Getting Started: Once church leaders decide to become proactive in protecting their ministries and people, often they are unsure where to start. First should be the gathering of information on church security and safety. Church leaders should then assemble a “Safety and Security” team that can offer consistency, thoroughness, and good communication between leaders and the congregation.
Moving Forward: Once a team is assembled, a great place to start is to adopt a child protection policy. Then, prepare for emerging areas of concern for churches. For example, threats against church property, health scares, or an incident during a worship service. Also consider weather-related catastrophes and their aftermath. Emergency planning and preparation for situations like these and other hazards should be considered.
Refusing to Let Fear Win: Guard dogs and tough guys at the doors is not what the church is about.. As people of faith, we don’t need to be held captive to fear. We should do whatever we can to protect the ministries and people we serve. But fear should not quash ministry.
As a church leader, ask yourself the question, “Is there a way to do this ministry safer that we have been?” Then be ready and trust God completely. If you take that approach, at the end of the day you will be able to say with confidence that you did all that you could to protect people and preserve the ministry.
Safety as Stewardship: Just as the shepherd is concerned about saving the one lost sheep (Luke 15), we also need to protect those people, resources, facilities, and ministries entrusted to our care. That’s good and faithful stewardship. How can we do anything less?
As each generation has discovered since the beginning of Christianity, challenges and threats to the faith have always risen. But we continue to move ahead with trust and confidence despite those. Why? Because we serve an amazing God and we have the body of believers with us.
A Word About Security Guards
The use of professional or volunteer security guards at church has become more commonplace in recent years. A church has several options regarding security guards: (1) Hire off-duty law enforcement personnel; (2) Hire a professional security guard service; or (3) Maintain its own security guard force. Considerations for each option are as follows:
Off-Duty Law Enforcement
Active law enforcement officers typically have superior training and experience in dealing with suspicious individuals. In many jurisdictions, off-duty law enforcement officers responding to a criminal act do so as police officer / deputy sheriffs, which can provide churches some measure of liability protection. Off-duty law enforcement officers and/or their agencies are not likely to provide indemnity (hold harmless) agreements and additional insurance protection to the church, such as may be obtained from a professional security guard service. Churches should come to a meeting of the minds with the law enforcement officers about the preferred approach to security at the church.
Own Security Guard Force
The church is responsible for running background checks and screening all security guard personnel.
The church is responsible for the training and supervision of its security guard personnel.
Since “security” is a regulated profession in many jurisdictions, the church is responsible for ensuring that its security force complies with all licensing and certification requirements that might exist under its state’s law.
The church will in most circumstances be liable for the acts of its security guards. The use of armed security guards presents additional considerations. While the presence of armed guards can potentially prevent or bring an end to an episode of church violence, their use also raises the risk of injury or death to innocent bystanders, claims for the use of excessive force, and an increased burden for ensuring that all guards are properly screened, trained and supervised. Also, armed security guards must be properly licensed and hold necessary permits and only carry legal and authorized weapons. Arming your church’s security guards is something that should only be undertaken in consultation with your church’s counsel, local law enforcement and your insurance agent.
Hired Security Guard Force
The use of a professional security guard service provides a layer of liability protection for the church.
The church still must undertake reasonable precautions in hiring the security service, such as checking references and fully understanding the service’s screening, training and supervision procedures.
The church should verify that the security guard company has a license by obtaining a copy. The church should enter into a written agreement with the security guard service in which the service agrees to indemnify (hold harmless) the church from any injury or damage that might result from the service’s activities.
The church should make sure that the security guard service is fully insured and have the church added as an additional insured on the service’s insurance policies. Then, the church should obtain a copy of a certificate of insurance showing that it has been added as an additional insured on the service’s insurance policies.
- Start a safety ministry
There are all types of ministries in a church: prayer teams, mission groups, and children’s ministry. However, few churches have a ministry dedicated to security and emergency planning. A poll in 2008 showed that more than 75% of all churches in the U.S. had no security measures in place. Organize a team to address security and safety measures and have them meet regularly.
2. Establish a person to head security and emergency planning efforts
You can’t have a team without leadership, so appoint someone to head this effort. Preferably, this person should have relevant security training, education, and experience. Some churches have to go to an outside source to find the right person, but often there are very qualified people within a church’s congregation. Engage your congregation in this effort and inquire about who might have relevant experience – you might be surprised.
3. Conduct a risk / security assessment
This is addressed in the book “Introduction to Security & Emergency Planning for Faith Based Organizations.” It is an important first step in any security and emergency-planning program. A church may conduct a risk assessment themselves or have an outside source do it, but, either way, a risk assessment is a good first step to identify vulnerabilities and risks and start the process of building a plan. You may contact your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
4. Develop the five key emergency plans
The five key emergency plans are: emergency evacuation, shelter-in-place, medical assist, lost / missing child, and active shooter / violent situation. If a house of worship develops and implements these five plans, they will be prepared for nearly any situation. A type of communication device will be necessary such as walkie-talkies.
5. Train all staff and volunteers in security awareness
Churches might think that people working or volunteering for their church would be aware of things going on, but experience and incidents show over and over again that most people entering a house of worship seem to lose all sense of security awareness the minute they pull up into the parking lot. They need to be trained, and not once, but on a regular basis, about how to be alert and aware of their surroundings. The “it-can’t-happen-here” mentality has to be broken and people need to be aware that no church is immune to these types of incidents.
6. Conduct a background check on every staff member and volunteer connected with the church
A poll in 2010 showed that about two-thirds of all churches conduct background checks on their staff and volunteers. This is great news. However, it also means that about 33% of churches do not conduct background checks. While thorough background checks have an expense associated with them, the consequences and costs of not doing them is much, much higher.
7. Buy an AED and train people to Use it
People are more likely to die of a heart attack than a gunshot in a church, yet many churches spend a lot of time worrying about the “active shooter”. An AED increases a person’s chance of survival during cardiac arrest by as much as 80% and any layperson can use one with no fear of liability under the Good Samaritan Act. The costs have gone down and there are grant programs out there to help purchase this equipment. There is no excuse for a church not to have an AED.
8. Meet with local law enforcement and fire departments
All churches should have a sit-down meeting with their local law enforcement and fire department to talk about the risks that churches are facing and discuss what the church should do to be better prepared and what would be the Police / Fire / EMS response in an emergency.
9. Review insurance policies and meet with the agent
Church leadership needs to meet face-to-face with their insurance agent and review some of the incidents that may occur and see what would actually be covered if they experienced such an event. Many churches are very surprised after an incident when they discover they have little or no coverage in certain circumstances. Churches need to discuss things like arson, burglary, internal thefts, not conducting background checks on all staff and volunteers, renting the church out for special events, etc. They should ask the agent the “What if…” questions, just to know what the liability would be and could they continue to operate after an incident.
10. Develop internal cash controls
Churches sometime spend a lot of time trying to stop the burglar from breaking into their church, yet the greatest potential for monetary loss remains the staff or volunteer who handles the finances. The average loss from internal church theft is into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per incident and remains the single costliest crime a church may experience. Ask the insurance agent if the church would be covered if this happened and put some “checks and balances” in place.
Now, this is by no means a complete list, but it is probably enough to keep most churches busy for months, if not longer. This can help put churches on a better path to creating a safer and more secure house of worship.
Sheriff George T. Burris
Church Safety and Security
Getting Started Guide