In my last article, I mentioned the great need we have to keep our churches safe. Of course, most of us worry about an "active shooter" showing up and creating chaos, but safety and security go far beyond such a scenario. Safety involves making sure people are cared for in an appropriate manner. Security means that people are able to feel safe while they are at church worshipping. Here are some things to think about.
Even though churches are private, they are still public places. Are there parking spaces for handicapped people? Are both the inside and outside of the building well lighted? Are there handrails at the places where people need assistance? Has anyone checked to make sure the people taking care of children are qualified? Are there fire alarms in the church? How many people in the church know what to do if an emergency occurs? Is there a first aid cabinet available for minor injuries? It's important for church members to look around and spot areas that might be dangerous and to report them to the church's leadership.
At a large funeral service in a church where I pastored, suddenly a woman near the front of the sanctuary came under intense stress as if she was having a heart attack. Luckily, I was at the microphone and could control the situation. However, has anyone ever thought about what should be done in such crises?
Security is something else. I know of some churches that have hired off-duty police officers to oversee their services on Sunday, but it didn't work out well. No one wants to attend a church where there is a security officer standing at the door (although the presence of a uniformed officer may invoke a feeling of security in a large church). Such attention to security merely turns people away. After all, who wants to worship in a high-risk environment? Asking church members with concealed carry licenses to serve as protection officers in a church also is of little help. Most are not trained for that kind of duty and do not come to church to be "church cops." Neither are they well organized.
Most security issues involve common sense, but there are still some things that we can do to make our churches safer. Perhaps the number one thing every church should do is to elect or appoint a security team to oversee the security issues in the church. Providing adequate alarms at strategic places, having landlines connected to the nursery and children's rooms, providing locks on all doors where necessary, and having a plan for emergencies are all important and involve all church members.
The Tina Lewis Rowe Training Center recognizes that most of the things considered for public places do not work well with churches and suggests that churches utilize the resources available to them. In this case, almost every church has greeters and ushers who may be trained to watch over the people at church. They may do this without disrupting the church's services or raising an alarm. They are there all the time anyway, so no one really worries about them. But they are a first line of defense for security.
Churches would do well to provide training for their greeters and ushers. In general, greeters and ushers should be on the lookout for people who are acting strangely and not allow themselves to be quickly drawn into providing more ministry and care than they are capable of providing. Here are some things to look for:
• Unusual Emotion -- anger or rage, too much crying, fear or panic;
• Unusual Behavior -- not entering but just looking around, leaving a car running, looking intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, acting like they have a concealed weapon (they will touch the area often), carrying a large bag or box with no purpose; and
• Unusual Characteristics -- inappropriate clothing like camouflage or hunting clothes, having an odor or being dirty, wearing a long coat when it is warm, looking unkempt.
Churches exist to welcome visitors but not necessarily those who are there only to create harm for others. It is really easy to spot someone with an ulterior motive. Simply notice what happens when you extend your handshake. How does the person react? Is he or she really there to worship or study, or is there some other reason.
Perhaps one of the biggest errors made by the laity is when they allow their compassion to exceed their ability to minister. I have watched visitors walk into a church and solicit a large portion of the church's morning offering from people who thought they were helping someone in dire need. In reality, they probably were helping someone support his or her drug problem; and when those addicted to drugs do not get what they want, they may erupt into violence.
Greeters and ushers should not attempt to confront suspicious individuals; they should have specific instructions about who to notify immediately.
Safety and security are everyone's responsibility. If you have questions or see something out of the ordinary, report it to the church's leadership; and, in an emergency, don't be afraid to immediately call 911.
Robert Box is the former chaplain for the Bella Vista Police Department and is currently the Fire Department chaplain. Opinions expressed are those of the author.Religion on 02/07/2018
Print Headline: Church Security -- Part Two