Get Easy Wins
In the Bible
I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire....Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned (Nehemiah 2:13,15).
You shall know that your tent is at peace, and you shall inspect your fold and miss nothing (Job 5:24).
I went down to the nut orchard to look at the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom (The Bride in Song of Solomon 6:11).
Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds (Proverbs 27:23).
Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you” (1 Kings 20:22).
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts (Psalm 139:23)!
The spiritual person judges all things ... (1 Corinthians 2:15).
In the News
Pikeville, Kentucky, January 2018 - Jason Lowe, the Director of Missions for the Pike Association of Southern Baptists, conducted a survey of churches in Southeastern Kentucky. There were 34 senior pastors answering survey questions. Since there are only 24 member churches in the Pike Association, 10 of the responding churches were either not Southern Baptist or were not in the association's territory. This was a small sample, but the results do mirror national statistics.
The results were divided according to the sizes of the churches - those with an average attendance of less than 100 were smaller churches, those with 100 or over were larger churches. The answers led to two general observations:
- The majority of churches are not as prepared as they should be.
- Smaller churches are less prepared than larger churches.
Omaha, Nebraska, May 2018 - A thesis by Matthew Spicka investigated the safety of churches in Omaha. In presenting the results of the research, he said, "Churches in Omaha are lacking in the safety procedures. This is in line with what is anticipated in churches due to the lack of funding and training ... The majority of churches involved had little to no organized safety plan. They had not practiced fire drills, active shooter drills, or tornado drills" (page X).
Waynesville, North Carolina - The office of the Haywood County Sheriff offers to help churches in conducting "church site surveys," including building safety and security. This also includes help in setting up a safety team, teaching those in a safety ministry, understanding crime, and child safety.
Be sure to get our special resource for this month. It is Practical Steps to Start a Safety Ministry and a DIY Security Assessment. You can get the free download by clicking Here. Also, click Here to see Kris's videocast, Steps to Starting a Safety Ministry. Signing up for the download subscribes you to future articles by email so you don't miss out on future information.
Assessing Risk and Readiness
A church security assessment looks for and evaluates risks the church faces. It also determines how ready the church is to counter these risks.
What are the risks facing the church, and how do we measure these risks? There are many kinds of risks for a church. Some are internal; some are external. Risks are measured on two scales: likelihood and severity.
Kinds of Risks
Two church risks immediately come to mind for most people: active shooters and fires. Residents of half the country will also think of tornadoes. These get news coverage. Church shootings make national news, and many communities have experienced at least one notable fire in a church or other public accommodation in recent years. Tornadoes are a seasonal threat in the Midwest and South. However, there are other risks to property, to people, and to the church's reputation and legal standing. Here are some of the risks which may be discovered and evaluated in a Church Safety & Security Assessment:
- Fire, both accidental and arson
Fires are largely preventable, but the chance of a fire cannot be entirely eliminated. Some common accidental causes of fire are electrical (wiring, overloaded outlets and circuits, careless use of extension cords, faulty equipment), gas or oil furnaces, gas leaks, open-flame uses (candles, oil lamps, dining table pan warmers), space heaters (electrical, gas, kerosene), and smoking (even when the church is a non-smoking facility). An infrequent weather cause of fire is lightning.
- Slips, trips, and falls
For a long time, personal injury has been one of the top three claims in lawsuits against churches. Many of these personal injury lawsuits are from slips, trips, and falls. That was the basis of a lawsuit filed this past February when someone slipped on wet grass after getting out of her car. The top causes of falls are slippery or uneven surfaces, and obstacles, and these are largely preventable.
- Working accidents, staff and volunteers
Accidents while working for or at the church are more common than we might think. Most resulting injuries are very minor, easy to forget. However, there are more serious accidents, often arising from the same causes. Custodians and service persons have fallen from ladders. Volunteers in the kitchen have cuts and burns. Several injuries may result from yard work. Does your church promote safe ways of working?
- Medical emergencies
This is the wild card. People come into the church with all kinds of health conditions. You never know if someone will have a heart attack, stroke, or epileptic seizure, or if they will choke on food (more likely now with food service in the vestibule). Does your church have people trained to respond to a medical emergency?
- Severe weather and natural disasters
Every part of the country has its own typical severe weather or other natural hazards. Kinds which may be of concern to your church - depending on location - are tornadoes, hurricanes, extreme heat or cold, blizzards, excess snowfall, nor'easters, earthquakes and/or tsunamis, flooding, landslides, drought, and wildfires.
- Property damage due to climate and aging
This is a largely preventable category of risk. Timely inspection and maintenance can prevent damage and deterioration from leaks and mold. Replacing worn materials and fixing damage can prevent structural failure. Sometimes older buildings need upgrading for better integrity, especially if there is a substandard foundation. Recently a small church in Ohio had their building renovated while they were closed due to the pandemic. This included replacing roof trusses from the inside - the roof had been bowing out. This made the structure greatly safer, as well as saving a historic building in the neighborhood.
Many churches are burglarized. Unattended personal items are stolen. Pockets of coats hung on racks are picked. Items are stolen from cars in church parking lots - often parts of the cars or the vehicles themselves. Embezzlement is more common that we'd like to believe. Yes, theft is a definite risk for churches. Many congregations don't harden their buildings until after they've been broken into. Policies for safe handling of money and the church's accounts are often absent or not followed.
Unfortunately, the damage of a burglary is not always confined to breaking in and opening locked cabinets and desk drawers. Many times it is accompanied by vandalism. Arson is often used to cover the burglary, such as happened in Middletown, Ohio.
Casual vandalism - bored youth with nothing to do - is old stuff. It's been going on for many decades. Now we have many serious vandals whose defacement or destruction is out of hatred or to fulfill an agenda, and many times churches are in the crosshairs. Measures can be taken to discourage vandalism.
We do not like to think of church as the scene of violence, yet there is the risk of a violent disruption in or around the church or at a church-sponsored event. How well is our church prepared to deal with any level of violence, from an overheated argument to an active killer incident? Is our church equipped to prevent violence, such as with verbal de-escalation? Are we ready to defend against an active shooter?
- Child abuse
Child abuse was for a long time the top claim in liability lawsuits against churches. It is still in the top three. In our Church Safety & Security Assessment, we consider not only the chance of a lawsuit, but the well-being of the children, youth, and vulnerable adults in our church. Do we have workable policies and required practices for caring for children and leading youth? If we do, are they being followed? What safeguards do we have in place? Do we have surveillance cameras? Are they monitored in a timely manner? Do we train our volunteers in this subject area? There is more on this in Sheepdog Church Security's training courses and resources.
What is the probability that the church will encounter any specific situation? Obviously, we need to address the more likely issues - that is if they really matter (wearing mis-matched colors should not be a safety/security concern, no matter how much it irritates you). We need to focus on the more critical issues, the ones that matter most. The 28-page Do-It-Yourself Security Assessment that is part of Practical Steps to Start a Safety Ministry and a DIY Security Assessment (this month's special resource) covers the most important items in the assessment.
The severity of a risk is how bad it will be if it happens, even if the probability at any one time is very low. Take, for instance, a tornado strike. You have two levels of probability: (1) how likely it is for a tornado to touch down in your general location, and (2) how likely it is for the tornado to hit the church if it touches down. The probability that a tornado will hit your church might be very low. For it to hit during classes, services, or events is even lower, but if you are in a tornado zone, it is not zero. However, the severity if one hits is very high. Another way to view the probability is to consider the probability over a period of several years, which is higher than for any one time. "Better safe than sorry" applies here. If you are in a tornado-prone area, it is wiser to provide shelter and supplies just in case than to ignore the threat as too remote. This principle also applies to other risks.
In another instance, fires have high potential severity, and they also have a higher probability than a tornado or earthquake, so fire protection is a high priority on both scales.
The Boy Scout motto, "Semper paratus," means always prepared. The first step in preparation is finding out what the need is so we know what to prepare for. When starting a Church Safety Ministry, we need to know what the ministry should do. This is the role of a Church Safety & Security Assessment.
There Is More
The other four articles in this five-part series on starting a Church Safety Ministry are "See the Need" (Why start a Safety Ministry?), "Of a Like Mind" (Bringing a Team Together), "The First Moves" (Get Easy Wins), and "'Gentlemen, This Is a Football'" (Security Team Fundamentals).
- Kris Moloney, "Practical Steps to Start a Safety Ministry and a DIY Security Assessment," Sheepdog Church Security, © 2019 [https://sheepdog-church-security.ck.page/9c5f2d32cc].
- Kris Moloney, " Practical Steps to Start a Safety Ministry," Sheepdog Church Security, May 9, 2019 [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pDaoe-wV0w].
- Jason A. Lowe, "Church Safety & Security Survey Results," Jason Lowe (Blog), February 8, 2018 [https://jasonalowe.com/2018/02/08/church-safety-security-survey-results/].
- Jason A. Lowe, "Church Safety & Security: How Churches Are Hoping For The Best, But Preparing For The Worst," A Report for the Pike Association of Southern Baptists, posted on the Jason Lowe (Blog), February 2018 [https://jasonalowe.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/church-safety-and-security-report.pdf].
- Matthew Spicka, "Safety in Sanctuaries: a Threat Assessment of Omaha Churches," 2018, Theses/Capstones/Creative Projects, 28, Digital Commons, University of Nebraska at Omaha, [https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/university_honors_program/28].
- Deputy Kevin Brooks (contact), "Church Security Assessment," Haywood County Sheriff's Office, n/d [https://www.haywoodncsheriff.com/church-security-assessment/].
- Kate Shellnutt, "The No. 1 Reason Churches End Up in Court Is No Longer Abuse: For the first time in a decade, there's a new lawsuit leader," Christianity Today, August 3, 2017 [https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/august/top-5-reasons-church-lawsuits-child-sexual-abuse-property.html].
- Marian Johns, "Woman who fell at Scott Depot church alleges knee injuries, seeks damages," West Virginia Record, February 12, 2020 [https://wvrecord.com/stories/525269256-woman-who-fell-at-scott-depot-church-alleges-knee-injuries-seeks-damages].
- Rick McCrabb, "Middletown church fire ruled arson, suspect, 16, jailed," Journal-News (Butler County, Ohio), January 25, 2017 [https://www.journal-news.com/news/middletown-church-fire-ruled-arson-suspect-jailed/vgIKQq4vVM9ZmXusbL93IJ/].
- Kris Moloney and Malene Little, Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/].
- Kris Moloney and Malene Little, "Protecting Children from Abuse v4." Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses: Training Materials (Classroom Training) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church-training-bundle]; Online Course (Individual Training) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church].