KEEPING THE SAFE PLACE SAFE
The business of securing churches although a fairly new necessity is much like securing any building where people will assemble. While there are definitely some major differences, many procedures are the same. I want to look at five things that will help both the church attender and the church protector both feel more at peace as each go about doing their part to make the experience more powerful and safe time for everyone.
KNOW THE BASELINE OF YOUR CHURCH
Whether you are a protector, an attender, or a protector of an attender, knowing the baseline behavior (typical behavior or protocols for a certain group of people) of the church you are in will help to understand when something is not right. What is typical behavior in a Pentecostal or charismatic church may be red-behavior, aka, unusual behavior in a particular setting, in a mainline denominational church. In a Pentecostal or Charismatic church it would not be unusual for someone to jump out of their seat and run up to the altar or even the Pastor and give them a hug. In a different setting that same behavior may set off all types of alarms both in protectors and parishioners. Knowing what to expect in the church you are in will help you to better focus on why they went to church in the first place.
IT ALL STARTS IN THE PARKING LOT
The VIP, the preacher or the lunatic hell bent on causing a problem, all have one thing in common; they all come in from the parking lot. Maybe if you are an urban church perhaps they walk in from the sidewalk but the point being is this; anyone coming to church on any given Sunday starts from the outside and must work their way in. Good security starts when a person steps on the church property.
That being said, there is a certain amount of time every church has to examine and decide if a person on their way in means to do harm or more likely has come to get help from harm done to them by this thing we call life. During the moments between the car and the church entrance your security team must make the quick decision of whether or not they walk in with a quick wave and a smile or “operation lets check this out a little further begins”.
Knowing this, it is important to put your most observant and socially sensitive people outside the building to monitor things as people leave their cars to walk in. Is someone walking a appearance wise unusual or visually unstable? Are they they intoxicated or perhaps high? Is someone dressed for winter on a hot August day? Is someone mumbling someone’s name under his or her breath? These are all signs that something needs more attention than just a friendly hello. Taking care of the problem before it gets in the building could make a huge difference in how it affects the meeting going on that day.
STATISTICS TELL A STORY
A quick understanding of some statistics will help put some things in perspective.
The number one crime while church is in session is domestic violence. Almost always an angry husband coming to church because he thinks his wife is having an affair with someone in the congregation perhaps even the Pastor.
One of the most common problems a church safety / security team will encounter will be medical emergencies. So having a well stocked first-aid kit and knowing where your nurses and EMTs sit will be critical for fast reaction time to hold a patient static till the ambulance gets there.
While church shootings are definitely on the rise, and get almost all the attention from the media, they are statistically not high in the reality of church crime.
A final interesting statistic is that almost 50% of all church crime happens outside the church building. So stacking the inside of the church with protectors and leaving the outside bare is never a good idea.
KNOW THE LAYOUT OF YOUR CHURCH
In case of an emergency, seconds can be precious. Whenever I enter a venue I am not familiar with whether it is a church, a hotel, a movie theatre, or some other public venue, I try to know the layout of that building. Where could I take cover? Where are the exits? Is one place safer to sit than another? Where do these exits empty out? This type of information is critical in the event of a fire, an active shooter etc.
Although this writing is about church venues, this is a good discipline to observe in most public settings. Knowing this information goes hand in hand with being situational aware. Being one step ahead of a problem may mean the difference life or death.
BE PRO-ACTIVE WITH CRITICAL INFORMATION
Most churches are run by a great deal of volunteer help. These people love God and want to serve people. However, at times these volunteers are often working out of their area of expertise and therefore may not always ask the right questions. Giving import information without being asked can save a lot of trouble down the road. Here are three important areas’ where if the church doesn’t ask you should tell.
NON-CUSTODIAL PICK UP OF CHILDREN
If you are going through a custody battle with your mate and there have been issues about who gets to keep or have the kids particularly on a Sunday, let the nursery workers and or Sunday school teachers know. It is often helpful to keep on your person a copy of custody agreement in case there is an issue and you have to prove to law enforcement who is in the right. A picture of the other parent is also helpful in case they are milling about the classrooms or the church. As I said earlier in the article domestic issues are the most common problems in a church environment as churches are made up of families. This type of information helps them keep you safe.
Another domestic problem that often rears its head in churches are two people with significant issues in their relationship where one or both have filed a restraining order against the other. In our church we have had ladies provide us with a copy of restraining orders and pictures of their significant other / husband. With this type of information in the hands of a security team and or ushers, many emotional and even violent episodes can be avoided. If the person who has an order against them shows up they are asked to leave in a respectful way so as not to cause a problem. If they insist on entering, after trying to de-escalate and speak wisdom to the situation, the authorities are called and it gets settled legally.
Giving critical medical information to those responsible for your children is paramount to a peaceful church experience. For instance, a peanut allergy in a classroom where other children who may bring in their own candy or snacks can be life threatening. These types of issues that a parent might be familiar with, must be clearly explained to those in charge of your child’s learning or safety, while you are in service trying to focus on your worship.
IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING…TO THE RIGHT PERSON
In closing, Good security in a church setting depends not only on those on the security team, but each member of the church doing their part to say something if they see something. As you walk through your church going from place to place, make your walk an intentional one. If you see something that looks odd or out of place, this is your time to say something to the proper person who can address the situation; hopefully before it becomes a problem. If you are a protector taking a client to church these are some important things to be aware of for them. While not exhaustive, being aware of these five things is a good start to a safe time in your safe place!
THE LAST FRONTIER, KEEPING THE SAFE PLACE SAFE PT.6
BY ANDREW P SURACE
Dr. Surace is a seasoned Pastor with over 35 years of ministry. He is trained as an EMT and executive protection specialist specializing in church safety and security. He along with co-Author Eric Konohia are the authors of a book on the subject of church security entitled “Securing the Sacred”. It is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble as well as in bookstores around the world. To contact Dr Surace about doing a church protection seminar at your church or in your area he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org