Studies have confirmed a dramatic increase in crimes against church ministries in recent years. Tragically, dangers such as arson, child abuse, vandalism, assault or threats of assault, breaking and entering, child abduction, and theft have become more common occurrences in churches.
But unfortunately, most church leaders are not addressing this issue. After a church shooting in Knoxville, Tenn., last year, a survey of Christian churches found that 75 percent had no security or emergency plans, reports Jeffrey Hawkins of the Christian Security Network. Churches are “soft targets,” he says—easily accessible places with little or no security.
It’s time for all churches, small or large, to proactively evaluate their ministry settings and develop security and safety strategies. But how do we begin?
Allow me to suggest these seven initial steps . . .
1. View safety as a stewardship matter.
Protecting the people in our churches and securing the properties and facilities we all use demonstrates compassion and is simply good stewardship.
2. Establish a safety and security task force.
Although the pastoral staff and deacons could oversee this effort, it’s probably best to enlist the help of a selected group of qualified individuals who could evaluate the church’s security needs, establish specific policies and procedures, coordinate training, centralize resources, and monitor progress in implementation.
3. Formulate a written safety and security plan.
Under the direction of the task force, and with the input of other church leaders, a comprehensive church security and safety manual should be developed and affirmed by the deacons and congregation. See sidebar for suggested components of a good plan.
4. Provide training.
Establishing specific training for church staff and leaders is helpful. For example, properly trained greeters and ushers can play a vital role in the church’s response in an emergency—including the recognition of suspicious behavior and the prompt alerting of local law enforcement.
5. Keep the congregation informed.
The value of an informed congregation in emergency response situations cannot be overstated! Therefore, some churches have formed safety communication teams to help keep their congregations informed. Others make literature available—in the lobby or even in the worship center itself—that summarizes the safety and security plans the church has established.
6. Think long term!
An effective effort in this area is not a one- or two-year project. Ongoing security evaluations and regular reviews of safety procedures by church leaders are crucial.
7. Trust God.
Despite the increasing crimes against church ministries, we don’t need to be held captive to fear. While we should do all we can to provide for the safety of the ministry and people we serve, we recognize that our greatest protection and ultimate security is found in God!
Jim Vogel (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate national representative of the GARBC.