Worried about security risks at church? It's understandable. Senseless tragedies at schools and churches across the country have shocked us all. As a result of that violence, we have heard from many ministries expressing a need for training, for their churches, to prevent this from occurring again.
With that in mind, have you ever found yourself at a crossroads? There’s a decision to make, and you’re not quite sure how to proceed. It can be tough to make a choice. Now imagine trying to make that decision amidst chaos.
Maybe you haven’t had to make the decision to be a helper during an emergency (sometimes things are pretty quiet in life). So here’s another question: have you ever had something taken from you? Has a thief violated your home or work space?
Nobody wants to be a victim. It's time to make sure you're doing everything you can to keep your church safer. Whether your ministry is small, medium or large there’s always a reason to evaluate the security risks at church.
Examining Security Risks At Church
Below are 10 security risks at church that a ministry might experience.
You don’t have an emergency plan – An emergency plan is the first line of defense against security risks at church and unforeseen circumstances that might take your congregation and staff by surprise. Studies show that shock can cause people to have delayed reactions or no reaction at all to emergency situations. One way to resolve this issue is to prepare for multiple emergency scenarios. An emergency plan is an excellent way to make sure that your church staff responds appropriately to emergencies and accidents in a way that reduces the risk to your congregation as well as to the church. Your emergency plan should include scenarios dealing with natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires and flooding. Make sure to also include instances of disruptive persons and missing children.
You don’t have emergency response team (ERT) kits – Many people, especially in California, have these in their homes already. We keep them around incase there’s an earthquake or fire. You may also have seen coverage on the news about ERT kits being used by police and firefighters during natural disasters or other emergencies. An ERT kit is often made up of the materials a response team can use during a crisis. For your church an ERT kit may include medical supplies or other safety materials. Any team that responds to an emergency is going to need supplies immediately on hand to help them deal with the situation. Be sure that yours is equipped with all the safety and medical materials they need to reduce the risk of your congregation and help keep them safe.
You aren’t keeping up with what’s happening outside in the community – Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on in our own backyard. We’re constantly bombarded with media and news. It’s important to stay aware of what’s going on in our towns, including areas that are high risk in the community. For instance, if you plan to hold a fundraiser or event, be sure that you research the safest areas possible for your gathering. If you know there is an area in town that has a high crime rate, or there has been some kind of threat to the area, think twice about holding your event there. This can sometimes be difficult when serving the Kingdom, but staying safe from security risks at church is important, too.
You don’t have a security team – Implementing a security team is an important part of any church’s risk prevention plan. Many churches ask “Why do we need security? Won’t God protect us from these security risks at church?” and the answer is that God wants us to learn and work to protect ourselves. Remember the old adage: God helps those who help themselves. Start your team with someone in your congregation that has experience with security or law enforcement work. Then, find like-minded individuals in your church to be part of the team. Have them work together to identify potential issues and then report on them to the Board. Your team should work to train on the best practices for keeping your church safe. A security training course can help them learn the best methods for de-escalating aggressive persons or dangerous situations.
You haven’t trained and prepared for security issues – When a dangerous situation occurs, those that have been trained to react, respond and assist will help your church and congregation stay safer. Proper training helps your security team know when it’s the right time to act and what the appropriate response to a situation should be.
You don’t have background checks in place – Background checks are critical to the safety of your ministry’s workers and congregation. Ideally, your checks should include more than just one resource. In 2002, the New York Times cited studies indicating that, at that time, perhaps nearly 15% of clergy across all religious denominations may have been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior. Sure, they’re older studies, but not ones to be taken lightly. These studies indicate child abuse in ministry is not just one denomination’s problem. It is extremely important to protect your church with tools like an Employee Handbook and Church Employee Background Screening. Of course, your good judgment is the most valuable guide, but sometimes a list of disqualifiers can help.
You don’t have a cyber-security policy – The Internet has become a staple of business and commerce. That means that more and more business is being done online, including transactions at non-profits and religious institutions. If your church handles cash or online financial transactions, say for tithing or material support, it’s important to make sure that your church’s computers and networks are secure. There are all sorts of threats to your ministry’s data and finances, but you can defend against data and monetary theft from viruses, malware, spam and fishing by implementing a policy like this one. You can also use your policy to set rules about what is appropriate use of the computers and your network, such as blocking viewing of sites that offer access to undesirable material, such as pornography.
You don’t have cash controls – If you don’t have some form of cash control in place you’re opening up your ministry to potential fraud. Large sums of money, lack of oversight and a trusting environment are all fuel for the fire. It’s important to make sure that one person does not have full control over your ministry’s finances. First, make sure that you implement processes for cash receipt and disbursement. The safe handling of financial assets must be made a priority. Then make sure you have some controls in place. Each function of your process should be handled by a different person. Oversight and accountability are key to combating fraud.
You don’t have a legal adviser – There will always be questions about risk. Your insurance agent knows a lot, but they don’t specialize in law. Your insurance agent should be able to work with you on your risk prevention, but when issues and questions arise, if they are worth their salt, they should be directing you to professional legal advisers. We often get calls about accidents, youth ministry and marriage counseling concerns. These questions about security risks at church are often best handled by an outside legal firm or a lawyer retained by your insurance carrier.
You haven’t met with your agent to review your policy – Remember, your insurance agent should be an extension of your team. Your agent is there to listen, evaluate and advise your ministry on how to protect itself and what your current policy protects against. If your situation changes, your agent should be working with you to restructure your policy so that you are covered against any new risks.