Getting Started with Safe Sanctuaries

Getting Started with Safe Sanctuaries

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Every church engaging in youth ministry, no matter its address, or denomination, or membership, needs to be a Safe Sanctuaries church!

We are called to offer the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the youth of our communities and our churches. We are called to provide opportunities for youth to learn to be Christians through study, service for others, and worship.  In every context, we are responsible for providing these experiences in a safe and compassionate environment – a Safe Sanctuary.

I’m often asked, “Aren’t Safe Sanctuaries policies just for big churches in the city?”  The purpose of Safe Sanctuaries policies is to guide the church in organizing its ministry for safety for all the participants and the leaders.  Here are the basics you need to consider when beginning this discussion.

Leader Selection and Screening

Safe Sanctuaries policies including volunteer leader training, criminal background checks for leaders, written applications for possible workers, and personal interviews of candidates for leadership positions are sound leadership selection procedures.  

This is true, whether your church is located in the city or a small town.  You need to know the applicant’s background as well as the skills and experience he or she has had in youth ministry.  Even if you think you know the applicant, because you went to school together or grew up in the same neighborhood, you, as the Youth Minister, are responsible for selecting trustworthy workers, and you must have documentation, in addition to your personal past knowledge of the applicant, to be able to make a reasonable selection.  

The Two Adult Rule

Safe Sanctuaries policies including the ways you operate each ministry are important for assuring the safety of everyone.  Safe Sanctuaries operations procedures normally involve having at least two adult leaders for each ministry setting, such as a class room or Bible Study, and more than two when the number of participants warrants it.  Also included would be having the door open, or a window in the door of every class room, when sessions are going on.  

Evaluating all Contexts

Operating safely in different contexts, such as trips, and retreats, and service projects will require that the leaders think about appropriate supervision, appropriate transportation, safety training for using tools in projects like handy-man chores, or building repairs, or other typical outreach projects.  

Look back over these lists of leadership selection procedures and operating procedures.  Can you identify any that should not apply to your church’s ministry?  Is your church too small to need to any of these?  Is your church too large to need any of these? Wherever your church is, your ministries must be designed to prevent isolation of individuals from the rest of the group and designed to prevent secrecy between a leader and the youth.

The fact is, as Youth Minister, you’re responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive safe sanctuaries framework.  But don’t worry, there is a great place to begin.  As you gather to work through these issues with your church’s leadership, begin with the policies and procedures outlined in Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of Abuse in Ministry with Children, Youth, and Vulnerable Adults  (Joy T. Melton, Discipleship Resources), and then design specific requirements to meet the needs of your special context of ministry.  For more information, contact Rev. Joy T. Melton, J.D., phone 770-512-8383.

You can also learn more about Joy at or about Safe Sanctuaries at

Image attribution: Rawpixel / Thinkstock


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