accounts. Parents set up a free KidCheck account, and they input and maintain contact and allergy information, as well as authorized and unauthorized guardians, and photos. This provides churches with real-time, current data, and saves the time of setting up and maintaining the database themselves. 

Making KidCheck the best children’s check-in solution available is our goal and our purpose. We are constantly looking to obtain and implement customer feedback and ideas to improve ourselves and our check-in solution.  These updates, new features, and improvements are automatically provided to customers at no extra cost.   

6. Why should people care about security at their church? 

Not only is child safety a hot topic in the news, it’s on almost every parent’s mind.  When a family is choosing a church, they are absolutely looking at the safety and security associated with the children’s ministry area.  Whether they are checking a church out, or already a member, when parents see a secure children’s check-in solution and associated procedures, they are more comfortable leaving their child in your care.  

Clearly and visibly making the statement that child security is important immediately provides peace-of-mind.  You are stating, “We care about you. We care about your children. We care about excellence.” Not to mention, having safety procedures and easily accessible and accurate data tracking can help protect from liability.  No one wants to be put in a position where the church, or they themselves, may be held liable, financially or legally, for a child leaving with the wrong person.

The author has not and does not receive any compensation for highlighting this product.

Interview with Planning Center Online About Their Check-ins Application

Over the past month, we've been posting about the importance of safety and security procedures including great check-in and check out procedures. In keeping with that spirit, I sent some questions to a couple of check-in companies. Over the next couple of days, I'll post some of the responses I've received. Today, I'm interviewing Planning Center Online about their check-in system. 

1. What is the heart of your company? Why does your company exist?

Our heart is pretty simple. We love churches, and we love software. So, we try to make the best software out there to serve the church. Check out this quick video if you'd like to hear about what we do and why we exist:

2.  What makes your company different than others?

I think the biggest difference our company has is that we love what we do, and we use our own apps. Since over two-thirds of our team has worked at a church or currently serves with churches, we're actually using our apps on a daily basis. So, if there's something that we know will help us, and ultimately our other users, we're excited to jump on the opportunity. It's great to see how excited people get when they talk about how to improve our apps throughout the office.

3. What should people consider as they choose a check-in company?

It's hard to say what someone should consider, as I think everybody has a different reason they're looking for a check-in solution. The things that we value in our Check-Ins app is simplicity, affordability, and safety. A good check-in solution needs to be easy to use. Any given Sunday could have hundreds of children trying to check in, in a 10-minute period. So, it needs to be fast, and simple. Because we love churches, we also know the struggles that a tight budget can have, so we try to make the apps as affordable as possible. And lastly, we feel that safety is one of the main reasons for a check-in program. You've got to be able to tell where someone is at any given point, and have all the information you can need on a child's label in case they were lost or possibly in need of emergency attention.

4. What size church would you say your company works best with?

We pride ourselves in making our app scalable. So, honestly our Check-Ins app is perfect for all church sizes. And we price our packages based on this. We have a free package for churches who only need 15 daily check-ins and offer all the way up to an unlimited check-ins package.

5. Are there any other benefits to your company people should consider as they are contemplating a check in company?

Not only do I believe in the CEO, who loves us like his own family, and our amazingly skilled developer team, but I also believe our support team is one of the best in the country. I've personally worked for and dealt with many support teams and I've found nothing better than the PCO Support team. Not only do we answer all tickets in an incredibly short amount of time, we also know the stresses of working in a church. So, we know exactly where you're coming from, and generally go above and beyond in supporting people with every interaction we have.

6. Why should people care about security at their church? 

I like to think that child security is almost like wearing a seat belt. Most of the time you don't even realize you're wearing one, and you probably could have made it to your destination without buckling up. However, those few times you need it, it needs to work quickly and perfectly. That's how I feel a check-ins app needs to be. The majority of the time you simply don't notice it. It's simple to use, and has a simple purpose. But when you need to know who to contact when someone is sick, or you need to find out where a child is, it needs to work flawlessly and it definitely needs to be there.

The author has not and does not receive any compensation for highlighting this product.