Churches are places people go to find peace, forgiveness and fellowship.
Unfortunately, sex offenders sometimes intentionally place themselves in these spiritual environments.
"People who prey on children are very good at getting people to gain their trust otherwise they wouldn't have access to children," said Stephanie Smith, regional director of the National Child Protection Training Center.
She trains professionals on the front lines of child maltreatment cases.
According to Smith, more than 90-percent of sex offenders say they consider themselves to be religious.
Some of these criminals gravitate toward churches because they think people with a strong faith want to see the good in people and are therefore more trusting.
"We have a lot of child abuse in this country and to think that none of these people are ever going to be in a church or school is naive," Smith said.
Over the past year and a half, four suspects with ties to Benton and Washington County churches have been arrested for some kind of sexual abuse.
A fifth man, a student minister, was accused of soliciting sex from a prostitute.
"It's not at all uncommon to find some kind of abuse in a religious setting, and also people in that setting don't really know how to deal with it," said Smith.
Coming to terms with that reality, and getting it out in the open, is something The Reverend Lowell Grisham at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville works hard to achieve.
"It's absolutely important to be open about it because otherwise you create an atmosphere of secrecy, an atmosphere where people aren't able to address something that is of critical importance," Grisham said.
All of St. Paul's staff must pass a background check and anyone working with children must complete a special training course, which helps them to identify the signs of child abuse.
"We try to take as seriously as say the school system takes the protection of our children."
Reverend Grisham's employees don't just prepare for situations involving a sex offender, they've had to practice what they preach.
"We had a situation where a sex offender who had served time wanted to return to church and so we followed some guidelines that were very clear about setting up a way for him to do that," he said.
The man could not show up at the church unannounced and would have to have an escort with him at all times.
"He was unwilling to come back to church under those stipulations," Grisham said. "I think we probably protected our church."
"When we see something that sort of makes the hair go up on the back of our neck, we should pay attention to it," she said.
Smith believes congregations are starting to do a better job of focusing on the person committing the crime, rather than how the crime will reflect on the church itself.
"It's about the individual who committed this offense, it doesn't say anything about the faith or the church itself unless you don't respond appropriately."
And how the church responds to an allegation of sexual abuse is key.
Ministers are state mandated reporters, which means they could be punishable by law for not reporting suspected abuse.
But Smith urges that everyone in the pews should be educated and willing to report inappropriate behavior.
"If I'm an offender and I know that in this particular congregation people are really watching for the kids, people are listening to the kids and they're not afraid to make that kind of a call, and they're being encouraged by the minister, by the church counsel, whoever it is, to make those calls, I'm going to move on to the next church who is not doing that," she said.
What do you think? Are churches doing enough to protect members from possible sex offenders in the clergy and congregation?
Join the discussion on our KNWA Facebook page by clicking here.