Coming Alongside - Verbal De-escalation as Conversation

Part 3 of Dealing with Disruptive Persons using Verbal De-escalation

Man standing by woman shaking hands

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. -Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. ~ Matthew 5:9

It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles. ~ Philippians 4:14 (Msg)


This series is based on the Sheepdog Church Security[1] downloadable Training Bundle[2] Dealing with Disruptive Persons using Verbal Deescalation v3[3] and the Online Church Security Guide[4] chapter Disruptive Persons and Verbal Deescalation for Churches[5].


This article focuses more on the ministry side of church security.

The Teacher as a Peacemaker

I remember schoolteachers who could be called peacemakers. They had a knack for sensing tension and preemptively working with students to lower tensions. They came alongside troubled pupils, listening to them, and helping them deal with situations. This included teaching understanding and empathy, tolerance and patience. Oh, I know – this was with smaller class sizes, different cultural influences, etc. But the fact remains that some teachers were peacemakers, even with large classes of students from troubled families and neighborhoods. And there are teachers like that today.

Peacemaking in the Church

Many potentially disruptive people are persons having difficulty dealing with situations. They need someone to come alongside to listen, care, and counsel. We, as Safety Team members, may see the need to bring calm to a tension situation. Or we may see a troubled person who might become disruptive without intervention. We could be aware of situations the person is facing, and know that she or he is at risk.

This is not a mushy encounter. Firmness is also needed, especially if someone is agitated and beginning to act out. Remember the teacher who came alongside? While kind, she was firm. Her compassion was coupled with keeping order in the classroom so the children could learn without disruption. As Safety Team members, our job is to keep order in the church to keep attendees safe, to help people worship and learn free from disruption by using verbal de-escalation.

Conversation, Interview

Verbal de-escalation has been described as a conversation or an interview. It is not like the old farmer grabbing his two boys by the collars, knocking their heads together, and saying, “Y’all better settle up with each other!”

How we begin verbal de-escalation depends on where we enter the situation. If we see someone and know or sense that they are at risk of disruptive behavior, we may meet them and greet them. Ask how they are, or otherwise open the door for them to talk. Getting a person to talk does help relieve tension in many cases. And it opens the door for someone (us) to respond, showing understanding and helping them see a peaceful approach to their crisis. Perhaps we can guide them to seek practical help, such as a financial advisor, marriage counselor, or even legal services. Could a member of the pastoral team help them? We may be able to make the connection.

A Skill

Verbal de-escalation is a skill which can be learned and practiced. The Online Church Security Guide chapter Disruptive Persons and Verbal Deescalation for Churches has a section “Skills of Verbal Deescalation.” It says, “Learning the skills of verbal deescalation feels a little bit like high school speech class. It starts with a basic understanding of communication. Remember that communication has a lot more to do with your body language, facial expression, and your voice than the words you use.”

In a tense situation, people are more conscious of our posture, movements, and tone of voice than our words. The Security Guide chapter has several pointers:

Safety First

Not every encounter is at the same level. If you sense the potential for violence, call for backup (Code Orange). You may have to enhance the code with 911. It’s better to have someone else coming and ready than having to call while in the middle of it.

The Central Consideration

What action we take, from beginning a conversation to acting defensively, depends on how we evaluate the situation. The Guide chapter lists four goals of verbal de-escalation:

  1. Keep lines of communication open.
  2. Get the person talking.
  3. Actively listen.
  4. Maintain control through clear and calm communication.

Dealing with Emotional People

Persons in situations calling for verbal de-escalation are emotional people. Three things to remember are:

  1. Emotional people do not think logically.
  2. Emotional people process information slowly.
  3. Emotional people have trouble remembering details.

The Ministry of a Safety Team

Verbal de-escalation is a role in which members of a Safety Team can minister to those in need. By helping them to calm down, avoiding disruption and violence, we are keeping them from actions which will harm themselves as well as others. This keeps the door open for healing and restoration.