Tectonic disasters can be extremely terrifying events. It is as though the earth itself has turned against you, moving the ground out from under you and throwing hot rocks, ash, and molten lava at you. Churches are not exempt from their threats.
Disasters can be both natural and the result of human activity. Those in the latter category are largely preventable, and therefore regrettable. Some are more likely to impact our church because of its location. We need to be ready for those.
Wildfires, drought, and extreme heat are weather hazards related to heat. Each has to be addressed in its own way, according to how they affect us and our communities. Churches and congregants are both targets of the hazards and agents of mercy during duress.
When dark clouds roll in and the sky rumbles, beware. There is danger ahead. Know what’s coming and be prepared.
While Winter lasts, we remain ready for the cold, snow, ice, and strong winds. Some parts of the country face rain, flooding, and tornadoes, with their own threats to the safety of the flock. It may be March, but it is still Winter. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
This is not an everyday situation (at least not in most neighborhoods), but there may be times when someone must stop a person committing a crime, especially when lives are at stake. However, we must make a citizen’s arrest only when necessary, then do it the right way.
Management of the use of force in a Church Safety Ministry begins with training. This leads to practice with situation drills and individual practice of use-of-force skills and discernment exercises. Finally, Church Safety Ministry leadership exercises control over the use of force.
Not only do we have a moral obligation as Christians to act within the limits of the law, but there are criminal and civil liabilities for not doing so. Therefore, we need to know how the law applies to the use of any level of force before we need to decide how to use it.
In church safety and security, there are times we have to prevent a person from harming himself or herself and/or others, to cause someone to stop an unsafe action, or to keep a situation from getting out of hand. We are using some kind of force when we do this. This brings up the question of what kind of force do we use and at what level.
Attacks on churches in this nation have become more violent over the past two decades as mass killings in general have increased. Obviously, places of worship are not exempt from the dangers faced by society as a whole. The question for us is, “Will we be ready if deadly force visits our church?”
Even when we establish policies and procedures in the church to protect our children from abuse, even when we diligently carry out these policies and procedures, and even though we are ever watchful and alert, abuse can still happen. So, what now?
In the Old West, stage coaches and supply wagons with valuable cargo had a guard sitting next to the driver. Serving as a guard came to be called “riding shotgun,” because this guard was often armed with a shotgun. Riding shotgun in child protection is guarding our young ones while we are in the process of ministering to them.
Jesus extended care and protection to children – all children. They are the vulnerable ones, and we should not take unfair advantage of them (abuse), nor allow others in our jurisdiction (the church) to do so. Therefore, we need to take measures for preventing, guarding against, and responding to child abuse in the church.
Child abuse is real. It does happen, even in the church or to those the church ministers to. Listen to the cries of children being abused. Find out how to help them in your church.
As the sheepdogs of our churches, we are called upon to protect the flock. While this covers many areas of general safety, it also involves, when needed, actual physical protection against several levels of violence. In many cases, unarmed defense is sufficient, but sometimes more than hands are needed to defend ourselves and others.
Emergencies, by their very nature, are unplanned events. When there is a medical emergency in the church or during a church event, we need to be already ready. A life or lives may literally depend on it. This means both training and equipment & supplies.
If we are to be and do our best as members of a Church Safety Ministry, we must know what we are to do and how. This knowledge should also inform our attitudes. This means we are to listen, read, and study to equip our minds for safety & security.
The key role of a Church Safety Ministry is to protect the church’s members and guests. We try to do this in a way that does not interfere with the church’s ministry unless absolutely necessary. This means that the Holiday Season is a time of extra work for the Safety Team in order to keep the flock safe and able to enjoy and be blessed by the programs and activities of the season.
We train church members to get out if they can when an active killer attacks. We train them in how to hide and how to lock out the attacker. Some members of the Safety Team will help members escape or get them to a lockable space, while others will fight, engage the killer. But it is not only Safety Team members who need to know how to engage an active killer. Congregational members also should know they CAN fight back.
For a dozen years, now, there has been an increase in deadly force attacks on churches and other places of worship in the United States. During an attack, hiding is one of the defensive choices. In a school, office, or church, the room you are in may be the best hiding place.
Members of a Church Safety Team are held responsible for the safety of those attending their church, whether members or visitors. If they detect an armed person approaching, they are to sound the alarm, then initiate the defense.
Christian churches are targeted more with each passing year. Whereas criminals once hesitated to break into a church, let alone attack it, now they are more emboldened to target places of worship, not just for theft, but for vandalism, arson, and massacre. Since we are at odds with the viewpoint of the world around us, attacks are to be expected.
Getting people out of a building in an emergency may be easy for small churches, but more difficult for larger ones. Evacuation can become chaos with the potential of tragic results. Orderly and safe evacuations do not just happen. They are planned. The routes should be kept ready at all times. Everyone needs to know what to do and practice it.
We can be diligently working to prevent fires in the church, but what if one starts anyway? How a fire may be suppressed depends on how the building is equipped and what firefighting tools are available. Not only can fires be extinguished by people, they can also be put out by installed fire suppression systems.
Fire protection begins with fire prevention. This also means putting up roadblocks for fires that do start. This is just as important in churches and other places of worship as it is in homes, businesses, schools, and public buildings.
Every fire is either controlled or uncontrolled. Uncontrolled fire is destructive, even fearsome. Understanding what fire is, how it starts, and how it can be quenched is the key to knowing how to control it.
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.
Some training is required for most church safety and security teams – it should be for all. The real questions are, “What training is needed?” and “Where can we find it?”
How much of the church building can you see from just one position? How many safety team members would it take to see the entire place? For thousands of years, those responsible for security and safety have been patrolling – moving around, alert for signs of danger, and purposefully inspecting defenses and seeking evidence. Even with modern means of surveillance, patrolling is just as important today as it was then.
Communication has always been an ingredient in all kinds of organizations – commercial, governmental, military, social, religious – and in relationships. For a Church Safety Ministry, communication can be in person, by written notes and memos, over two-way radio, and in reports. How does your team communicate?
As a Church Safety Ministry, need policies and procedures to conduct our ministry “decently and in order,” and we should follow these. In some cases, not following them can lead to public embarrassment, legal issues, or injuries – perhaps even someone’s death.
In a Church Safety Ministry, new members need orientation to the ministry. This includes recruitment, the application process, and learning the qualifications and responsibilities of being a Safety Team member.
It is easy to envision a simplistic view of setting up a safety ministry in a church - A few concerned church members agree that we should work together to protect its congregants so they put together a team. In actuality, becoming an effective group with staying power requires some forethought and preparation.
If anyone wants something done about safety or security in your church, it is because they have at least one safety concern. A few of the more common concerns are fire safety, child safety, medical emergencies, vandalism and burglary, disruptive behaviors, and armed attacks. The ad hoc approach (which generates more support) is to address a top safety or security concern before proposing an organized ministry.
A church safety ministry does not just happen. Someone has to have some kind of idea what it will be and how it will work. It requires coordination and agreement on how things are done, even if it is just two persons. Even just one person should know what to do in a situation. This means planning.