In recent years it cannot be denied that our American churches are seeing an increase of risk. Crimes such as embezzlement, assault, theft, and shootings are becoming commonplace in our once-sacred spaces. With so much to do in security to keep our open-door churches safe, leaders across the country are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, perhaps you can relate?
In about 2016 I found that my traditional methods of consultative advice were not working. When I walked away leaders were left asking what was next. It was here that I discovered a new way. A seven step process teaching leaders what to do and when to do it, which later became my book “Securing Church Operations.” Here are the seven steps I recommend for keeping your church open safe and secure!
Step 1 – Create A Strong Security Culture
- Canvas the views of your church, pastors, facility management, office staff, priests, and executive team to name a few. Find out their views on safety and security to identify the leadership’s culture around security
- Now that you have the views of church leadership, identify where it is you want to be. This could be having a proactive culture around reporting suspicious activity or creating a safe space where staff and volunteers feel empowered to bring forward risk so it can be assessed before it may cause your community harm.
- Create a “mission statement” focused on the future state culture. This can reflect the attitudes of your church on security which will build authority and identify the standard.
Step 2 – Create A Threat Assessment Team
- Running security for a busy ministry can be a full-time job but is most often carried out by a volunteer or part-time by a staff member. You cannot be successful without interdepartmental buy-in, this is not a single person job!
- Find some like-minded individuals from different church ministry departments who understand risk, teams such as children’s ministry, treasurers, and outreach leaders most often understand their risk well.
- Create a formal committee who will meet to discuss threats and emerging risks. Their role is to not do all the work but help the church categorize risk and determine the level of the response to mitigate or manage the risk becoming harmful
Step 3 – Protect Your Perimeter
- We are two steps in and haven’t touched on physical security. At this stage we want you to walk, not run. As a rule, protection of your perimeter is physical security 101.
- Use what you have in place to keep people safe. Educate all staff and volunteers on the importance of shutting all doors and windows. Walk your building, checking doors, locks, and windows. Do you have the appropriate hardware so all doors can be locked?
- On Sundays use good “hospitality” to protect your perimeter. Have all staff and volunteers greet new people with a smile, welcome them to the church and at the same time look for adverse human behaviors that might indicate risk. This method is simple, highly effective, and doesn’t cost anything!
- Lastly consider what “church open door means for you” You may have 10 entrances to your church, but do you need them all open, which can mean people can enter your building without being greeted, preventing you from knowing who is on site.
Step 4 – Conduct A Security Risk Assessment
- A security risk assessment could be the first step in your security journey, but I place it at step four because you can achieve steps one through three without any budget or specific skill.
- The assessment is vital to your success in identifying all your vulnerabilities and then providing solutions. Consider this your road map or project plan for the next 2-5 years
- You can do it yourself, but I would recommend a professional like my organization. You’re really paying for the decades of experience and knowledge on how to best mitigate your risk. My experience has also told me that a security consultant commands more authority when presenting the findings to a church board.
- Here’s a big benefit of having a professional assessment – since 2005 the Federal Emergency Management Agency commonly called FEMA has issued more than 700 million dollars through the non-profit security grant program (NSGP) to allow non-profits to apply for $150,000 per location to enhance security!
Step 5 – Create A Building Emergency Operations Plan
- Identify what natural disasters, human-caused disasters and technology hazards could occur at your church, write policies and procedures as to what people should then do.
- Share your Buildings Operation Plan (BOP) with internal departments and your city emergency managers
- Equally as important as writing the procedures is checking they work and make sense! Conduct regular tabletops and drills to ensure they work. Consider professional help in writing your building emergency operations plan, having the right plan is crucial to how your respond in an emergency.
Step 6 – Conduct Security Training
- Let’s start with who should be trained. Those in critical positions who come into regular contact with risk, people who work with children, youth workers, ushers, greeters, volunteers, facilities, and maintenance workers
- Educate teams on threat detection and on human behaviors that may indicate violence. Encourage your community, “If you see something, say something”. Don’t forget the most likely incidents! Train on basic first aid.
Step 7 – Implement A Safety Team
- Find the right person to lead the team, most often security is good old fashioned customer service with a willingness to take action
- Never just take people because they volunteer. These roles have a great depth of responsibility and liability for your church. When starting out you choose who goes on the team!
- Don’t be afraid to interview prospective team members, It’s important that they align with your church culture and vision for the team
- For any new team setting expectations as to what they can and cannot do is critical to success, make sure your program is well documented
About the Author
Simon Osamoh is a British American and founder of Kingswood Security Consulting. He spent 14 years as a Detective in England working serious and organized crime. He moved to the United States to Head Counter Terrorism at Mall of America, Minnesota. Simon is a Christian and has spent over a decade helping non-profits stay safe and secure. Simon is the author of three books, Securing Church Operations, Church Safety Responding to Suspicious Behavior and 10 Powerful Strategies for Verbal De-Escalation. He is the host of the Church Security Made Simple Podcast and a member of the Worship Facility Editorial Advisory Board.
Simon will be speaking at CFX 2022 October 25 and 26. On October 25 he will present “Security Planning: How to Leverage a Building Emergency Plan to Protect Your Church.” On the 26th he will present the seminar, “Five Strategies to Improve Your Security Architectural Design and Planning,” and also be on the Ask the Experts panel. To register, click here.