Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Predators

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Today’s guest post comes from Rick Braschler, an ordained pastor and risk management expert.

Oh, how I long for the days when “lions, tigers, and bears” were the worst we could think of. But then again, the Wizard of Oz children’s story wasn’t about to address the uncomfortable reality of child sexual abusers in the church. And, in that era, the focus on stranger danger would likely have missed the reality that abusers in the church are not the unshaven strangers wearing trench coats offering candy to children outside the sanctuary. In fact, quite the opposite!

For those of you who are new to the topic of child sexual abuse, let me bring you up to speed: 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abuse before age 18; 5-10% of the adult male population are molesting children; molesters are male acquaintances 90% of the time, unable to be identified by general characteristics, begin molesting at age 14, have over 117 victims on average before reported, and are only convicted at a 3-5% rate. By the way, background screening reports only convictions!

Gaining access to minors in church programming is relatively easy and molesters know this. There are three primary methods to gaining access I’ve categorized as “Sliders, Emergers, and Prowlers.”

Each of them has a distinct path with a common goal – isolating and abusing children. The church’s Child Protection Plan must address of three.

Sliders are those who take positions in the church that are not in direct oversight of children such as maintenance, deacons, choir members, etc. Perhaps they have a negative background screen, don’t have favorable references or work history, or they are not suitable for a teaching or pastor position. Nevertheless, they fulfill this indirect position for a period of time with which to build trust among the leadership, as well as survey the landscape of opportunities. Then, when the opportunity is presented, they use the trust and relationship that has been established to slide over to help a children’s program, not having to go through the normal qualifications as others.

Emergers are those who come up within the ranks of the church such as church family members, long-term leadership, or members of the various groups within the fellowship. Emergers typically garner the most trust having been in the church long term, have extensive knowledge of the church’s facility design and programmatic times, and likely do not have to go through the normal qualifications as others. Emergers use their trust to easily access children, override child safety protocols, and weather accusations of suspicious or questionable behavior.

“Traditional prevention strategies have failed…”

Lastly, Prowlers are those intentionally seeking positions in church ministries with direct access and control of minors with the clear intent to isolate and abuse. Prowlers are the professional child molesters having gone to great lengths to identify weak churches with few child protection protocols. Prowlers promote themselves as exemplary individuals with stellar credentials, employee of the month performers, qualified and likeable to be a part of your growing ministry. They will likely navigate the qualification process with ease thus obtaining the right position within the church

Traditional prevention strategies have failed to address the various methods that abusers use to gain access to and abuse children in church ministries. Beyond background screening and 3 person rules, churches must implement a more effective strategy with clear and measurable goals to combat an enemy that, according to the FBI, “looks and acts like one of us.”  Having defined the access methods of Sliders, Emergers, and Prowlers, you can now create a more effective child safety system within your church to protect the children in your care.


Rick Braschler has dedicated his career to protecting and empowering ministries throughout the world. As a Senior Risk Consultant, a Director of Risk Management, a subject-matter expert, and an ordained pastor, Rick’s blend of education and experiences offer him a unique perspective on balancing opportunities with risk in a ministry setting. Rick is the author of “The Child Protection Plan,” a comprehensive guide to combat child abuse in youth serving organizations. This plan, considered “First Rate” by former U.S. Attorney General, John Ashcroft, is a new, innovative approach to combat this age-old threat to children in ministry programming. Rick is a loving husband, avid fisherman, and the father of five wonderful kids.

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