Then he said unto them…he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one….And they said, “Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, “It is enough.” — Luke 22:36-38, KJV
Church is supposed to be a welcoming place where everyone can experience the power of God’s Word.
But even as we open our doors to share His Love, the unfortunate reality is that religious organizations are not immune to the violence that has become a sad feature of today’s world. Over the past 20 years, more than a dozen churches throughout the United States have experienced fatal shootings.
It’s time to start treating security as a ministry, right alongside your children’s and youth ministries, your music programming, community outreach efforts and other activities.
But how can pastors and others in leadership roles protect members and visitors?
As a private investigator for over 25 years and author of Church Safety and Security: A Practical Guide, I have published many articles on this subject. Here are five tips for a security ministry for your place of worship.
#1: Have a Church Security Plan
Thinking “it can’t happen here” is the biggest mistake you can make. First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas was home to just 100 worshippers when a gunman took the lives of 26 of them during a Sunday service in 2017. Churches of all sizes and denominations must be prepared.
Start with a list of every possible emergency situation that could take place at your church, either on Sunday or any other day of the week, such as shootings, other violent acts, fires or natural disasters.
For each of these scenarios, specify actions to take in the event that they occur. Communicate your security plan to clergy, staff members, volunteers and congregants.
#2: Assemble a Security Team
As with other ministries, no one person should bear the burden of security alone. Your team can include people with a variety of talents for serving in this capacity.
- If at all possible, recruit at least a few individuals with experience in dealing with security threats. This might include military, law enforcement, private investigators, medical professionals, EMTs or firefighters.
- Assign roles to each team member. Who will call 911? Who will talk to the police? Who talks to the media? Who can provide first aid? You can also assign preventive roles such as monitoring points of entry.
- Invest in formal training that includes role-playing exercises. Examples include how to recognize and diffuse potential threats, what to do in an active shooter situation, how to interact with law enforcement and how to give first aid.
#3: Talk to Local Officials
Establish a rapport with police officers, private investigators and emergency responders in your community.
These individuals may be able to provide training to your security team and others in the congregation, make recommendations for preventing unauthorized entry and offer techniques for dealing with violent behaviors or threats of harm.
#4: Control Access
Security experts within your congregation or from the community can also help you perform an audit of all physical locations within your church building to identify and mitigate security flaws.
- Communicate your hours of operation and always have at least two individuals present when the building is unlocked. No one should ever be in the church building alone.
- Consider replacing traditional locks with keypad or smart card entry systems.
- Limit points of entry to just one or a few doors. Assign a monitor for every unlocked door to keep track of who enters and exits the building.
- Pay close attention to children’s areas. Besides the child’s parents, only authorized adults who have passed a background check may have access. You must also create a child check-in and check-out process.
- Have a strict protocol for who is allowed to handle donations and financial assets.
- Provide two-way radios to ushers, daycare staff, security volunteers and other authorized persons on Sunday mornings and during other high-traffic events. This makes it easier to summon help quickly if needed.
- Implement lock-down procedures to protect building occupants during an emergency.
- Install video surveillance systems and review footage for suspicious activity.
#5: Involve Your Congregation
Some parishioners may be concerned when they find out that you are introducing a security plan. Open and honest communication can put people at ease.
- During worship and Sunday school, offer periodic reminders of where exits are located. You can also include security policies in information packets distributed to new members and visitors.
- Encourage members to report any threats or other suspicious activity to the appropriate persons.
- Maintain up-to-date contact information for members and visitors.
- Install emergency lights to help everyone get out safely in case the power goes out.
Explain that security helps to further the church’s mission and that everyone has a role to play in keeping one another safe.
If you have questions or concerns, please contact Robert Cirtin Investigations to learn more about implementing your security ministry as well as confidential private investigation services.