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30 Years of Abuse Prevention

July 9, 2024
Photo: Thrive

“The leaders God is bringing into the CRC are drawn to some of our core values,” said Susan LaClear, director of Candidacy for the CRCNA. ”They rave about our abuse of power training and our code of conduct. It makes them feel safe to hear us addressing abuse in the church together and trying very hard to prevent it.”

LaClear shared these words in celebration of the new candidates for ministry being welcomed into the denomination at Synod 2024, which also marked another significant milestone: 30 years of abuse prevention and response work in the CRCNA. 

In 1989 synod convened a committee to study abuse among the membership of the CRC. The results were published in the Agenda for Synod 1992, and on June 17, 1994, synod voted to begin the Office of Abuse Prevention, with the purpose of equipping congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response. In 2009 the Office of Abuse Prevention became Safe Church Ministry, and in 2023 Safe Church Ministry combined with several other congregational ministries into Thrive. 

Thrive’s abuse prevention and response work is focused on building  communities where the value of each person is honored, where people are free to worship and grow in faith free from abuse, and where the response to abuse is compassion and justice to foster healing. Today, Thrive supports over 200 ministry leaders or churches annually in matters related to abuse awareness, prevention, and response. 

There is much to be celebrated about the work that has taken place over the past 30 years. As abuse continues to be a dark reality of our society, we can be grateful for the work done to create places of worship that are free from harm. Currently 88 percent of churches in the CRCNA have a safe church policy, and 69 percent of CRCNA classes have a safe church coordinator. All candidates for ministry are required to take abuse of power training. And synod approved a Code of Conduct for ministry leaders. These are significant advances in the area of abuse prevention and response.

Safe People, Safe Congregations

This year the abuse awareness theme is “Safe People, Safe Congregations.” 

Safe congregations are places where people can worship God and grow in faith freely without the fear of being hurt, harassed, or harmed. They are made up of safe people who . . . 

  • treat each person with dignity and respect.
  • actively listen with compassion and empathy to others.
  • act with honesty and integrity.
  • respect others’ boundaries.
  • admit and apologize after wronging someone.
  • advocate for the marginalized and the vulnerable.

Today, Thrive helps churches become safer congregations by: 

Providing Support with Safe Church Policies

Having safe church policies in place shows that we value one another, especially children and others who are most vulnerable among us. Policies help to reduce risk and create a nurturing environment so that people can worship and grow in faith while reducing the risk of abuse. Thrive recognizes that it can be daunting to create such policies on your own, so it offers guidance and support as you develop your policy and keep it updated from year to year. 


When situations of abuse arise in the church, Thrive provides guidance to councils and church leaders to help them respond in ways that support the healing of survivors of abuse. Ministry consultants are available to answer questions and to help discern a way forward when a church is faced with a challenging situation of abuse.

Advisory Panel Process and Thrive Investigations

Safe Church and safe church classis teams offer an advisory panel process when allegations of abuse are brought by an adult against a church leader. This process assesses the gravity and probability of claims of abuse, and provides the council with recommendations for bringing healing and restoration.

Recognizing that the advisory panel process is not suitable or premature for some allegations of abuse and misconduct, Thrive also offers investigations. When an allegation of abuse or misconduct is submitted to a council, council members may be too close to the situation to engage in an objective assessment. Council members, themselves, may be experiencing feelings of shock, confusion, grief, and betrayal that they need time to process. At times like this, outside guidance is crucial to responding well to allegations that arise. The Thrive investigation process provides an initial assessment of the allegations on behalf of the council and recommendations for next steps.


Thrive provides logistical support to safe church coordinators and teams in hosting online training events for their classes. Training on specific issues is also available to coordinators, ministry leaders, and classes.

Celebrating at Synod

During Synod 2024, delegates, along with Thrive staff, had the opportunity to celebrate the 30th anniversary of abuse prevention with cake during the Monday-afternoon coffee break. Thrive staff member Julia Rathbun opened the break with prayer, thanking God for 30 years of ministry and saying, “While we celebrate a milestone of safe church ministry in the Christian Reformed Church today, we also lament the presence of abuse – not just in the world around us, but inside the walls of our churches. We grieve for those who have suffered. We weep with those whose stories are known, and also with those whose stories are unknown.” 

A bookmark with a link to safe church facts and a timeline was given to all delegates, along with an assessment form designed to evaluate the current risk of potential situations of abuse in their congregations. The form asks questions about policy, training, the physical building, abuse awareness and response, the culture of the church, decision making, inclusion and community, and financial matters.

Previously at synod during a ministry fair, delegates were also offered an opportunity to complete a sheet of word games and be entered to win a prize that included the book Pivot by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, a resource that aligns well with Thrive’s mission to ensure that churches are a place free from harm, where all are free to worship and grow in faith without fear of abuse. Four winners were chosen at the Monday-afternoon coffee break.