Access Control

Door Control Pad

Training image

Basic Training for a Church Safety Ministry

Based on the Church Safety and Security Volunteer Academy [1]

In the Bible

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal ... (Matthew 6:19-20).

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him (Exodus 22:2).

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy ... (John 10:10).

But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into (Matthew 24:43).

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples ... was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it (John 12:4-6).


In the News

Various kinds of thefts in churches are reported in the news:

Burglary

Worchester, Massachusetts - In 2016 a burglar caught inside a church had spent time in prison for another church burglary 4½ years earlier.[2]

Kansas City - A church burglar stole toys intended for the children of prisoners. He was recorded by security cameras.[3]

Los Angeles, California - Thieves hid in a church until everyone else had left. Then they stole several valuable items. Police asked for information regarding the theft. They were reviewing surveillance footage from neighboring businesses.[4]

Embezzlement

Centre County, Pennsylvania - The former treasurer of a church in Centre County was convicted of embezzlement. He had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from the church.[5]

Houston, Texas - A former member of the pastoral staff of a large Houston church confessed to embezzling over $800,000, much of it through the use of a church credit card.[6]

Cushing, Oklahoma - A church employee who purchased church supplies also used church money to supply herself.[7]

Robbery

Columbia, South Carolina - A parishioner was shot and wounded during an attempted robbery in a church early on a Sunday morning. Fortunately, it was before families with children had arrived.[8]

Petty Theft

Rock Hill, South Carolina - While investigating money missing from collections, police placed a camera in the room with the church's safe. A man was recorded opening the safe, opening money bags, taking out a handful of money, and putting it into his pockets. The amount was $83. The thief was a former banker who had previously misused bank funds.[9]

Controlling Access to Assets

When Jesus told us to not hoard possessions and money for ourselves "where thieves break in and steal" (Matt. 6:19-20), he was not telling us to have nothing, but to manage what we get and have for God's purposes. In other words, we are to be stewards (trustees and property managers) for God. This means that we are to use our assets (including the church's assets) carefully and wisely.

Wise use of resources includes accountability and protection. The Church Safety and Security Volunteer Academy[1] covers procedures for safes, cash/offering security, and robbery. Also, a Church Security Assessment[10] checks doors and windows to see if they are secure. Additionally, the SDCS training course, Active Shooter Neutralization and Lock Down Drills[11] recommends keeping all but the main as entry exit only.

Accountability

In 2 Kings 12 and 2 Chronicles 24, King Joash and the High Priest Jehoiada held the Levites accountable for how the money was used for repairing the Temple. Then in 2 Corinthians 8:19-21, Paul describes measures that were taken "so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us" (2 Cor. 8:20).

Accountability helps keep us honorable. In the New Testament, Paul and Peter stress being honorable in all we do (Rom. 12:17; 2 Cor. 8:21; 1 Pet. 2:12). Honesty is an integral part of being honorable. In this sense, accountability is to keep everyone honest, but if they are not, it leads to discovery.

We see accountability as the purpose of procedures for access to the safe, to records and financial accounts, to authorized purchasing, and to the collection, carrying, and counting of money. Although the procedures differ for each of the categories covered here, they all have the same goal of accountability. The differences pertain to the special situations of each category.

Safe Access

The first procedural rule for access to the church safe is, "Only so many." Limit the number of persons with the combination to the safe to only a few who must have access. This reduces the opportunities for getting in. It also narrows the number of suspects if the safe has been opened other than for church business. A corollary rule is change the combination periodically, especially when someone leaves the access list.

An additional precaution is to have a drop slot for the safe so that money can be put in without opening it.

The next rule is, "No one alone." Two or more persons must be present every time the safe is opened. Period. This is both a deterrent and a personal protection. For one thing, a thief does not want witnesses to the crime. On the other hand, this guards against false accusations.

A third rule is, "Log it." Maintain a Safe Access Log (a copy of the form is in the Church Safety and Security Volunteer Academy Training Materials.[1] With the log have a list of authorized users of the safe. Then log the date and time for each opening of the safe along with the name of the person opening it.

Cash/Offering Security

Cash is a temptation for thievery, since (except for recorded serial numbers) it is untraceable. Three main sources of cash in the church are offerings, foyer café counters, and petty cash funds, especially the offerings. In each case, the money should be handled carefully.

When the offering is taken, the Safety Team member(s) in the sanctuary watch the plates being passed around. People have been seen taking money out of the plate instead of putting it in. If this is observed, there are discrete ways of handling the situation. At least, it goes into an Incident Report.

At the end of the offering, at least two people take the contributions to the counting room with a Safety Team member present. The team member witnesses the counting of the money and checks, its insertion into the bank bag, and its placement into the safe (preferably through a drop slot). Each time an offering is taken, record the names of the counters and the Safety Team member. The money is to be taken to the bank for deposit in a locked bank bag.

Accounts

The worst cases of embezzlement in churches involve accounts rather than cash. Embezzlers are trusted persons who violate their trust out of desperation or greed. The schemes for redirecting funds range from simple (such as writing checks to oneself or a stand-in) to highly elaborate and sophisticated (as in the case of the Houston pastor). Accountability for accounts has to be well planned and diligently carried out.

The first rule of accountability is division of access (akin to the division of powers in the Constitution). More than one person has access to each church account, the primary person (user) and the second person (monitor). Many businesses and institutions have two-signature bank accounts where two people need to sign the checks.

Vulnerable accounts also include the procurement of supplies for church ministry programs. The case in Cushing, Oklahoma (cited above) involved a church staff member buying for herself using church funds for purchasing supplies. Checking and verifying receipts should be done regularly.

Protection

The Mosaic Law allowed a person to protect his home against a thief breaking in (Ex. 22:2). In Matthew 24:43, Jesus uses the image of a strong man preventing a thief from coming in. Likewise, we need to do what is reasonable to deter and prevent thievery in the church. Besides embezzlement, other forms of stealing are burglary, robbery, vehicle theft, and petty theft.

Burglary

In a Full Church Safety Assessment, the facility should be inspected for vulnerability to unauthorized intrusion (aka breaking and entering (B&E)), such as for burglary, as well as for vandalism and arson. Actually, the three crimes are often part of the same incident, so it is wise to treat them together. Also, we want to stop or delay armed attackers if we can.

The first line of defense against B&E is secure windows and doors. Added to this is securing alternative routes of entry, such as vents and service access. Windows and doors should have secure frames. These are not easily pulled away from the openings, but anchored to adjoining studs. The glazing should be shatterproof so that a single blow does not create a big hole. For fire safety, all windows and doors should be opened from the inside. Locks and latches should not be easily broken from outside.

All windows and doors should be locked when the rooms are not in use. This is especially true for the offices. Only doors manned by Safety Team members should be opened from the outside. If not watched, they should be opened only from the inside (Exit Only). Teach team members, staff, volunteers, and congregants to not prop the doors open, especially if they will be left unattended.

Robbery

The above news story about the attempted church robbery happened not long before this article was written. In this case, it happened inside the church. Here it is important to have someone in the foyer during a meeting or service, and to lock the main entrance after the meeting has begun. However, many more robberies happen outside on church property or on adjoining sidewalks and streets.

Since robbery outside is hard to prevent, the response is very important. The first consideration is safety, so do not put church members or visitors at risk. Whether the robbery is inside or outside:

  1. Write down a complete description of the robber(s).
  2. Call police immediately.
  3. Do not use physical force - this is for safety. People are worth more than money.
  4. Fill out an incident report.

Vehicle Theft

Several vehicles left unattended in a church parking lot is a temptation some thieves can't resist. If everyone is inside and no one is outside, thieves can go down a line of parked cars and SUVs pulling on door handles and grabbing contents if they are unlocked. In some places, thieves even steal parts or steal the vehicle itself.

In this case, access control is an individual responsibility. Teach the congregation to lock their vehicles before going in and to not leave packages and valuables in view.

A safety team member going through the parking lot at unpredictable times may be a deterrent. If some times that member comes in, then that one or another goes right out, it keeps would-be thieves on guard or catches them off guard. If you see one, call 911 right away.

Petty Theft

Petty theft could be picking money out of the offering plate or from an honor cup at a refreshment counter. It could also be picking the pockets of coats on a rack or picking up loose valuables (especially purses, cameras, and mobile phones). Rarely is it getting into the safe (as in the news story), since a combination is needed for that (we hope you do not leave the safe open).

How can we control access against petty theft? We can have members of the pastoral team, the Safety Team, and the Worship Team or Choir leave their coats and valuables in a room which is locked during the service. Have the Sunday School teachers put theirs in lockers. Some large churches have attended coat check-ins during the Winter, which means a thief can't rifle pockets on an open coat rack. As to loose valuables, remind people to not leave anything lying around unattended.

Other Access Threats

Thievery in its various forms is not the only threat to the safety and security of the church and the flock which can be mitigated by controlling access.

Child Protection

Access control is one of the measures for protecting children from sexual predators and non-custodial parents.[12] This includes restricted access to the child care areas and check-in/check-out procedures for the nursery and the preschool class. Also, one internal access measure is having two or more adults present with the children.

Attackers

Attackers may be armed or unarmed. If they are spotted outside approaching the church, lock the doors. Now! Even a well-armed attacker can be delayed by a well-built door system which is locked. This includes glass which is safety-coated to prevent shattering to leave a large hole with a few shots or blows. That way people inside have time to lockdown or evacuate.

Monitoring Access

Clear lines of sight and cameras enable a Safety Team to monitor avenues of access to the church, both from outside and within the building. This works even better if all office, classroom, and meeting room doors are locked when there are no activities. In one of the news stories above, someone monitoring security cameras on a mobile device spotted a burglar and called the police, who found the suspect inside the church (somehow he had gotten keys).

There Is More

Other articles in this series on the Church Safety and Security Volunteer Academy are "Orientation" (Starting Right), "Setting It Straight" (Policies and Procedures), "Communication" (Radio Use and Reporting), "Curricula" (More Courses, Refreshers), and "Making the Rounds (Patrolling).

References

  1. Kris Moloney, "Church Safety and Security Volunteer Academy," Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses, Training Bundle (Classroom) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/church-safety-and-security-volunteer-academy-training-bundle]; Individual (Online) Training [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/church-safety-and-security-volunteer-academy].
  2. Kim Ring, "Worcester church burglary suspect robbed another in 2007," Telegram & Gazette, February. 16, 2016 [http://www.telegram.com/article/20160216/NEWS/160219435].
  3. Kelly Eckerman, "Police seek man caught on camera during church burglary" KMBC, December 23, 2015 [http://www.kmbc.com/news/police-seek-man-caught-on-camera-during-church-burglary/37107336].
  4. Kim Baldonado and Olivia Niland, "Church Members Ask for Public's Help in Solving Burglary," NBC4 (Los Angeles), July 18, 2015 [http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Church-Members-Ask-for-Publics-Help-in-Solving-Burglary--316579251.html].
  5. Kevin Accettulla, "Former church treasurer sentenced for embezzlement,"
  6. WTAJ, Jul 9, 2019 [https://www.wearecentralpa.com/news/local-news/former-church-treasurer-sentenced-for-embezzlement/].
  7. David Roach, "Former Houston's First minister admits embezzlement," Baptist Press, December 11, 2018 [http://www.bpnews.net/52104/former-houstons-first-minister-admits-embezzlement].
  8. Anon., "CRIME ROUNDUP: Cushing woman charged with embezzling from church," Stillwater News Press, August 22, 2019 [https://www.stwnewspress.com/news/crime-roundup-cushing-woman-charged-with-embezzling-from-church/article_bf38a189-0540-50c9-8fcb-1461f4e94034.html].
  9. Allen Kim, "A man walked into a church service, robbed it and shot a parishioner," CNN, August 26, 2019 [https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/26/us/columbia-church-shooting-trnd/index.html].
  10. Courtney Comstock, "CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Banker Stealing $83 From A Church's Collection Bin," Business Insider, May 26, 2011 [https://www.businessinsider.com/banker-caught-on-camera-stealing-83-dollars-from-church-collection-2011-5].
  11. A Full Church Security Assessment Form is included in the Safety Ministry Proposal Kit: Kris Moloney, "Safety Ministry Proposal and Starter Kit," Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/safety-ministry-proposal-and-starter-kit].
  12. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Neutralization and Lock Down Drills," Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses, Trainin Materials (Classroom) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/active-shooter-neutralization-and-lock-down-drills-training-bundle]; Individual Training (Online) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/active-shooter-neutralization-and-lock-down-drills].
  13. Kris Moloney, "Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in the Church," Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses, Training Materials (Classroom) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church-training-bundle]; Individual Training (Online) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church].