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Turning a blind eye may be putting your church at risk

We’ve all heard the idiom to turn a blind eye, but did you know that the phrase is attributed to the Royal Navy war hero Admiral Horatio Nelson?


During the battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Nelson flagrantly disregarded a direct order from his commanding officer by ignoring the warning-signal flags that were calling for the fleet to retreat. Nelson’s excuse was, when he looked through his telescope, he simply couldn’t see the flags. That’s because he was using his right eye to look through the optic—an eye that he’d lost sight in during a previous battle. Nelson had literally (and intentionally) turned a blind eye.

History would prove that things worked out pretty well for Admiral Nelson. His intentional disregard for the warning signs helped him win the day. However, I don’t think Nelson’s bold, yet risky approach is the best way to go when it comes to keeping families safe at your church.

I travel all around the country leading church security trainings for all sizes of churches, and it’s a rare occurrence to find a church that has actually performed a comprehensive evaluation of its risks. Most churches tend to identify a particular threat, that of an active shooter, a child molester, or a fire, and then they hyperfocus on that threat exclusively. The problem is that they’re turning a blind eye to other threats that their church may be vulnerable to, as well.

During our Shepherd’s Watch® Safe and Secure Church Training, we dedicate a portion of the day to helping our participants know how to perform their own comprehensive risk assessment. We believe that the goal of a risk assessment is to understand the past, evaluate the present, and use that information to prepare for the future.

As you walk around the different areas of your church, you should be asking questions such as:

  • What incidents have occurred here?
  • How did we handle those incidents?
  • What incidents have occurred at other churches?
  • How prepared would we be if those other incidents occurred at our church?

Once you’ve gone through the process of documenting potential threats and identifying areas of vulnerability, you then have a better sense of what risks need to be addressed.

Now here’s the most challenging part of the risk assessment; you must choose between these three options:

  1. Mitigate the risk (Taking intentional and demonstratable steps toward reducing the risk)
  2. Accept the risk (Making the determination that mitigating the risk isn’t feasible or necessary)
  3. Ignore the risk (Intentionally disregarding the risk and hoping that nothing bad happens)

I think we can all agree that the third option isn’t really an option at all. That said, you’d be surprised by how many churches are doing just that. They focus on evacuation procedures, but ignore the need for first-aid or de-escalation training for their volunteers. They put security cameras in every room, but ignore best practices for background checks and child check-in/checkout procedures.

In spite of the warning signs, past incidents, and close calls, they choose to turn a blind eye and hope for the best.

Group is dedicated to helping churches see safety and security through a ministry-focused lens by providing comprehensive training and resources that focus on preparing ministry leaders and security teams for the most common risks they’re likely to face.

For churches wanting to develop, enhance, or improve on their safety and security processes, procedures, or training, visit Group.com/Security to learn more about the Safe and Secure Church: The Ministry Approach training kit.

If you’re looking for a more hands-on training experience for your safety and security teams, Group is providing full-day regional trainings around the country. To find a location near you, or to potentially host a regional training, visit Group.com/securitytraining.

To help ensure that you have the right people serving in your ministries, Group offers background-check services to make sure that your volunteers have been sufficiently screened.

No matter where your church is in the spectrum of preparedness, there’s always incremental improvements to be made. Safety and security processes and procedures are not static, but rather they need to evolve as your church evolves. And whenever you take a proactive step to mitigating a risk (big or small), it’s a step in the right direction.

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