One Saturday night not so long ago, I lost a kid. I didn’t just lose the child “on my watch”. I was literally the person responsible when things went awry.
The small group leader had to go a few minutes early and asked if I would watch the rest of the kids in her group as their parents came to pick them up. I agreed to finish the pickup process for her. That meant that I would match parents with their children and take their pickup tags. Truly, this might not have been the best choice for me because I was often very busy and distracted on the weekend, but that’s no excuse.
then there were three
At this point, there were only three kids left, two “staff kids” and the child of a volunteer. The volunteer’s child was great friends with the “staff kids”. Their moms were friends too. It was an entirely normal sight for them to be hanging together. The “staff mom’s” children were actually in preschool. However, the “staff kids” and their mom had come over to the elementary room to play with their buddy.
When it came time for the “staff mom” and her kids to leave, the last little child followed right in line with them. Like a little duck, he waddled off. The “staff mom” didn’t seem to mind that he was going with them, and I wrongly assumed that the child was either going home with the friends or that the “staff mom” was walking him over to his mom.
One minute later the mom who was volunteering walked in asking where all the kids had gone. There were no children left, including her son. Suddenly I had an “oops” moment. I was shocked and quickly realized something had gone wrong. I explained the situation the best I could while we began to look around.
We did a quick check of the building, and the crew was nowhere in sight. Even though everyone knew each other, we didn’t see them, so panic began to set in motion. Did he stay with his friends? Where did they all go? If he wasn’t supposed to be with them, had he actually gone to look for his mom on his own?
Inside I was screaming. I am one of the biggest sticklers about checkout procedures. I created the checkout procedures. I always implement the checkout procedures. I was constantly encouraging small group leaders to be more diligent; to double check tags and not be lax even with parents they knew. Yet, here I am writing this post telling you how I lost a kid.
letting my guard down
Familiarity creates environments where people become relaxed. Since I was interacting with staff leaders, I was making assumptions I wouldn’t normally make. I wasn’t exhibiting the due diligence that should be given to every single child, no matter who they are. I let my guard down.
Churches that have 300 people or less know these struggles the most. When you know every single person that attends your church, it becomes much harder to implement strategies that seem strategic and businesslike without seeming impersonal.
For example, when BettySue forgets the tag for her granddaughter, and there is only ten kids present to begin with, does she really need to show her ID and go through the standard protocols? The answer is still yes.
These strategies are the ones that will allow you to grow. Even personally for me, this wouldn’t have happened on Sunday at 10 am. However, Saturday was a more relaxed crowd. It’s a small niche of people. Every child is known. I wasn’t on guard because I was too comfortable.
So, where did I go wrong?
- I didn’t require the staff leader to provide a tag for the additional child.
- I assumed that the child was going with them because the child was confidently acting like they knew what they were doing. (Hint: children rarely know what they are supposed to be doing.)
- I took over for a small group leader last minute, and I wasn’t fully engaged. The original small group leader would have been more aware of who had dropped off the child at arrival.
The standard check-in and checkout procedure went like this. (It’s probably quite similar to the protocol you have at your establishment.) A child arrived and was provided with a name tag and code. The parents were also provided with a tag that had a code. At pickup, the parents had to provide the tag to the small group leader. The small group leader would then take the child’s name tag and the parents tag and match the codes. They would then stick them together to identify that the child had been picked up. In addition to that, we tried to have a leader at one of the main exit doors as an extra precaution; we even had one person working security in every building.
So, how do you make sure that this doesn’t happen on your watch?
- Did I say systems?
- Implement said systems
When I was at the Rock Church in San Diego, there was no leniency in their security policy. If you didn’t have your tag or badge, you had to trade your license for a temporary badge until you came back down to retrieve your license. Every person had to show a tag no matter their position at the church. You also had to show your tag to a security person to get into the environment, and there was only one exit out of each kid’s space. The only way to not have a slip up is to have systems that have no exceptions.
it’s all about the system
You might say, it’s easy for the Rock Church to implement such a system out of necessity because they have more than ten-thousand people in attendance. When you have 150 or 300 people, it might seem silly to be so strict. However, the only way that your church will grow is when you create systems that set your church up for the next phase of growth. Having rigid security protocols ensures that you are more ready for more kids. It also makes parents feel more safe either way.
There are tons of variables, but here are some basic thoughts that will make your systems more fail-proof.
- Have only one entrance and exit, so that you can patrol who is coming and going.
- Have a system that matches kids to parents (tags, scan tags, stamps, buzzers, fingerprints, something).
- Train your volunteers to implement your protocols.
- Don’t make exceptions.
- Have a system for handling lost tags and adult visitors who want to stay.
- Have security available at a moment’s notice to help you with any situation that might arise.
If you are looking for assistance in developing a security protocol for any reason; we’d love to help. At everything.church, you can hire us and we’ll work with you to craft a plan that is just right for your infrastructure and culture.
We believe no one should have to do ministry alone. No matter your position or location or budget. There are tons of networks and denominations that connect lead pastors to lead pastors and so on, but we sometimes know when you have a real issue arise you want to fix the problem quick. We’d love to help keep your ministry organized and safe.
Chief Creative Officer
Stacia has over a decade of ministry experience, with the majority of that time leading next generation change. She has experience leading almost one hundred volunteers, and developing curriculum for kids and students. Stacia has a B.S. in Church Ministries and Biblical Studies, as well as experience educating in an elementary public school environment. She is also immensely creative and accomplished in teaching children about the wonder of God.