Things a Church can Do

There are LOTS of things a local church can do to not be a passive bystander in the face of abuse. Some are big things. Some are little. I’m a big fan of realism in ministry. So it might be a good idea to start with something small but achievable.

Do an assessment of your congregation’s current response
Tearfund has developed a very helpful tool for self assessment that focuses on gender based violence (GBV). The assessment matrix would be fairly easy to modify for other issues related to abuse. You can get a copy here

Welcome People who have been Abused to Church Trust does not come easy for people who have been abused. Thank them for the trust they demonstrate when they come to church. It is a sign that God has not given up.

Tell the Truth on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day These can be very difficult days for people who have been abused. If all you do is mirror a kind of Hallmark Card/Norman Rockwell version of how wonderful parents are. . . a third of your audience will probably dissociate. There is no good reason not to tell the truth. Some parents were hurtful parents. We do not celebrate abusive mother’s on Mother’s Day — we celebrate God’s good intentions for motherhood. And even as we celebrate we can grieve how far short we come from God’s intentions. And we can pray for healing for those who have been harmed by parents.

Include Education on Violence Prevention in Pre-Marital Counseling It is reasonably clear that preparation for and skill building for marital conflict is a key element in pre-marital counseling. [See article by Joan Groom]. At a minimum, tell the truth. . . sometimes things go wrong, very wrong, in spite of good intentions, in spite of all our hopes and dreams. Sometimes good people hurt the ones they love the most. No one wants things to end up like that. But it does happen. Educate people about what to do if things go wrong.

  • Susan Yarrow Morris Opening the Door: A Pastor’s Guide to Addressing Domestic Violence in Premarital Counseling (Seattle: FaithTrust Institute, 2006)
  • Christie Corad Neuger. Premarital Preparation: Generating Resistance to Marital Violence. Journal of Religion & Abuse: Advocacy, Pastoral Care, and Prevention. Volume: 4 Issue: 3 (2002).
  • Groom, Joan. What Works in Premarital Counseling? Journal of Pastoral Counseling; Vol. 36, p46 (2001)
  • Jones EF, Stahmann RF: Clergy beliefs, preparation, and practice in premarital counseling. J Pastoral Care 1994; 48:181–186

Develop Policies and Procedures for Abuse Situations Every congregation should have a clear set of policies about how to handle abuse. Trying to figure out what to do in the midst of trauma is very difficult and confusing. Setting policies and procedures ahead of time can prevent a lot of unnecessary suffering. Policies should include reporting procedures, guidelines on responding to people who report abuse, guidelines for responding to people accused of abuse, guidelines for interaction with church leadership, community leaders, the press etc. Here are a few examples. There are many more examples online.

Educate Leadership About Legal Obligations In the US, most clergy are subject to mandatory reporting requirments in situations involving child abuse or neglect. Some states recognize a clergy-penitent privilege but this privilege has been interpreted narrowly in many cases. In California, for example, the privilege applies only if “the discipline, tenets, customs, or practices of his or her church, denomination, or organization, has a duty to keep those communications secret.” This is a matter than should be explicitly addressed in church policies about abuse reporting.

Summary of clergy reporting requirements

Mandatory reporting requirements by state can be found here.

Confidentiality and Mandatory Reporting: a Clergy Dilemma? Rev. Marie M. Fortune

For California see these two files:
The California Child Abuse & Neglect Reporting Law [pdf]
One Page Summary [pdf]


Report Form: State Form 8572

Create an Annual Congregation-wide Event Set an annual week to emphasize child abuse. Preach on it. Feature a local organization that helps abused kids–invite the executive director to Sunday services and publicly thank them for what they do. Distribute a list of local resources. Do prevention workshops. Do special programming in all Christian education programs. Have a moment of silence for children that have been abused in your community. In the US, in recent years, April has been declared “Child Abuse Prevention Month”. Search at for annual proclamation. Other annualized programs include:

Do Background Checks for VolunteersAnyone who works with kids should get a background check.

Commercial background check services:

Develop a Critical Incident Response Team If your congregation has such a team for generic ‘crisis response’, one member should have a specialization in abuse. If not, a seperate team could be formed. In some situtions such a team could work effectively to assist other congregations within your denomination/community in addition to your own.Most “Critical Incident” resources are focused on emergency services in response to natural disasters or terrorism but they also deal with early interventions with trauma, stress managment, PTSD and other topics which are useful for an abuse-focused critical incident response team. See for example:

Support Foster Care Programs Do something nice for foster parents in your community. Ask them to come to your congregation and tell stories. Invite them to a picnic to honor their efforts on behalf of abused kids. Encourage families in the congregation to consider being foster parents.

Develop a Support Group Program for Abused Kids For a great model see Confident Kids. This is a distinctively Christian life-skills training program for elementary age children from troubled homes. Very creative. Also very resource intensive. By far the most powerful program I know of for kids.

Build Bridges to Local Resources And Give Them Visibility Post a list of local emergency resources for abused women in the women’s bathrooms – the best format is probably something on a business card — sometimes called a ‘shoe card’ because if placed in individual bathroom stalls you could pick up a copy and put it in your shoe without anyone knowing. Very few people who really need it will pick up a large fancy brochure from a public place! Develop a more complete referral/resource directory. Update it regularly and distribute it to congregational leadership. Be a ‘squeaky wheel’ about local resources. Write articles for church newsletters. Offer to prepare a once a quarter (once a month?) item for the Sunday bulletin featuring a local resource.

Make Outreach to Survivors of Abuse Part of Your Missions Program The global impact of abuse is hard to overstate. Abuse is one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of the enemies of God’s Kingdom. So send someone into this mission field! Help the Christian community world-wide to respond effectively to the problems of abuse, neglect and trauma.

Include Abuse Prevention in Christian Education Curricula Some examples:

  • Preventing Child Sexual Abuse, Ages 5-8, by Kathryn Goering Reid. Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1994. This ten-session church school curriculum for children ages 5-8 addresses sexual abuse prevention. Available from the RCA Distribution Center, 1-800-968-7221.
  • Preventing Child Sexual Abuse, Ages 9-12, by Kathryn Goering Reid with Marie M. Fortune. Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1989. (A course designed to provide information about sexual abuse and prevention to children between the ages of nine and twelve in the context of a religious education program. Order from the RCA Distribution Center, 1-800-968-7221. See also resources at the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

Develop a Face-to-Face Support Group for Adult Survivors of Abuse

Develop a Victim-Offender Mediation/Reconciliation Program (Restorative Justice) The legal system is designed to result in retributive justice. A person who has abused has committed an offense against the state and its laws and is punished by the state. Where is the abused person in this scheme of things? Sometimes almost invisible. It is very common for abused persons to feel completely excluded from the workings of the criminal justice system. It if important, therefore, to remember that retributive justice is not the only kind of justice. Restorative justice is just as important. It’s goal is, to the extent possible, facilitate restoration of that which has been broken. This is a completely different approach to justice. Good models exist for congregational participation in this kind of justice work.

  • Organize people to write letters as part of one of Amnesty International’s campaigns. Details here
  • Comments

    1. says

      I was in Dr Ryan’s class a few years ago at Fuller Theological Seminary and he gave us a website that can be used to train lay people working with children. This site focused on how pastors and leaders can be vigilant and intentional about training and creating a safe space for youth and children and protecting them from predators. Is it possible anyone has that information and can post it for me, my computer crashed and I lost all that information.

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