10 Essential Steps For Church Security and Safety
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
The God given task to watch over the flock brings a broad range of responsibilities and considerations for the local Pastor and church leadership. Especially as it pertains to the need for church security and safety.
Christ demonstrated a model of ministry that showed care for both the physical and spiritual needs of those to whom he ministered. We too must be mindful to care for the physical needs of those we have been commissioned to reach. In that regard, safety and security are essential. It is hard to show genuine concern for an individuals eternal security while overlooking their basic need of physical protection as well.
With incidents of church violence and crimes against houses of worship on the rise, we should become deliberate and intentional in our efforts to create barriers of protection in and around our sanctuaries. Consider implementing the following practices to help:
CONDUCT A RISK ASSESSMENT
Regardless of the size of your ministry, you should conduct an annual risk assessment. This process will help you better understand the inherent risks associated with your daily operations and can identify vulnerabilities that may be exploited by others intending to do harm.
During a risk assessment, you should objectively inspect and evaluate your ministries protocols, your active security measures in place, and then scan the exterior and interior of your properties to identify natural hazards or obvious weaknesses.
When conducting a self-assessment assessment, it is critical that remain objective and honest with yourself. You may even want to consider having additional members from your church board, security director, or pastoral staff complete a separate assessment and then submit their findings for a final joint review. This overlapping approach can help to ensure items are not overlooked due to being commonplace. Our digital download risk assessment form can help.
During an assessment of your ministry, you should revisit and review any written policies and procedures on file for needed updates and/or modifications. As a good practice, make sure you have clearly written job descriptions and child safety procedures in place for all volunteers and staff members. You should also review your files to make sure you have applications, background checks, and current personal information on file for all persons serving with children. These written procedures and documents will serve as the groundwork for your church safety program.
In addition to the steps already mentioned, you should also consider photographing or recording the present conditions of the exterior and interior of your facilities. Inspect all of your installed security equipment and ensure your fire safety equipment or break away doors are fully functional and in good working condition. Remember to take sufficient notes while conducting the walk through and compile a to-do list for any deficiencies identified.
UTILIZE ALARM AND MONITORING EQUIPMENT
Church properties should be adequately equipped with an off-site monitored security system that can to monitor your access/entry points and has the ability to dispatch local law enforcement and fire services. In addition to these security measures, churches should also consider installing video surveillance equipment to record their parking lots, access points to their children’s service areas, offices in which finances are retained and stored, and areas in which people generally congregate or meet. Although, in times past, such equipment was limited due to budgetary restraints, there are numerous cost effective solutions available today. For example, a practical 8 camera system, with recording options and the ability to be reviewed off-site via a smartphone or web based device, can be purchased for around $300-$600 and installed using in house labor.
SECURE AND LABEL ELECTRONICS AND MEDIA EQUIPMENT
All church owned media and electronic devices should be adequately secured to prevent theft and unauthorized access. This includes mounted projectors, television monitors, sound and lighting equipment, computers, office supplies, etc. These are just a few of the most common items taken during incidents of internal theft or burglaries.
In addition to properly securing or affixing locking mechanisms on high valued items, you should also maintain a current inventory record of your equipment for any potential insurance claims or loss. Document and record serial numbers, brands, makes, models, and estimated values. You should also consider marking or labeling your items with ministry labels in an inconspicuous place. This can aid in quicker identification and recovery in the event of loss.
OPERATE A SECURITY MINISTRY TEAM
Every ministry should have selected members within the body who are trained and prepared to assist the church in time of need. Church security ministries should operate under a clear set of established protocols and procedures and under the direct oversight of an appointed security director or pastor.
When operating a church security ministry team, you should remember that it should never be any larger than the qualified pool of candidates available to serve. Although many people may be able to serve in the role of a greeter or usher, due to the increased liability, security team members should be screened and carefully selected. Be aware that many churches have attending members who are either retired or serving in active law enforcement or military. Such persons can be of great benefit, because of their training background, however, formal training should not be the primary consideration when selecting members.
Just like any other work within the body, the security ministry is first and foremost a spiritual function and the selected members should be required to participate in biblical training and worship and have the evidence of spiritual fruit, maturity, and self-control.
In order to assist churches in training their staff and/or creating and effectively operating a security program, we have put together a church security ministry kit. This kit includes forms and procedures that can be modified to meet your individual requirements and contains training material to assist in educating the members and participants. The kit is designed to be used by an appointed member and can be self-instructed. You can rest assured, all of our material was developed using current law enforcement response protocols, crime prevention techniques, and incorporates spiritual preparedness for a well-rounded approach to church safety and security. Download your digital copy of our security ministry kit here and get started today.
CONDUCT SCREENING OF VOLUNTEERS
Psalms 127:3 tells us, “Children are a heritage from the Lord.” As such, we should take every precaution to ensure minors attending our churches are safe and protected from those who seek to do them harm. As standard practice, and prior to being permitted to serve, churches should require that all volunteers complete an application, sign for the receipt of your child-safety policies and procedures, and undergo a criminal background check.
Courts have overwhelmingly ruled that churches are liable to ensure they have used due regard for the safety of minors attending or participating in church organized functions. In the unfortunate event you are confronted with an allegation of abuse or negligence, by a staff member or volunteer, an inquiry will be made into your completion of a background check on the person(s) in question. If you have failed to complete this essential step in creating a child-safe environment, it will be hard to overcome the ensuing culpable negligence.
In addition to background checks, it is good practice to retain all applications and employees and volunteer files in a secured format for 15 years, or for specified statute of limitations for offenses involving minors within your state.
To ensure proper screening of your candidates, and to avoid civil liability, you should never use web based screening companies that offer immediate and unlimited background checks for a set monthly fee. These service providers are not investigative firms, and as such, they do not verify the candidates identity and do not validate court records for accuracy. The personal information they provide may contain costly inaccuracies, or even worse, have criminal records that were blocked by the privacy request of the candidate in question. As a good rule of thumb, sites that are not Federally Compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), cannot be used for employment or to meet the obligated standard of due regard for volunteers.
All that said, we understand that many churches have opened themselves up to harm and liability, simply because the cost of completing background checks on their volunteers has been an undue financial burden. In order to assist, Full Armor Church has designed a program that caters to churches and faith based non-profit organizations. Cost no longer needs to be an obstacle to your safety and the protection of your reputation within the community. You can review and utilize our church volunteer and employee background check program here.
DOCUMENT INCIDENTS / ACCIDENTS
There are a variety of incidents that can occur on church owned property. From vehicle burglaries, thefts, medical emergencies, accidents, or even complaints of improper conduct. Regardless of the nature of the incident, you should properly document the occurrence and corrective steps or actions taken on a church incident report for your records. Such reports should include: time and date of occurrence, the specific location, person(s) involved, witnesses present, claimed or documented injuries, services provided or agencies involved, and a short summary of the event. These incident reports should be completed by the assigned staff member and then reviewed by pastor or oversight board and permanently retained on file.
Documentation helps to establish and document compliance with protocols and procedures. It also aids in recollection, in the event of litigation or allegations by individuals in delayed reporting. Several forms, including our church incident report, are available and included within our church safety kit.
PREPARE THE BODY FOR WHAT TO DO IN THE EVENT OF AN EMERGENCY
When people enter your church, they assume that you have put adequate security measures in place to ensure their safety. Civil courts have shown that this is a reasonable expectation and therefore, places a responsibility on houses of worship. For that reason, you should ensure that you have basic first aid supplies readily available and on hand, properly working fire prevention equipment, and posted fire evacuation routes for areas in which children are housed. You should also prepare the congregation on what to do during an evacuation, lock-down event, or when faced with an active threat inside the church. It us suggested that you assign or appoint a security director to assist with overseeing these specific needs of the body. In addition to the training material included inside our church security kit, Full Armor Church also conducts on-site church safety workshops for your entire staff and volunteers. We also cover specific training that is geared solely to members of tactical response. Whatever your need, we’re your solution. For more information, visit our Church Security page.
ESTABLISH PROTOCOLS FOR YOUTH AND CHILDREN’S MINISTRIES
Ministries should pay particular attention to the protocols and practices surrounding their children’s and youth ministries. These areas can draw our greatest scrutiny and should be constantly monitored for the potential of exploitation. Every ministry function, in which parents or guardians drop off their minor children for care and supervision, should have some form of sign in and check out system. This can be as simple as a sign in sheet, sticker based tracking system, or software attendance program. You should also have parents complete a contact sheet. This form should contain personal information to assist in the event of an emergency, any known medical conditions requiring medications, allergies, physical limitations, etc.
In addition to safety procedures, you should have assigned persons to routinely monitor and restrict access to areas in which classes with juveniles and minors are being held. It is also essential that child care workers have some form of communication to contact an assigned security member or call 911, in the event of an emergency.
The collecting, counting, and securing of church offerings and tithes should always be performed with no less than two appointed members. Preferably, one of which is trained and/or serving as a member of the security ministry.
Any funds retained on site should be properly verified and then secured in a location that has adequate locking mechanisms and the ability to be monitored with alarmed entry points or surveillance. Desk drawers, money bags, or unmounted components should be avoided. Instead, consider using mounted safes or depository devices that can be installed in selected areas to ensure safe retention of funds until deposits can be made.
Use good judgment and develop adequate systems to ensure proper auditing and oversight. You should also insure that you have sufficient safety practices in place when transporting funds for deposit and avoid developing set patterns that are easy to forecast.
One of the greatest contributors to criminal activity is opportunity. In law enforcement, there is a concept known as the “Broken Window Theory.” In essence, if items go unaddressed, the perception is that nobody cares. If broken windows are tolerated, then discarded trash and abandoned vehicles must also be acceptable. After all, nobody really cares. Right? Ultimately, the community begins to lower its standards and what was once un-tolerated activity becomes readily accepted as the new norm.
If you have broken windows, faded signs, or parking lots full of debris, what sign are you sending to your community? What behaviors, attitudes, and activity are you drawing onto the property? Being good stewards of God’s house and maintaining its appearance sets a clear image that there is life within its walls and a body that cares and is present and active. This single act alone can thwart and deter would be criminals who are looking for opportunities.