Something to Consider…

We previously asked church leaders about the following situation:

To help improve participation by young families in your church’s mid-week small group program a parent suggests that teenagers be paid to babysit during those meeting times.

Should teenagers be paid to provide childcare during mid-week activities?

Small groups, or life groups as some churches prefer to call them, are a wonderful way to conduct mid-week Bible studies and have participants form close, caring relationships with other church members. Few programs that a vigorous church can offer do a better job of connecting people to the church or maturing them in the faith than small groups.

What a blessing it can be for the parents of young children to know that their children are being cared for responsibly in a safe and secure environment while they participate in a small group. Sadly many church leaders opt for convenience over safety and meeting labor laws.

Protect Everyone

Ideally churches should insist that at least two trained, unrelated adults who have cleared the church’s background check and application process provide childcare when needed for church activities. By using two adults instead of just one, you provide accountability as well as protection for the childcare providers. Requiring at least two adults to be involved greatly reduces the probability of a child being intentionally mistreated or harmed.

If teenagers want to volunteer to help with childcare, by all means let them, but only if two trained and approved adults are already present. If only one adult is present and mistreats or molest a child, he or she might be able to intimidate the teen co-worker into not reporting the incident.

Perhaps no adults are available. Is it still acceptable practice to have more than one trusted teenager providing childcare? The answer is no. Because teens younger than 18 are considered juveniles. If they have been involved in the criminal justice system for any infraction, their records are not publically available and as a result will not show up on a background check. Remember, not obtaining a clear background check leaves church leadership open to a claim of negligence.

A second reason not to allow teens to provide childcare without direct adult supervision is provided by science. Scientists claim that the judgment part of the brain does not fully develop until the age of 25. One should not expect teens to possess the physical maturity to exercise good judgment in all circumstances.

It’s likely that you’re saying that there is no way a child would be mistreated at your church. One of the nation’s largest insurers of churches reports that they see 15 to 20 sexual misconduct claims filed a month. A corporate attorney at another large insurer of churches reports that on average he handles two to three misconduct/molestation claims a week! Apparently churches are not as immune to these sorts of problems as Christians think they are.

Because of the increase in misconduct/molestation claims, you may want to check with your church’s insurer to see what guidelines they have in place for child protection policies. Be aware that some insurers are considering requiring churches to agree to minimum standards in return for sexual misconduct liability coverage.

You probably noticed that up to this point we’ve only mentioned childcare provided by volunteers. What if the church has the financial means and desire to compensate childcare providers?


First let’s go back to discussing adult childcare providers. While churches often pay childcare providers as independent contractors and report their wages on Form 1099 MISC, the Internal Revenue Service considers even occasional workers like them as employees. That means that your childcare providers need to supply time records of when and how long they worked, be paid through the church’s payroll system, have appropriate income and payroll taxes withheld and be included on the church’s worker’s compensation insurance. The church must also comply with federal and state labor laws in regards to minimum wage and overtime pay.

Now let’s muddy the waters a bit and look at teenage childcare workers. Many parents think that if a small group meets in someone’s home all that they and the other parents need to do to pay the teenaged babysitter is to pass the hat. Regardless of whether a small group meets in a private home or on the church campus, since the activity is part of a church program, the childcare provider is considered by state and federal labor law as an employee of the church.

Whether the teen is paid by the pass the hat method or outside of the church’s payroll system, the church is treating them as an independent contractor. Part of being an independent contractor is having the ability to sign a contract. From a legal perspective until someone turns eighteen, that isn’t possible.

Regardless of whether the employee is a teenager or an adult, when federal and state labor laws differ on a particular matter, the one that sets the higher standard applies. As an example, say a state requires a minimum wage of $8.40 while the federal law only requires a minimum wage of $7.25, the higher standard set by the state law applies.

Returning to the situation of paying a teenager to provide childcare, sometimes state law will exempt teens working in someone’s home doing yard work or babysitting. This often confuses people causing them to think that if they don’t have to worry about hiring Johnny to mow their lawn occasionally, surely Susie can baby sit their small group’s kids. But as was mentioned earlier, because the church is involved, the exemption in the law does not apply.

Some state laws restrict how old a teen must be to work as an employee. They may also mandate that if they have not reached a certain minimum age they cannot work after a certain time on school nights, such as 7:00 PM, or they may be limited by how many hours a week they can work while school is in session. Lastly, they may require signed approval from their school principal before they are allowed to work for pay. As we mentioned earlier, you need to check both federal and state labor laws.

Perhaps now you better understand why we recommend that teens work as volunteers. While it is easy to pay a neighborhood teenager a few bucks for mowing your lawn or babysitting your kids, it’s considerably more complicated when they work as an employee of the church.

So what can a church who wants to increase involvement in its small group program by young families do? Here are some ideas that we can share. Perhaps a couple of adults from other small groups that meet at different times can provide childcare for a young adult small group. Such an arrangement could even be set up as a reciprocal agreement between small groups. Another idea is for your adult small groups to meet at a time when their children can be involved in a separate activity run by the church’s Children’s Department. A variation on this idea is for the church to provide properly staffed childcare at the church one or more evenings a week that small group attendees with children can take advantage of.

Church leaders who use care in developing childcare programs bring honor to our Lord. They recognize the importance of protecting their church’s children from mistreatment or molestation. Likewise they want their childcare providers to be protected from temptation and false accusations. They expect their providers to be accountable to the parents, and they expect themselves as church leaders to be accountable to the church body, and when providers are compensated, to the governmental authorities.

If we can help your church craft a small group childcare policy, please give us a call.

Please Note: This information is provided with the understanding that Church Administrative Professionals is not rendering professional advice or service.

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Deborah Miller, cca

Charles Kneyse

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