Living in Charleston, I’ve witnessed the Emanuel AME Church tragedy’s local impact.
From memorial services and fundraisers to marching band halftime shows and walk/run events, everyone in Charleston has come together to remember the victims in different ways. Local places of worship have also addressed safety concerns and developed plans of action if a crisis occurs.
I’m an avid runner whose training runs typically occur near Emanuel. Often, when I pass by, I think of the victims, survivors, and their families. As someone who works for a company specializing in faith-based software, I wondered what I could do to make a difference for churches and help them keep members and attendees safe. That’s how the idea for this series on church safety strategies was born.
Over the next few weeks, this series will highlight some steps your church can take to address these concerns, such as forming a safety team and evaluating medical, property, child, and vehicle safety issues.
Is church safety on your radar?
As a ministry administrator or leader, you have a lot on your plate.
Perhaps you start the week entering and posting contributions, scheduling events, processing payroll, logging Sunday School attendance, and handling any unexpected questions or concerns that come from members and attendees. Or, maybe you’re a church leader striving to take care of members and attendees while growing membership and serving the outside community.
Most of us consider our churches safe places and don’t think about security and safety on a daily basis. Often, safety and security is not addressed until an incident occurs. After recent tragedies, ministry leaders recognize growing threats of crime, misconduct, lawsuits, and violence on church property.
To protect your faith community, you should take precautions to prevent tragedies and incidents. Safety and security should be near the top of your to-do list, and forming a church safety committee is a great place to start.
Inform your leaders and share your vision
Before establishing any new team, plan, or procedure for your church, make sure that the leadership and congregation understand why this is important. If senior pastors understand how critical this is, they can inspire other leaders and your congregation when forming a safety team and establishing safe church guidelines.
Find team members
Once church leadership is on board, think about who you want to make up your safety team. Church members with many backgrounds may want to serve, and you can find a place for everyone to help. You may want to consider those with experience in the military, law enforcement, risk management, medicine, insurance, law, security, mechanical trades, and teaching.
You can also look beyond your church’s walls for help. Local law enforcement and outside consultants may be able to help. Hiring an outside security officer may also reduce your church’s liability.
Appoint a media spokesperson
After recruiting representatives from various backgrounds, your safety committee should appoint a media spokesperson. Your media spokesperson may be your pastor, but doesn’t have to be. You could consider a team member with public relations experience for this role.
Make sure your media spokesperson can calmly and comfortably speak with the media in a crisis situation.
Introduce the team to the congregation
Since keeping your church safe and secure is a ministry, present your safety committee to the congregation. Knowing that your church has a safety ministry and team in place gives your congregants peace of mind. You can introduce the safety team during a worship service and feature them in the church newsletter or bulletin. Your members and attendees can pray for and support the team.
Write formal procedures
After commissioning your team, the work begins. The best place to start is by establishing formal procedures and emergency action plans.
With recent incidents such as the San Bernardino shootings in the news , active shooters and hostage situations have emerged as concerns for churches, but church safety encompasses much more than violent acts.
While you can’t plan for every possible scenario, establish an emergency action plan that covers as much as possible. Address medical emergencies, evacuation plans, fire prevention, and mission trip safety. Also, establish guidelines for church keys and church property such as vehicles, detailing what to do in case of theft, criminal activity, or accidents.
In addition, consider your facility’s other uses when writing formal safety procedures. If your church serves as an emergency evacuation shelter, or if an outside ministry uses your church for social service needs, address those in your procedures. Weddings, receptions, events, and plays should also be subject to your safety guidelines, as your church may be liable.
Your executive leadership and safety committee members should sign off on the procedures. You may want your church’s attorney and insurance agent to review them as well
Train your team
Your safety team should know how to address any incidents that occur within your church, and holding training sessions can help. You can invite local law enforcement to speak to your team or have safety team members give presentations on topics such as child safety, parking lot safety, and first aid. Outside training agencies may offer useful seminars, too. Be sure your ushers are trained to listen, watch, and pay attention to their surroundings in case of suspicious activity.
Retrain and revise
When it comes to keeping your church safe, your work is never done. Safety committee members may leave and new ones may join, so train and retrain members often. You may need to update your safety procedures to account for new ministries or buildings. It’s a good idea for your safety committee to review and update the procedures annually or any time a security incident occurs at your church.
Church safety isn’t a sprint or a marathon- it’s a journey with no finish line. With a qualified and well-trained safety team, your church can lead the way in safe and effective ministry.
You can take it from here
This article is intended to be a starting point to open dialogue about security plans for your church. Be sure to do your own research, and if appropriate, contact a professional to determine safety guidelines that suit your needs.
This article is part of a series on church safety. Stay tuned for our next article on preventing and addressing medical emergencies within your church.
About the writer
A Charleston, SC resident and technical writer for ACS Technologies, Amy’s witnessed the impact tragedies such as the Emanuel AME Church massacre have on a community. In her spare time, Amy enjoys running, art, travelling, volunteering, and spending time with family and friends.