Three Things that can Heighten Your Church Security
For most people, the church has always been a symbol of peace; a safe place for people to gather and worship. That has drastically changed over the last few years. It is heartbreaking to hear stories of violence that destroy the lives of innocent people. When I work with different pastors, these stories sometimes come up and security becomes a part of the conversation. Questions like these are usually asked, “What does security look like in a church?, Who qualifies? What are the liabilities? Do we really need a security team?”
A few years ago, I asked my brother to come to our church and speak about the importance of church security. My brother served in the Air Force for four years, followed by several years in the Secret Service under President Bush. After 9/11 happened, he became a Federal Air Marshal and spent the next several years flying around the world. He went through extensive training on how to deal with terroristic violence.
One thing that I vividly remember him saying is, “Today’s terrorist (both domestic and foreign) look for soft targets that can create the most chaos and death for the least expense and manpower.” By soft targets, he meant, organizations or events where people gather. These targets have no prevention plan or expectation of such attacks. Unfortunately there are churches of all sizes, denominations and locations that would qualify as a soft target.
Some churches, especially in smaller towns and rural areas, just don’t see a need for security. These areas typically have low crime and the thought of a terrorist attack seems outrageous. Small towns are not exempt from terrorist; recent history has proven that. In addition to terroristic acts of violence, there are other scenarios churches often have to deal with. Pastors have told me about incidents where kids escaped from their classroom and ended up outdoors (talk about upset parents)! I have seen unauthorized adults wandering around the children's area, creating a “stranger danger” feel. There are cases where ex-spouses picked up their children from church, despite the fact that they were violating custody rights. When these things happen, not only does it create the potential for harm, it also sends a message to guests that your church isn’t a safe place.
Here are a three things that can help you enhance church security
- Priority: The children's area should be top priority and the safest place in the entire church. Parents need the assurance that children are in good hands each weekend. When I work with churches as a secret shopper, far too often I am able to walk right into a classroom without being stopped or questioned. I should have never been able to pass the child check-in area. The child check-in station is critical for church security and should serve three primary purposes:
- Capture/log data for each child for communication purposes such as notification during service, food allergies, medical conditions, etc.
- Provide an identification sticker/document to the parent/person for authorized pick-up. This rule cannot be compromised.
- Create a barrier that keeps unauthorized people out of the kid’s area. (If your child check-in area is only serving the first two purposes, as I often find, your kid’s ministry is a security risk).
- Placement: Having a security team is only effective if they are placed in the right areas. Determining where security is needed will also help determine how large your security team needs to be. We have already mentioned that kid’s area is a top priority. Here are a few other suggestions where teams should be placed:
- Any entrance (that isn’t locked) for the entirety of the service
- An elevated position in the main sanctuary (e.g. sound booth, balcony, etc)
- A seat among the congregation that offers a wide view
- Parking lot/exterior buildings
- Any area that has people transitioning during the worship service
- Installing cameras in high traffic areas will enhance security.
- Presence: The number one objective of any security team should be determent. Physical altercation should always be the very last resort (which means people who struggle to keep their cool probably shouldn't be on this team). Often times, having a security presence can discourage violence and hostility. Here are a few suggestions to help create a security presence:
- Ask team members to wear laniards or shirts that identifies them as security team members. Per the advice of my brother, it is also wise to have team members who aren’t identified. Although a security presence can be a determent, it can also be a target.
- A security team is only as effective as their ability to communicate. Radios with the inconspicuous ear buds aren’t that expensive and can make all the difference if an incident were to occur. Radios also create a presence of professionalism and excellence.
- When serving, team members should create an “on duty” presence. They can be cordial to people arriving for church, but should stay alert and focused. Far too often, I have seen security team members standing to the side conversing about a football game or some other non-related subject. This sends the message to violators and families, “our security is loose and unprofessional.”
The big question that is always asked is, “Should our security team carry concealed weapons?” That is a big question. And let me add, a dangerous question. You have to be very careful about giving people permission to carry weapons. I would encourage you to seek solid legal advice before giving such permission. People in your church who have law enforcement background understand this and are ideal to oversee security.
Lastly, it can be very helpful to ask your local law enforcement agency to provide training for your security team. In addition to learning best practices, you can build relationships with your local service men and women. This can create an opportunity for the church to impact their lives and it's nice having those relationships in the unfortunate event that something tragic happens at your church.