When it comes to children's check-in, there are some best practices that every church should follow.
I'm not a security professional, but I do have three kids and provide the church with technology directly relevant to children's check-ins. I've served in what we call children's ministry at my church for a number of years. My kids are 7—actually have triplet boys—which is wild all by itself. Coming from the parent's perspective and also coming from someone I've served in children's ministry, it’s important not only to follow proper protocol—but to meet the highest standards of safety and security.
I've been the children's ministry teacher for the Bible stories. I've run the activities. I've led the ministry to infants up through seven-year olds at this point because I teach every year for a quarter and help run that ministry.
1. Extensive background checks
You should be running background checks on anybody that's serving in your kid's ministry in any capacity, right? If they're interacting with kids, you need to know everything about who’s working with them. You need to run background checks and know that they don’t have a criminal record. And oftentimes background checks are part of the equation. There's usually some length of time that they've been a member at your church as a part of that equation as well.
People need to know you. You're known beyond the fact that you just showed up at church one day. Some kind of criteria around how long you've been at the church, how long you've been a member, how you've served before, all those kinds of things are part of the equation. And then running a really good background check is very, very important, so that's a precursor.
It all comes down to an overarching practice of picking good people. They're the folks that are interacting with your kids. You want people who love kids, love teaching, love God, and all that's going to rub off on the children that are in those classes. As a parent, I want the kid's ministry workers to be so passionate and in love with God that it rubs off on my kids.
2. Implement a great communication plan for parents
Make sure that parents know the process. They know what to expect when they check their kids in on a Sunday or when they bring them to an event. They should know what to expect and you've educated them and they're kind of not surprised. They are able to think: "I'm bringing my kid to this classroom. And when I get there, here's who the kid's ministry workers are going to be that I'm going to see." And there's a way for them to check them in, which we'll talk about in a second. They also have a way to check them back out.
They know what's happening in class. What are they learning this week? What are they learning this month? What's the curriculum? Educate parents, because you bring peace of mind to parents when they know the whole process. Great communication to the parents about what steps to follow and what's going on in the class is vital.
3. Use an electronic system
Ditch the analog, legacy systems that are passing away. Electronic systems provide an exponentially higher level of security and safety for your children.
There are full church management systems (ChMS). For example, Tithe.ly offers a ChMS where you can digitally check your kids in. So you've got an iPad, you've got a printer hooked up to the iPad, they walk up, they check in their kids, they search for their kid or they put the parent's name in, they pick the kid from the iPad that they're checking in. It prints out a label maybe for the kid's back. The parent signs them in digitally and boom, and they're checked in.
Now you've also recorded that in the system digitally instead of having to keep paper files and maybe scan those in or do other kinds of things which a bunch of work for volunteers and staff. Implement a digital check-in system. Simplify it for the parents, simplify it for the volunteers or the staff that have to maintain record-keeping on all these things.
4. Only the person who checks them in can check them out
Let’s say that daddy, Frank Barry (me), checks the kids in. Only Frank Barry can check the kids out. That’s a protocol you should follow. If this parent checks them in and signs in, that's the parent that has to pick them up. It makes it all very clear. So there's just no issues with, divorce, separation, or custody disputes using a poor child check-in system as an opportunity to violate the other parent’s trust. You want to make sure it's very clear that whoever checks them in has to be there to check them back out. Make that a really clear policy.
5. Implement an emergency protocol
If there's a fire or a shooting, you need to have a protocol in place to keep the children safe. If there's = any kind of situation where there has to be a place for the kids to go, or a place where they should exit the building, have that all laid out, and train the volunteers thoroughly on that process.
Make sure the parents know what's going on there and have a great emergency protocol for the whole thing. And that kind of gets into training, which we're not going to touch on here because this is really just about signups. The staff and volunteers should be well-trained on all these things, including the emergency protocol. So do these five things, communicate, communicate, communicate, use great systems, use great people, and your kid's check in is going to be great.