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Offender Discipleship

How Will You Disciple Registered Sex Offenders?

Registered sex offenders may ask for permission to attend your church or they may simply show up and hope you don't notice. So if you are not already doing so, it is important that you start reviewing the National Sex Offender Registry for your local area, on a regular basis ( Share the results with your staff. This will empower you and your team to recognize the names and faces of those on the registry that are close enough to attend your church.

Protecting the Children in Your Care

If your church has programs that serve children or youth, it is your responsibility to protect the children in your care and it is extraordinarily dangerous to allow sex offenders access to children. The best way to mitigate the risk is to ensure registered sex offenders do not have access to the children you serve by keeping them off of your premises.

Though the protection of the children in your care is a top priority, we are all God's children and sex offenders are in desperate need of God's grace, his strength, his guidance, and his redemption. They are also in need of a strong community whose members will hold them up and hold them accountable. So how do you balance the spiritual needs of sex offenders with your responsibility to protect the children in our care and in your congregation? Here are a few options for you to consider:

Refer to Local Churches

One way to ensure that sex offenders have the opportunity for the discipleship they need, is to connect with other churches in your community that do not have children or youth programs and refer offenders to those churches for regular services, bible studies, and fellowship. It is important not to just tell the offender to go to the other church but instead to do a personal introduction so the receiving church is aware of the offenders background, their discipleship needs, their restrictions relating to children, and any terms of parole that need to be upheld. 

Collaborate with Other Churches

Another approach is to collaborate with other churches to offer centralized programs (weekly services, bible studies, etc.) for sex offenders that are available to a broader geographic community, perhaps a single location within the county. The services would be held at a location that does not have children or youth programs or at a time when there are no children on campus. The collaborating churches could rotate responsibility for program delivery.

Be aware that this could pose a problem for some registered sex offenders as they may have terms of parole or probation that restrict them from communing with other registered sex offenders. If you are interested in pursuing this option, I recommend you reach out to your local corrections department to discuss your plans and gain their input and support for the discipleship program.

Provide On-Line Resources 

You may elect to offer on-line services on your website and refer offenders there for weekly messages and training. You may also consider offering messages that are specific to the struggles they face if you are so led by God. While access to these messages and studies is valuable, it certainly does not provide offenders with the invaluable opportunity to be involved in the faith community. Offenders who are isolated from family, friends, and community are more likely to re-offend or struggle with other issues such as substance abuse or depression. 

Insist on an Approved Escort 

The last option I will offer is to allow sex offenders to be on your campus, if they are accompanied by an approved escort at all times. This provides them the opportunity to partake in a variety of services and be an active part of the faith community. However, there is a significant risk involved - if members of the congregation are used to seeing a particular person on campus, they would assume they are safe. If the offender arrives on your campus and does not make previous arrangements to be with an approved escort, the congregation members would not be aware of the potential danger which would be a significant risk to the children in your care.

One alternative to overcome this risk would be to notify the adults within your congregation of who the offender is and engage them in holding that offender accountable for being with an approved escort. However, some congregation members may not be comfortable with the sex offender’s presence on campus near children and choose to attend a different church as a result.

Allowing sex offenders to be on your premises is by far the riskiest option I have offered you for consideration. I do not personally support this option because the risk far outweighs the benefit. However, I do know churches that have adopted this approach and I would be remiss not to address it. If you are considering this option, you must go into this type of scenario with your eyes wide open and leave your religious trust behind. You must involve a broad enough group of people to ensure accountability for constant supervision of sex offenders. Sex offenders may also have restrictions that do not allow them to be within a specified distance of areas where children congregate, making their presence on your campus during services a violation of their terms of parole or probation. 

Last but not least, you should be acutely aware of the increased liability you have if a sex offender, that you allowed on your premises, abuses a child in your care. This is especially true if you do not notify parents in advance. Check with your insurance company to determine if this option would be in compliance with your terms of coverage.  

Safety Plans 

Which ever option you select for offender discipleship, it is important that they receive both spiritual guidance and earthly boundaries. They will be well served by a small group of brothers (or sisters) in Christ who can impart sound theology and structure for spiritual disciplines. The offender will also need a team of professionals (law enforcement and mental health) to develop a safety plan that sets appropriate boundaries that minimize the risk of a repeat offense. A good starting point for boundaries is Best Practice #3 in my book, 8 Ways to Create their Fate. The safety plan should also be specific to the offender's personal triggers (access to preferred age range/gender, pornography, substance abuse, depression, anger, stress, homelessness, etc.). The small group can play a crucial role in holding the offender accountable for following their safety plan as well as providing on-going intercessory prayer against the enemy and for God's blessing of wisdom and self-control to prevail.

Diane Cranley’s book -  8  Ways  to  Create  their  Fate is an invaluable contribution to the field of sexual abuse prevention and recovery. As a treatment provider to sex offenders as well as victims, I recommend this primer  as a staple for every teacher, counselor, clergyperson, coach, and parent’s library. The information and practices posited herein can be helpful not only in the prevention of child sexual abuse, but also for the recovery of offenders in managing their behavioral choices; an unavoidable, albeit unpopular, component  in  child protection. —Nancy B. Irwin, PsyD, Los Angeles



How Will You Disciple Undetected Sex Offenders?

The information provided for discipling registered sex offenders, addresses known offenders who have been detected, charged, arrested, convicted and placed on the National Sex Offender Registry. But 86% of sexual assault goes unreported to authorities and only a portion of the reported cases have sufficient evidence to press charges, let alone secure a conviction. So the offenders that appear on the registry represent a very small portion of the sex offenders who actually pose a danger to your children. This is why our prevention program and on-line training for all staff, volunteers, and parents are an integral part in God's plan to protect children. 


86% of Sexual Assault Goes Unreported to Authorities


There are three other groups of potential offenders that may present a danger to the children in your care that you should know about and plan to disciple:

Self-Disclosed Offenders

There may be times when offenders disclose to a church leader that they have sexually abused a child. Your first responsibility is to ensure the safety of the children in your care and all access should be immediately suspended until an appropriate investigation has been completed by the authorities.

Clergy are mandated reporters in about half of the states and are thus required by law to report suspected abuse to either law enforcement or child protective services. Some of those states but not all, provide an exception for privileged communication between a clergy member and someone who discloses as part of the process of confession. It is very important that you know the mandated reporting laws in your state, including specifications for clergy, and adhere fully to the law ( However, I highly recommend that your child sexual abuse prevention policy designates all staff members and volunteers as mandated reporters with no exception for privileged communication, regardless of state law. Some denominations have made this policy across all of their churches. So either based on state law or organizational policy, you will need to report the disclosed abuse to local law enforcement or child protective services so that an appropriate investigation can be completed. Investigations should never be handled within the church and you cannot depend solely on the details disclosed by the offender. 

Offenders often disclose to their church leaders that they have sexually abused a child because they long to be free from the secret and they truly want the help of God and the community to keep them from re-offending. However, they may not disclose all of the pertinent facts or they may twist the truth to indicate the incident is outside the statute of limitations or that it happened when they themselves were a minor, in an effort to get the support they need without you involving the authorities. It is important that you let them know that you will support them through the process but that you will need to contact the authorities to ensure all legal aspects of the case are resolved.

Depending on the initial discussion with the authorities, you may end up providing spiritual support during the legal process if charges are brought against the offender, during a period of incarceration if convicted, or the authorities may not press charges for a variety of reasons. In which case you will need to support the offender with a strong safety plan and no access to the children in your care - refer to our recommended options for registered sex offenders. Remember, the offender told you for a reason. Do not let them down by not providing the kind of spiritual support, structure, boundaries, and referrals to professionals that are necessary to ensure the offender has the best possible chance not to re-offend.  

Self-Disclosed Minor Offenders

Forty two percent of childhood sexual abuse is at the hands of another child. If a minor has sexually abused and been detected, they were most likely sentenced to a treatment plan versus juvenile detention. In most cases, juvenile offenders' records are sealed and they would not appear on the sex offender registry. However, they or their parents may inform you of the incident. Similar to adult offenders who self-disclose, you have an obligation to talk with the police to ensure all necessary investigation and treatment has been completed and you should let the minor offender and their parents know your intent to do so. The minor offender was under no obligation to tell you about the abuse and you will need to determine on a case-by-case basis if it is appropriate to allow them to participate in your youth programs. If you do, you will need to provide spiritual support, structure, boundaries, and close supervision to ensure the safety of the other children in your care. 

Minor Attracted Law Abiding Citizens (MALACs)

Every person who is sexually attracted to children and crosses the line, thought about it for a period of time first. Imagine if this had happened to you or maybe even one of your children.  Where would you turn?  Who would be safe to talk to?  Who could help you before you act on the urge?

A third of the men were under the age of 16 when first attracted sexually to children. All of these men committed their first offense as juveniles, 1 to 3 years after becoming sexually attracted to children.


One study of offenders found that “A third of the men were under the age of 16 when first attracted sexually to children. All of these men committed their first offense as juveniles, 1 to 3 years after becoming sexually attracted to children.” and 83 percent of the offenders said they didn’t seek help because they either didn’t realize they needed it or there was no help available. We cannot be silent or even vague, and expect our youth to have good sexual boundaries with peers or with younger children. There are just too many inappropriate sexual influences in the world today. My book, 8 Ways to Create their Fate, details what we need to talk with our youth about to ensure we set them up for a life of successful appropriate relationships. 

Whether it is a youth or an adult, there are people who are struggling with inappropriate sexual thoughts about children and you have the opportunity to be the one person they can trust with this shameful secret. Speak about this openly from the pulpit so that they know they can come to the church for help. If you have someone come to you for help with inappropriate thoughts and they have not acted on these thoughts and abused a child, there is no reason to call the authorities. Seek God's wisdom and discernment in your conversation to determine if a child has been hurt.

All that said, the person who is struggling does need professional help to create a strong safety plan and to determine the underlying cause of these inappropriate thoughts. Sometimes it is nurture and sometimes it is nature and the recommended treatment plan differs based on the cause. There are going to be a limited number of therapists who are willing to treat offenders and even fewer who are willing to treat MALACs without feeling the need to report them to authorities. I recommend you do your research ahead of time and have a referral list of therapists willing to treat both offenders and MALACs. 

Of course, MALACs will need on-going spiritual support - sound theology, structured spiritual disciplines, intercessory prayer, healing ministry, and a small group to hold them up and hold them accountable.