People go to church for all kinds of reasons but almost no one goes to find trouble. The ones that do go for that purpose, are the reason your church has a security team or ministry.
Unfortunately, over the last twenty years “Trouble” has been finding its way into church for the simple reason that for the most part, we welcome it. Church is still the place that welcomes anyone in any condition to come to find help. In this second article on The New Frontier, I want to continue on the theme of how to make your church a safer place.
I want to discuss what are known as the five R’s of protection. These principals will work when securing any venue, but I have tailored them to be specific for Houses of Worship. Although they are quite simple, they are very effective and user-friendly especially for smaller churches that have little to no professional protection budget.
RECOGNIZE: They say the best time to kill a dragon is when it is in an egg. Church security is all about prevention and not about cleaning up. One negative thing happening during a church service greatly damage the reputation of the church in that community. To state it plainly what is tolerated in a bar is almost surely forbidden in a church.
While Police primarily respond to those breaking the law, security is more about recognizing a problem before it becomes one and quickly responding to diffuse or deescalate the problem before any damage is done. Although your security team is primarily the ones watching out for these problems, any good member of the congregation can spot a problem and make a difference. The important thing is if you see something say something.
A grandmother with some life experience can sometimes spot a problem quicker than a twenty-year-old black belt. The ability to sense that something is not right is one of the first gifts needed by anyone wanting to be on your security team. A window open that should not be, an unknown person loitering near the restrooms, an unattended backpack in the corner of the sanctuary, are all reasons to recognize the possibility that something is out of order.
Always be sure to include greeters in your security training. The term aggressive friendliness is a very important principle to teach. If your ushers or greeters sense something unusual about someone, being overly friendly and attentive is something no one meaning harm wants. Most often, people intent on causing a problem want to ease in late and be unnoticed. Aggressive friendliness alerts these types of people they have been noticed, recognized and if necessary can be pointed out.
RELAY: Once you sense or recognize that something is not right, the next thing to do is report it to the right person or persons. Does your church know who the ushers or security people are? Are they easily identified? Do you have any nurses or EMT’s who can jump in if there is a medical emergency? If for some reason there is a medical emergency, does the average churchgoer know who your first responders are? Being able to identify the right person is an important part of putting together your safety team. When time is of the essence knowing where and who to report something to is vital!
RESPOND: Once something is recognized and the message relayed, the next step is there must be a quick and effective response. Those in authority must know what to do and have the authority to carry it out. With this authority must come proper training so that those in charge are not just confident but competent. It is true that you always revert to your lowest form of training.
It is important to have regular times of training for various situations and scenarios. Scenario training for things such as an active shooter, bomb threats and other emergent situations should be a regular part of your team life. The enemy always has the advantage when it comes to timing because it is his plan and not yours. Good training however and a curious mind could help spot many of these problems before they are birthed. I can’t say it enough; Church security is about prevention not clean up. If you can recognize, you can have authority over it.
REMOVE: The goal of every response is to safely mitigate or neutralize the situation. If it is a medical problem you want to keep the patient static until the ambulance arrives. If it is a domestic situation you want to deescalate it as quickly and quietly as possible. With that in mind, does your church have an adequate first aid kit? Do you have the items necessary for a nurse or EMT in the congregation to use for basic life support? Do you have gloves and other protective gear handy for those working on a patient?
If it is a domestic problem, (these are the most common crimes that occur when church is in session) do our nursery workers know how to respond if a non- custodial parent wants to take their child? These are common problems in churches in a culture with an over fifty-percent divorce rate.
Policies should be in place beforehand so that your nursery worker has the knowledge to know how to deal with this situation. As we talked about in the first article, policies are very powerful not just for use when something is going down, but should the situation go to court, it can be proven there was no profiling or singling out of an individual.
In removing the threat always be aware of the fact that someone is probably videotaping the situation so be careful to act with professionalism and integrity as unfortunately, the video may end up in court. Again, proper training will help alleviate the simple mistakes made during high adrenalin and emergent situations.
REPORT: Although this is the last R, it could be the most important as well as come with the most regret. If it comes down to reporting the disturbance to the police or other authorities, it means that some important signs were missed and we are now in clean up mode.
There are certain things that by law must be reported to the authorities. This is not an exhaustive list, but certainly some of the most obvious things that would require police intervention. Serious violence such as a shooting or stabbing, a fight where someone is injured or an incident that involves sexual molestation or touching is a sure call to the police. As I said earlier, a great majority of things can be spotted before they become a problem. There are however times that things erupt so quickly that it gets by all those in charge.
In closing, if there is some kind of incident in your church, even if it was mitigated seemingly without incident, it is important to document and discuss it carefully. Getting the names and contact information of some witnesses would help greatly in case there is a lawsuit to follow. Careful and accurate documentation will help substantiate your response in court. If there is surveillance or some other type of video footage of what took place this also should be saved and documented. In the litigious society we live in, this is another way to protect the brand and reputation of your church. The saying “a short pencil is better than a long memory” comes to mind when documenting things for possible examination down the road.
Church Security – The Five R’s of Venue Protection
By: Dr. Andrew P Surace
Dr. Surace is a seasoned Pastor with over 35 years of ministry. He is a trained EMT and executive protection specialist. He along with co-Author Eric Konohia are authors of a book on the subject of church security entitled “Securing the Sacred”. It is available on Amazon as well as bookstores around the world.