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Safe Gatherings


The Southeastern Synod is committed to ensuring that we provide safe places of worship and fellowship to everyone we serve.

Safe Gatherings is an online abuse prevention and boundary awareness program that screens and educates staff and volunteers to help prevent abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults in group settings. When employees and volunteers are trained to identify potential abusers, recognize the signs of abuse, and know how to handle reporting, they are better equipped to prevent abuse.

The Synod and our congregations utilize Safe Gatherings to enable our churches, camps, and affiliated groups to meet their screening and training responsibilities for those who work with children, youth, and vulnerable adults.

Staff and volunteers who serve in ministry to these groups must complete the approval process every 3 years to maintain their approval status. Individuals who complete an application, background check, and training may be approved and authorized to work with those groups in any church-related setting.

Screening includes obtaining background checks and professional references. The training is comprehensive and customized for our organization. Applicants may complete the online training modules at their own pace. The training typically takes about 1.5 hours to complete.


Application: Click here to access the Safe Gatherings system and complete the online application. Individuals can log into their account at any time to check the status of their application.

Payment: The application process fee is $45 per applicant. This fee includes the reference checks, background checks, and training required to be Safe Gatherings-approved. Applicants are responsible for payment by credit card at the time of application unless your church has decided to pay the application fee for those serving your congregation. If your church is covering this cost, it will be indicated when you complete your online application.

All churches in the Synod are currently set up in Safe Gatherings. Applicants must correctly enter the denomination, state and city where your church is located, and the church will display in a drop-down menu as you begin the application process.

References: The approval process requires one professional and one clergy reference to assist in qualifying all applicants. Reference requests are submitted and received electronically. It may be helpful to notify the individuals from whom references are requested so that they can anticipate receiving the request.

Training: Training may be completed online at your convenience once your application has been completely filled out and payment has been made. If you prefer not to complete the training all at the same time, you may log out and complete it later. Safe Gatherings allows you to either restart the training where you left off, or begin again from the beginning. Even after you have completed the training and successfully passed the quiz, you will have access to the training course for one year from your date of application so that you may use the training as a reference as you serve.

Approval: Upon satisfactory completion of all components of the Safe Gatherings process, applicants and their church administrator will be notified by email. Approval is valid for three years.


Contact the Safe Gatherings team at or (888) 241-8258 for additional information or with questions about the program.


Safe Church Suggestions for Vacation Bible School (VBS)
The following guidelines are brief ideas for helping keep churches safe during VBS.

Please carefully consider guidelines established by your insurance companies. For more information about child to child sexual activity, contact ELCA Consultant Barbara Keller for a question-and-answer bulletin.

ELCA Consultant Barbara Keller
Telephone: (610) 308-3428

Questions to Consider:

The answers to the following questions will help you know how much you need to ask about the participants and staff of your VBS program: 

1. Are your participants from your congregation and are they children basically known to the leadership?
2. Are your participants children from the neighborhood that will be mixed in with children from your congregation?
3. Will the VBS staff be made up of people who are basically known by the congregation?

Insurance Company: 

1. Review your insurance policy to make sure VBS is covered and that volunteers specific to VBS are convered. 
2. Always talk to your insurance company about changes or additions to your policy. 

Staffing Guidelines:

1. Use the same guidelines for background checks and training that you use for any Sunday school or youth events--especially if they are volunteers who are not well known to the VBS staff.
2. Consider reducing the number of children per staff person because you may be taking children outside or to different locations in the building and you will be spending longer blocks of time than on Sunday morning.
3. These rules demonstrate good practice:
    a. The Two Adult rule: Two or more adults should be together at all times while children are present
    b. The Six Month rule: Each staff person needs to be a church member or known by the youth director for at least six months prior to serving for VBS. 
4. Teenage help needs to be carefully considered. No minors should have unsupervised contact with children--especially regarding the lavatory. Teenagers should be used as adjunct helpers: craft activities, snack time, presentations, puppet shows, and other drama or music activities.
5. Staff should avoid driving children unless it is a special field trip with permission slips and with two adults whose driving records have been checked.


1. Remember to keep doors open as much as possible.
2. Watch for areas where children can hide and be unsupervised.
3. Monitor lavatory times very carefully.

The Participants:

1. Keep the ages separated as much as possible.
2. Watch for any inappropriate touching, child-to-child, or any excessive aggression. Sexually reactive children are those who have experienced some inappropriate or early sexualization. Frequently, they react to their experiences by acting out with other children in a similar way. Please contact ELCA consultant Barbara Keller (610-308-3428) for more information on sexually reactive children.  
3. Have parents or guardians fill out a form regarding their children. Consider: certain fears, allergies, other medical concerns, court orders or protection orders. Ask parents for their phone numbers and who is allowed to pick up their children. 

Additional Resources:

1. Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of Abuse in the Church for Children and Youth by Joy Thornburg Melton
2. The Synod Resource Center's resources regarding volunteers
4. ELCA's Questions about Protecting Children, Youth, and Adults

Sample Forms Courtesy of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Woodstock, GA

Download sample forms from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church below.