Real Life Church: Stronger safety policies enhance children’s ministry

By Robin Talley*, Photos by Adam Clarkson | Feb 13, 2023

Lyndsay Ponder (far right), children’s director at Real Life Church in Yuma, helps a family at the check-in station for children and preschoolers.

For 23 years, Ken and Tonya Averett and their family have been a part of Real Life Church in Yuma. As many parents do while their children are growing up in the church, they served as volunteers in the children’s and youth ministry programs. When they became foster parents eight years ago, they continued to help as volunteers.

Throughout the years, the Averetts have known their church conducted background checks for volunteers, but recent changes to tighten the policies and procedures at church to increase the safety and security of the children have given them additional peace of mind.

“We feel good about the kids in our care attending here,” Tonya Averett said. “Our children are definitely safer.”

Real Life Church has a history of taking serious measures to protect children. In 2004, when Real Life was known as Oasis Church, there was already a policy in place for working with minors that included a background check. Last year, the elders and pastor met to strengthen the existing policy.

Ken and Tonya Averett appreciate the safeguards their church has in place to protect children.

In response to the Guidepost Solutions independent investigation report of the SBC Executive Committee, Real Life Church increased their volunteer training, improved their background checks, and implemented stronger child check-in and check-out procedures.

“This training is high quality,” Tonya said. “Even after all the training and background checks we had as foster parents, we still learned additional ways to keep kids safe through the training provided by Real Life Church.”

Many resources are available to help a church implement best practices. Real Life Church has used resources provided by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company and MinistrySafe to improve the policies and procedures in place.

“We wanted to make our policies and practices stronger so that we could best minister to the kids entrusted to us,” Pastor Bob Van Horn said.

What made the implementation of these new policies and practices so effective was the communication efforts made with the families in the church by the pastor, elders and staff.

“We made extra efforts to communicate with the volunteers and parents what we were doing and why we were implementing these changes,” said Lyndsay Ponder, children’s ministry director. “Our volunteers and parents have been on board and willing to go with the changes we have made.”

Lyndsay Ponder (left to right), children’s director at Real Life Church in Yuma; Pastor Bob Van Horn; and Tamara Myers, youth director, review the church’s child safety policies and procedures.

The church can no longer take it for granted that something terrible will never happen, Van Horn said.

“In addition to other communication methods, I took one Sunday service to explain to our congregation why we have to do better,” he said. “It is that important for us to get this right.”

Being part of the Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists is a great opportunity for churches who feel like researching and documenting these policies is beyond their capabilities right now. Many of the larger churches in the network, like Real Life Church and North Phoenix Baptist Church, are willing to share the results of the work they have already done.

“Even if another church’s policy doesn’t fit exactly, it is easier to adapt an already written policy than create one from scratch,” Van Horn said.

While added procedures do mean additional costs, these costs are necessary for providing a safe environment for children.

“When visitors come to church, they want to know the church is a safe environment,” Van Horn said. “If not, they won’t be coming back. The costs must be paid for us to be at our best to serve the community. We are not doing this to protect our staff. By implementing these policies, we are doing what is best for the community.”

Policies at Real Life Church include having at least two adults in any room with minors.

Next Steps

  • Go to azsbc.org/caring-well to find resources that can help improve the safety and security of your church for your community.
  • Consider contacting Brotherhood Mutual (brotherhoodmutual.com) or MinistrySafe (ministrysafe.com) to see what resources are available for your church.
  • Find other churches in the Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists that will share what they have put in place so that you can get a head start on adding policies and procedures that will best protect the community your church serves.
  • Pray for your pastors and church leaders that they would have wisdom as they implement these additional security measures.

*Name changed for security

Robin Talley*, longtime Arizona Southern Baptist, is a former Last Frontier missionary with the International Mission Board.

Adam Clarkson, a freelance photographer, is a member of Real Life Church in Yuma.

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