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Assessing Your Church Safety Needs in the New Year

By Craig Cable

For the last several years I’ve had the wonderful privilege of serving as one of the leaders of our church’s security team. And it’s been my experience that every new year brings with it new opportunities and new challenges.

It’s a great time to gather as leaders and reflect on last year’s learnings—both good and not so good—and determine what, if any, changes need to happen in the new year. I thought it would be beneficial to share some of the lessons our security team learned over the past year so that you can evaluate your own church’s safety and security needs.

Let’s get started…

1. Child on the loose

This is how the first radio call went out: “Security alert…we think we may have lost a child.” My first thought was, What does that mean? Did we or did we not lose a child? The next radio call was even more concerning than the first: “We have lost a child but we’re not sure who’s missing.” We didn’t know the child’s name or age of the child or what the child looked like. Yikes! It felt like a pretty good time to panic to me.

Here’s what happened that day. The kids had just come back to the children’s room after singing Christmas songs during worship. It was during a customary head count that volunteers  realized they were one head short. Once they determined which child was missing, we locked the church down and began the exhaustive search of the property. We flashed the child’s check-in number on the auditorium screens and called and texted the parent. Within five minutes, we located the child sitting next to her mother, completely unaware of all that was transpiring. The little girl simply saw her mom and decided to join her. When we asked the mom why she didn’t respond to our attempts to reach her, she said she wasn’t really paying attention. And it didn’t dawn on her that the child not going back to the room was that big of a deal.

What we learned about church safety that day:

  • We were so grateful that the security team had practiced the lost-child scenario multiple times. They felt prepared to respond to the situation quickly and decisively. Unfortunately, we hadn’t practiced those scenarios with any of the children’s ministry volunteers. Top of the list is more joint training opportunities in the new year.
  • We learned to consistently communicate to parents on the notification system in the event there’s a problem.

When it comes to child safety, what processes and emergency procedures do you have in place if a child were to go missing?

2. Meth and ministry

You hope that your church feels like a safe place for people to come and be themselves, but maybe not so much so that they’d feel comfortable shooting up drugs in your lobby. Well, that’s exactly what happened one Sunday morning. Sitting in a chair just outside of our auditorium was a young man in his 20s using a syringe to inject what we believed was methamphetamine.

When we confronted the individual, he quickly shoved the syringe into a backpack. He also became increasingly agitated by our questions and started arguing that he was being unfairly harassed. It was at this point that we decided to call the police. Unfortunately, we had two major problems to contend with. The first was that this individual was sitting in a hallway between our children’s area and the auditorium. We needed to keep him from gaining access to either of those areas. The second problem was that, about the time the police were to arrive, our church service would be letting out and the hallway would quickly fill with people. At this point, we decided to lock down that side of the building to contain the situation until police arrived.

What we learned about church safety that day:

  • The ability for members of our team to be able to communicate with each other via radios was absolutely essential. All through radio communications, we were able to instruct one person to call 911. Another person was to block access to the children. And another person to block the auditorium doors. Like a well-oiled machine, everyone knew what to do and we were all kept apprised of what was happening.

When it comes to managing a potentially volatile situation or communicating critical information, what processes, emergency procedures, and equipment do you have in place that would help keep everyone safe?

3. Broken hearts and vows

Among the many reasons why our church exists, one is to minister to people in the highs and lows of their lives. The highs are often in celebration of special life events such as births, baptisms, and marriages, while the lows tend to be in response to losses. One particular area where I see people at their worst is in the loss of their marriage. Broken vows tend to bring out the worst in people, and your church is not exempt from being the place where many of those emotions spill out.

Several times over the last year, someone alerted our safety team to credible threats of harm or in response to issued protection orders. One such incident caused me great concern. An estranged husband made threats of violence against his wife, which prompted a warrant for his arrest. While the police were out looking for him, we were notified that he may attempt to come to our church in an effort to see her. Church is one of the few places where someone with bad intentions will know the time and place where someone will likely be. That was definitely the case in this situation. For the next several weeks, our safety team escorted this woman and her child to and from their vehicle to ensure that she was kept safe. We also alerted staff and volunteers to the situation in the event that he was to show up.

What we learned about church safety that day:

  • In all but one of the domestic situations that we encountered this year, a children’s ministry volunteer informed us of the protection order. We found that they were most likely the first person that a concerned parent would confide in regarding a protection order being in place. We determined that we needed to train all of our volunteers in how to have this discussion, what information we need, and when to notify the security team leaders.

When it comes to dealing with domestic incidents, what processes and emergency procedures do you have in place that ensure family members and the congregation are kept safe?

It’s my hope that some of the challenges that our church faced last year will help drive growth opportunities for your church’s safety team in the new year. It could be that experiences serve as affirmation of your existing processes and procedures or maybe reveal potential blind spots that need to be addressed. Regardless, take advantage the new year’s promise for a fresh start and implement changes that will benefit your team and your church for years to come.

Looking for more articles on church safety? Check out these posts!

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