New to Shepherd's Watch Background Checks?

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Account Setup

Required Steps

  1. Activate Your Account With Clear Investigative Advantage (CIA)

    Group partners with CIA for all your background check needs. CIA is a federally compliant background check provider, delivering reliable background checks to meet your needs for all your volunteers and staff.

    Note: You will need the following pieces of information to activate your account:
    • Your Group customer number, which can be found in the confirmation email you received when you purchased your membership.
    • Your church phone number and address.
    • If you need help finding your Group customer number, email our Shepherd's Watch Team or call 877-446-3247.
    Activate Your CIA Account
  2. After Your Activation

    You can expect your account to be activated within 24 to 48 hours. You will receive an email from CIA to confirm your account setup. If CIA needs any further information, they will contact you. As soon as your account is activated, you are ready to run background checks.

  3. Review the Information You Receive From CIA Carefully

    CIA will also send you an email regarding an Online Authorization Form. An authorization form is required to be signed by the applicant (staff or volunteer) prior to running a background check. You can have these forms filled out in print form, or you can set up the Online Authorization Form through CIA. You can also use a combination of both. Please read the information about forms below before choosing to use CIA forms as is.

To inquire about your account status:

Contact CIA directly at 214-382-2727, option #3.

Best Practices

Simplifying background checks…

This section is divided into three key areas: your responsibilities as an organization running background checks and knowing how to choose the right background check and best practices beyond background checks. This is informational only and shall not be taken as legal advice.

Prior to running a background check, you’re required to get both of these forms signed by the applicant. Most screening companies will provide you with a basic disclosure form and authorization form. Ultimately though, it’s your organization’s responsibility to comply with the law and to understand what these forms are—this is especially important if any litigation should arise. The forms provided by the screening company may be used in part or in whole—it’s your obligation to determine whether it’s in compliance with all the relevant federal, state, and local laws in your area.

  • We recommend consulting with an attorney prior to adopting any form.

Disclosure Form

This tells the applicant that a background check may be obtained for employment/volunteer purposes. It also includes information about what would happen before any adverse action is taken based on the results of the report.

Best Practices
  • The disclosure should be a separate document from the authorization form, employment application, or any other document.
  • The language should be clear and not confusing.
  • It shouldn’t include any extraneous information. For example, information that pertains to another state or a release of liability.

Authorization Form

This gives you the permission to run a background check on the applicant. Obtain an authorization form once it becomes a final condition of their employment/volunteer position.

Best Practices
  • The authorization should NOT be included in an employment/volunteer application.
  • If you have “evergreen” language stating you have permission to run a check through the entirety of their employment/volunteer position, make sure that it’s very clear what that means. Confusing language can have negative effects on you in the case of litigation.

TIP! You may want to consider having separate forms for an employee versus a volunteer to create clarity and reduce the chance for confusion.

You have an obligation under the FCRA to follow a process called Adverse Action when rejecting an applicant, reassigning or terminating an employee/volunteer, or denying a promotion based on information received in the background check.

TIP! Writing a policy that states the reasons your church will take adverse action assures there’s no room for interpretation/subjectivity.


Adverse Action consists of two steps:
  • STEP 1

    Provide the applicant with a Pre-Adverse Action notice that gives the applicant an opportunity to review the report for accuracy. There are times when records can get crossed and the information may not actually belong to the applicant. This step in the process gives the applicant a chance to ensure the information belongs to them and explain any negative information.

    The Pre-Adverse Action notice must consist of the notice, a copy of the report, and a copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” The screening company (CIA) has these documents available for you. You may also request CIA to complete the Pre-Adverse Action process for you for an additional fee.

  • STEP 2

    Provide a written Adverse Action notification to the applicant stating what action is being taken (for example, not hiring, not promoting) and what the decision is based on, such as specific information from the background check.

You will be collecting highly sensitive personal data. It’s your responsibility to properly store and destroy these documents whether they be electronic or print.


How long to keep records?

The FCRA doesn’t have requirements for how long you need to keep forms and reports, but the EEOC does and your state, screening company, or insurance company may have additional requirements. It’s always good to check with all parties before creating a policy and process.

CIA requires you to retain any information you receive from CIA for a period of five years from the date the report was received.


Disposing of Records

The FCRA Disposal Rule outlines steps you must take to dispose of the data securely in order to reduce the risk of fraud and identity theft. Learn more.

Knowing what options to choose can be confusing. Most churches we work with choose the basic check. While this check is fairly comprehensive in nature, it may not cover you in the case of litigation.

Although tempting, don’t let cost drive your choice. This choice could ultimately cost your church hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation. It’s best to pay a little more upfront than to leave your church vulnerable to the alternative. Contact your attorney and insurance company for guidance and help with understanding your risk.

  • National does NOT mean all-inclusive. While it does sound that way—it’s actually not true. Some courts still rely on paperwork, and don’t submit records to electronic databases. And even if the court is electronic, they may not report all of their data or they may not report to a national database.
  • There’s no central database containing every record across the United States. This is why it’s important to consult a lawyer, and to fully understand what’s included in your screening company’s “national” check for the states/counties your applicant has lived.
  • Some states require people with routine and direct access to children to have both a state and federal background check. Know the law before choosing any background check package.

For questions about what CIA’s database includes:

Contact CIA directly at 214-382-2727, option #6.


Before you choose your package:
  • Understand your church’s policies
  • Understand your insurance company’s requirements
  • Understand your state’s laws/statutes regarding screening of people working with children, elderly, and people with disabilities
  • Know who the applicant will be working with (for example, kids, adults)
  • Know what the applicant will be working with (for example, financials, vehicles)
  • Know the residential history of the applicant

TIP! Best practice is to perform a national criminal database search AND a county courthouse search for the counties the applicant has lived. These two searches, when combined together, drastically improve the usefulness of a background check.

While most churches now recognize the need for background screening volunteers and staff, far too many churches are putting their churches at risk because they simply don’t understand some basic best practices.

If the candidate may be serving as a staff member, in children’s or youth ministry, handling money, or driving a vehicle on behalf of the church, you’ll want to consider performing much more thorough screenings. (Refer to our Applicant Screening Checklist sheet)

Often in their desperation for staff and volunteers, churches will overlook or scrimp on the interview process. The interview is a great time to ask direct and probing questions that will hopefully confirm that they’re a good fit or reveal potential issues that should disqualify them from serving. (Refer to our Volunteer Interview Questions)

Now that you’ve interviewed the candidate, the next important step is to request and actually call references. You’d be surprised by how many situations could have been avoided if the church had only called a past employer or co-worker. (Refer to our References Interview Questions)

As thorough as a background check can be, it won’t identify a thief or an abuser that hasn’t been caught yet. Unfortunately, a sexual predator may have amassed several victims before the crime comes to light. That’s why it’s imperative that staff and volunteers be vigilant to identify any behaviors or actions that are suspect. (Refer to our Signs of Grooming or Abuse sheet)

An initial background check is an important first step, but it shouldn’t stop there. The reality is that situations can arise at any time so it’s essential that churches perform annual background checks to help ensure that your volunteers and staff are in adherence with church policies.

Downloadable Forms & Checklists

Essentials for a Safe Church

This library of downloadable pdf checklists and forms will save you time and help you thoroughly screen your volunteer team. Each checklist includes convenient editable fields for digital record keeping, or they can also be printed per your preference.

Training Videos

Training Basics for Volunteers and Staff

These quick training videos are designed for you to send to your volunteers or staff. We have worked with thousands of churches and have carefully selected these topics based on the needs of churches just like yours.

Children’s Ministry Safety

Money & Your Ministry

Driver Safety

Why Background Checks?

Youth Ministry Safety

Premium Member Benefits

Play to Volunteer's Strengths

Spiritual Gifts Discovery Tool
Spiritual Gifts Discovery Logo

Premium members also receive lifetime access to the Spiritual Gifts Discovery online assessment tool. This tool allows you to plug people in to the right ministry opportunities that best fit their unique gifts.

If you purchased the Premium, you will want to review your Shepherd’s Watch confirmation email for instructions on how to activate your Spiritual Gifts Discovery account.

Want to upgrade to Premium?

Call us at 800-975-4006 or email us at productsupport@group.com M–F 7am–5pm MST.

Frequently Asked Questions

Background checks can reveal red flags for behaviors you need to know about. And should any sort of litigation ever emerge against your organization, you must show your due diligence in screening candidates, employees, and volunteers.

A number of industries—especially those that require the handling of other people’s personal and private information—require background screenings. These include the home healthcare, financial, and education industries among others. But even if your organization does not operate in or provide services to these industries, there are still enough crucial reasons to run them. Many insurance companies do require that background checks be performed when dealing with children, youth, and at-risk adults regardless of the law.

Yes, you do. If you want to order and review any kind of background check in order to determine somebody’s eligibility, you must ask their permission. We make this easy with an electronic consent/order form. We also provide a version you can print out.

You need the candidate’s full legal name (first name, middle names, and last name), full date of birth, and Social Security number. The Social Security number is used to verify the identity of the person being checked. A driver’s license number is needed to run a motor vehicle report.

The best option is to run a comprehensive background screening on your employees and volunteers at the point of hire and check annually after that. Hiring someone doesn’t mean that he or she won’t commit a crime in the future. Without a periodic check, you have no way of knowing if someone has been convicted unless the information is volunteered. It is important to check with your insurance company to see what they require.

If you intend to decline an employment applicant based on what was found in the background screening, you need to provide the applicant with at least two notifications, commonly known as the pre-adverse and adverse action letter. For more information on the pre-adverse and adverse action letter click here.

There are no monthly minimums, but we do ask churches to order at least one background check a year in order to keep their account active.

It all depends on what type of report you run. In general, results can be received within 24 hours if the background check is clear. If a record is found, it will be verified before being reported to you. The verification process can take 1-3 business days.

This type of search is fairly comprehensive, like it sounds. However, because certain jurisdictions and state privacy laws prohibit electronic distribution of criminal records, it won’t cover everything.

Because these checks are researched at the courthouse on a daily basis, they are the most up-to-date reports available. They are also the most in-depth.

DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is informational only and shall not be taken or used as legal advice. Please contact your insurance company or lawyer with any questions pertaining to legal matters.