The idea of church in most communities represents safety, a haven for times of trouble, a place to find peace, serenity and support. It used to be rare that a church was ever locked. Because church was security, church did not need security personnel. Unfortunately, this is not an idea that church staff can rest easy with anymore. The former has been ripped away by acts of terror. Due to recent violent events in churches and against church members, more and more people are experiencing fear over the safety of the church and the measures the church is taking to prevent or counteract potential violence.
Last year, it is estimated that 65 persons died of homicides, suicides, or aggressors killed in action. An alarming quarter of these deaths were the result of domestic issues that played out in church. A reasonable cause of concern for church members is that most of these violent acts were perpetrated by people with some semblance of ties or membership to the church. A large percentage of these deaths occurred after service hours. It is a good time in the history of the church to reevaluate what safety measures to implement. The following list is a good place to start.
1. Educate your church body on your emergency procedures
Every church member should know where to exit the building in case of a fire, but do they know what to do when they suspect someone is armed and dangerous to the church? Or who to talk to if a church member expresses suicidal ideation? Write up a plan that addresses the answers to various security questions, and make them a part of the next service’s announcements. Don’t be afraid to spend a significant amount of time on the education. Consider setting up a separate meeting outside of church hours just for the purpose of educating them.
2. Build a Security Team
Giving your church members the names of individuals that are trained in safety procedures and can handle those concerns will cut out a lot of grapevine work in the middle of an actual emergency. Inform the church of the who they should talk to first about various safety concerns. Identify members with public service experience such as police officers, EMT’s, firefighters, counselors, street medics, nurses, and ask these people to be on your church’s security team. To make the commitment you’re asking of them clear, identify role expectations and make sure that there is at least one security team member in attendance every service. Set a member or two of this team to man the door during all hours of church operation, doubling their role as security personnel and people greeter to normalize their appearance.
3. Be Proactive
While it is good to create a sense of peace in church, there is significant folly in allowing your church members to believe that a violent crime cannot and will not happen within your four walls. Instead of dispelling fear by means of minimizing the dangers, empower your people with the practical knowledge of how to handle each situation as it comes up.
4. Screen Your Staff
It should not be a point of contention to ask church volunteers to submit to a criminal background check, especially those working with children, money, or in ministries that involve one-on-one counseling. Rape is a violent crime that occurs at a deplorable rate within churches and this is not an issue to be neglected, as rapists are just as likely to murder.
5. Have Medical Supplies on Hand
Invest in a first aid kit and keep it well stocked. If you have a nurse or EMT on staff, ask what they would recommend having on site in case of emergencies. A little money down now could save a life in the future.
6. Establish Escape Plans and Lock Down Procedures
In the event of a truly life-threatening event, you will want to know that the children are safe. So, have an easy plan of evacuation or a door that cannot easily be broken into by a criminal. If your children’s room is on the second floor, invest in a child fire escape ladder, easily purchased on Amazon for a very affordable price. But either way, spend some time considering complicated locks and sturdy doors over the places that demand more security.
7. Teach Risk Assessment
Consider if you have the finances to pay a professional to educate your staff on risk assessment. Some things don’t get reported before they become an issue because people don’t know what to look for or what constitutes a real risk. Some professionals such as firefighters and the police may do it for free. You could offer to take a collection for them if there aren’t currently any finances left over to fund such an endeavor.
To be sure, prayer is not something that will magically equip your church with safety measures. It is only AFTER taking steps of wisdom that honor God and demonstrate your willingness to do whatever you need to in order to keep His people safe, that the church should find peace and rest in prayer. In light of the most recent church shooting, consider having time set aside to pray as a church that God would deliver justice and peace to the slain and their families. Pray that God would equip the church body with members specialized in security, converts that are knowledgeable on safety plans. And pray for His perfect peace that casts out all fear to fall on each and every member of your church body as you discuss and implement these guidelines.
Remember the point is not to instill fear, but confidence through education and resources. May you be blessed by being proactive about your church’s safety and find comfort in the words of Jesus:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27
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