Yesterday, Kenny and I got to teach a couple of breakouts at Orange Tour in Seattle! If you couldn’t make it (or maybe you could make it, but taking notes at breakout sessions just isn’t your spiritual gift), don’t worry. We’ve got some notes for you.

CREATING A SAFE PLACE FOR STUDENTS

Is Your Church Safe Enough… PHYSICALLY?

SAFE ENOUGH TO FEEL SECURE

Physical safety paves the way to emotional and relational safety. Maybe it sounds boring or tedious. But it matters!

We made you a checklist to help you think through and evaluate the safety of your environment.

1. SECURITY TEAM. 

Do you have one? Who oversees them? How are they trained? If their role is to confront or discipline kids when necessary, then make sure they are trained by your youth ministry team on how to do it in a way that preserves relationship. Otherwise, their role should be to report issues to you so you can confront kids.

2. MEDICAL EQUIPMENT. 

Your church’s insurance company should be able to help you with this. Do you have a defibrillator, stocked first aid kit, and accident report forms… and do you know where they are?

3. EVACUATION PLAN.

The next time your fog machine sets off your fire alarm in the middle of a service, do you know how to get kids out of the doors, safely? Do any of your volunteers?

4. SIGN-IN/PICK-UP POLICY.

Do you know which kids have been dropped off and whether or not they’ve been picked up? Do parents feel safe leaving their kids with you?

5. TRIPS AND EVENTS.

Take release forms seriously, especially when you are traveling out of the state or country, where the requirements may be different regarding consent to treat minors. Your church should have an ongoing relationship with an attorney and insurance company – let them help you with evaluating your travel policies and paperwork.

6. GAMES.

You know we love crazy games. But your games should be fun without being dangerous or irresponsible. We avoid eating contests because of choking hazards, eliminate any potentially dangerous elements we come across, and test our games in advance. Don’t put yourself in a position where you could hurt a kid or get sued because of a silly game.

If you really want to know if your environments are physically safe… ASK. Ask a parent, ask your insurance company, or ask an outsider to come in and evaluate your space with fresh eyes.

SAFE ENOUGH TO FIND TRUSTED LEADERS

We all need more volunteers. When we’re really desperate, the temptation can be to plug in anyone who is breathing. But we can’t do that. We have to be cautious about the people we allow to interact with and influence kids.

Efficient screening. Every volunteer who walks through your doors should have gone through a screening process.

Application and reference checks (look at their personal & spiritual history).

Background checks (l0ok at their criminal history).

Interview (find out who they are and if they can be trusted).

Clear expectations. From the very beginning, make your expectations clear on boundaries, code of conduct, and inappropriate interactions with students. You may want to consider a signed document saying they have heard and understood those expectations. You can find our expectations in our Volunteer Handbook (with editable files!)

Ongoing training. Train your leaders to identify when confidentiality needs to be broken for a kid’s safety. Know your state’s mandatory reporting laws and take them seriously. Offer ongoing training on difficult subjects like neglect, abuse, self-harm, depression, or bullying.

Is Your Church Safe Enough… EMOTIONALLY?

SAFE ENOUGH TO SHARE PRIVATE PAIN

When kids feel physically safe in your environments, they can then begin to feel emotionally safe as well.

If kids are going to feel safe enough to share their private pain, we need to train our small group leaders on how to help kids deal with their pain. Some tips, for when kids begin to share the tough stuff…

Freak out on the inside. Stay cool on the outside.

Keep it confidential. When a kid finally shares something personal with a trusted adult, that adult must be responsible with that information in order to keep their trust.

But don’t always keep it confidential. If a kid is being hurt, hurting others, or hurting themselves, that information must be reported to your ministry staff.

SAFE ENOUGH TO ESCAPE PREJUDICE

Church is the last place a kid should have to worry about prejudice or discrimination.

Value acceptance. And help your volunteers do the same.

Be fascinated by difference. You’re going to get some odd-balls in your ministry. On that note, Mark Oestreicher once shared some stuff that I love about choosing the unchosen and loving the unloved.

Remember who’s listening. SGLs need to remember that kids in their groups are probably working through private struggles they haven’t yet brought to light. When a conversation touches on that private struggle (a parent’s divorce, a doubt, a struggle with a particular sin), that kid will be watching their SGL’s reaction and asking, “Is this a safe place for me to bring this issue to light?”

SAFE ENOUGH TO ASK HARD QUESTIONS

One of my favorite principles from Lead Small is the idea that an SGL helps clarify a kids’ faith as they grow. Helping them work through hard questions is part of that growing process.

Embrace the questions. Doubt is not inherently a bad thing. Often, when kids are experiencing doubts or asking hard questions, it’s a sign that they are finally beginning the process of learning to own their faith. A kid will never be able to make their faith their own unless they first process the tough stuff.

Learn to say “I don’t know.” Kids will never learn to draw their own conclusions or think deeply if we give answers too quickly. We have to learn to let them process. We also have to be okay, and teach SGLs to be okay, with not having an answer to every question. Because, let’s be honest… we don’t.

Model empathy. Sometimes when a kid asks a tough question, like “Why did God let my friend die?” they aren’t really looking for an answer. They’re just looking for someone to be with them through their pain.

Is Your Church Safe Enough… RELATIONALLY?

SAFE ENOUGH TO FEEL FORGIVEN

Physical safety paves the way for emotional safety.
Emotional safety paves the way for relational safety.

Helping students feel safe in relationships with others models that they can feel safe in a relationship with God.

When students see forgiveness, love, and grace modeled by people, who they can see… it helps them better understand the forgiveness, love, and grace of a God who they can’t see. 

So yeah, maybe thinking about defibrillators and fire drills seems boring at first glance… but it really does matter.