3 Essentials to Protect Your People
For most people, the church has always been a symbol of peace; a safe place for people to gather and worship. That has drastically changed over the last few years. Hearing the stories of violence that destroy the lives of innocent people is heartbreaking. These stories sometimes come up when I work with different pastors, and security becomes a part of the conversation. Questions like these are usually asked:
- “What does security look like in a church?”
- “Who qualifies?”
- “What are the liabilities?”
- “Do we really need a security team?”
My brother served in the Air Force for four years, followed by several years in the Secret Service under President Bush. After 9/11 happened, he became a Federal Air Marshal and spent the next several years flying around the world. He went through extensive training on how to deal with terroristic violence. I asked him to come to our church a few years ago and speak about the importance of church security.
I vividly remember him saying, “Today’s terrorists, both foreign and domestic, look for soft targets that can create the most chaos and death for the least expense and manpower.”
By soft targets, he meant organizations or events where people gather.
These targets have no prevention plan or expectation of such attacks. Unfortunately, there are churches of all sizes, denominations, and locations that would qualify as a soft target.
I should note that not all terrorists look like what you might expect a terrorist to look like. We consulted one of our strategic partners, Steven Goodspeed at The Church Lawyers, in writing this article. He had this to say, “Without going into all of the details and statistics, a high number of violent deaths that occur at churches or ministries continue to be related to domestic abuse as a motive or a triggering event.
It is helpful for your church staff to receive some training and have a heightened sensitivity to families under unusual stress. This is a good idea for common sense and spiritual reasons in addition to security reasons.”
Some churches just don’t see a need for security, especially in smaller towns and rural areas.
These areas typically have low crime and the thought of a terrorist attack seems outrageous. Recent history has proven that small towns are not exempt from terrorist attacks.
In addition to acts of violence, there are other scenarios churches often have to deal with.
- Pastors have told me about incidents where kids escaped from their classroom and ended up outdoors. Talk about upset parents!
- I have seen unauthorized adults wandering around the children’s area, creating a “stranger danger” feel.
- There are cases where ex-spouses picked up their children from church, despite the fact that they were violating custody rights.
Not only does it create the potential for harm when these things happen, it also sends a message to guests that your church isn’t a safe place.
Here are three things that can help you enhance your church’s security
The children’s area should be the top priority and the safest place in the entire church.
Parents need the assurance that children are in good hands each weekend. When I work with churches as a secret shopper, far too often I am able to walk right into a classroom without being stopped or questioned. I should never have been able to pass the child check-in area. The child check-in station is critical for church security and should serve three primary purposes:
- Capture and log data for each child for communication purposes such as notification during service, food allergies, medical conditions, etc.
- Provide an identification sticker or document to the parent or person authorized to pick up their child. This rule cannot be compromised.
- Create a barrier that keeps unauthorized people out of the kid’s area. If your child check-in area is only serving the first two purposes, as I often find, your kid’s ministry is a security risk.
Having a security team is only effective if they are placed in the right areas.
Determining where security is needed will also help determine how large your security team needs to be. We have already mentioned that kid’s area is a top priority. Here are a few other suggestions where teams should be placed:
- Any entrance that isn’t locked for the entirety of the service
- An elevated position in the main sanctuary (e.g. sound booth, balcony, etc)
- A seat among the congregation that offers a wide view
- Parking lot/exterior buildings
- Any area that has people transitioning during the worship service
Another good idea is to install cameras in high traffic areas.
The number one objective of any security team should be deterrent.
Physical altercation should always be the very last resort. This means people who struggle to keep their cool shouldn’t be on this team. Often times, having a security presence can discourage violence and hostility. Here are a few suggestions to help create a security presence:
- Ask team members to wear lanyards or shirts that identify them as security team members. Per the advice of my brother, it is also wise to have some team members who aren’t identified. Although a security presence can be a deterrent, it can also be a target.
- A security team is only as effective as their ability to communicate. Radios with the inconspicuous earbuds aren’t that expensive and can make all the difference if an incident were to occur. Radios also create a presence of professionalism and excellence.
- When serving, team members should create an “on duty” presence. They can be cordial to people arriving for church, but should stay alert and focused. Far too often, I have seen security team members standing to the side conversing about a football game or some other non-related subject. This sends the message to violators and families, “our security is loose and unprofessional.”
The question that is always asked is, “Should our security team carry concealed weapons?” That is a big question.
And let me add, a dangerous question.
You have to be very careful about giving people permission to carry weapons. I would encourage you to seek solid legal advice before giving such permission. People in your church who have a law enforcement background understand this and are ideal to oversee security.
Steven Goodspeed at The Church Lawyers also shared some other key recommendations:
- Don’t forget to involve ushers/deacons/greeters as part of threat assessment and recognition; they may not be part of the response but are often the first ones to see a problem and report it to the security team and they should receive some training.
- Keep in mind your church is private property and you have the right to ask a person exhibiting threatening behavior to leave. Try to use wisdom and discretion and avoid defaming someone in public in so far as it is up to you to avoid doing that.
- In certain circumstances, a church can ask a court to issue a protective order barring a person from the church’s property. If the person shows up, he can be removed by the police and charged with violating the court order.
- Do not touch someone unless you are prepared to deal with the consequences though–there are skills that assist in de-escalating a potential conflict and this kind of training should be part of your security team training. The security team’s goal is to avoid using any force if reasonably possible.
- Remember to involve your insurer and experienced church legal counsel to minimize risk as much as reasonably possible.
It is very important to develop a strong working relationship with local law enforcement who are often able and willing to do a security assessment or give helpful advice. Additionally, a useful first option in some instances, depending on the economics involved, is to utilize off-duty or retired peace officers or military/private security who are able to serve as a visible deterrent and a trained presence on site.
Lastly, it can be very helpful to ask your local law enforcement agency to provide training for your security team. In addition to learning best practices, you can build relationships with your local service men and women. This can create an opportunity for the church to impact their lives and it’s nice having those relationships in the unfortunate event that something tragic happens at your church.