A Dozen Tips to Improve Church Security

by | Security

Our churches are sanctuaries of love, peace, fellowship, and comfort, so our attendance is a source of personal and community edification; and because of the Great Commission, we are open and welcoming. At the same time, however, myriad challenges face them. These challenges include severe weather, medical emergencies, suspicious packages and people, HAZMAT accidents, and, sadly, active shooters (whose attacks against houses of worship are increasing in frequency and lethality). 

Since our congregants expect a safe and secure church environment it is incumbent on church leaders to develop plans and capabilities toward this end. Here are a dozen no- or low-cost tips to enhance church safety and security.

  1. Review your policies and plans. Many churches either lack or have only superficial safety and security policies and plans. For instance, what are the plans if someone has a medical emergency during a service? Is anyone responsible for administering aid, and who calls 911? You need written policies and plans for all potential contingencies. If you have them, ensure they are consistent with the requirements in your insurance policy. Also, update them periodically to keep them current. Current and explicit policies and plans will help protect you from liability in the event of a crisis in which people are injured.
  2. Establish and integrate your goals. Effective security involves surveillance and skepticism. What is needed for security may conflict with other church goals, such as being welcoming. You should coordinate with your pastor and other ministries to ensure your goals are understood and supported by other church stakeholders.
  3. Plan comprehensively. Most plans are focused almost exclusively on response; but response is only one of four crisis phases. For instance, regarding active shooter threats, most plans only address what to do upon hearing gunfire. However, what is needed to prevent the crisis, mitigate it while it is ongoing, and recover from it. Plans are needed for each of these phases and all five categories of resources, namely personnel, procedures, facilities, equipment and communications, should be considered.
  4. Establish a security team. Many people are looking for ministries to serve the church. Those with a desire to serve, a positive and gentle demeanor, and relevant expertise (see below) make good members. Team members should meet monthly and be trained quarterly to respond to all hazards. Specific responsibilities should be assigned and exercised quarterly exercises to ensure a timely and efficient response.
  5. Look outward as well as inward. It is prudent to assign greeters to survey parking lots and approaches to the church so they can spot developing threats. Early threat identification gives team members inside the church time to contact 911 and respond to the developing emergency. Of course, all team members should be equipped with radios and earpieces to facilitate prompt and confidential communications.
  6. Survey your congregants. Some church members may be employed in law enforcement, the medical profession, fire services, etc. These individuals bring a lot of safety and security expertise to the table. A medical professional might do a presentation on first aid or tourniquet application. Find out who these members are and exploit their knowledge as security team members and lecturers.
  7. Empower your congregants. When seconds count, the police arrive in minutes. We must empower our congregants to protect themselves and assist, or at least not hinder, church security team members and first responders. Consider putting laminated cards with basic instructions for potential crises in the pews, posting information on your website and flat screen monitors, and including a short paragraph each month in the church bulletin. Establish a monthly or quarterly lecture series using congregants with expertise in relevant safety- and security-related areas. A thirty-minute presentation after a Sunday service would be useful and well-received. These lectures can also be advertised to the community to bring new members to the church.
  8. Document significant events. All significant events should be logged. This practice achieves two goals: security team members who dealt with the issue some time ago and members who were not on duty when it occurred will recall or become knowledgeable of the people, issues, and responses involved. Second, this information can be used to develop or enhance church plans.
  9. Join (or start) a community of faith safety and security group. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Contact other local houses of worship and ask to review their policies and plans. You can also establish an interdenominational community of faith that meets monthly at different churches to share their policies, plans, experiences, and best practices.
  10. Reach out to first responders. Local police and fire/rescue can help improve church safety and security at no charge. Ask law enforcement to conduct a CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) survey and park a cruiser in your parking lot as a deterrent. Ask your local fire department to teach a class on first aid, Stop the Bleed tourniquet application, and fire safety. Here is an added benefit: these responders will become familiar with your facility and this will facilitate any future response.
  11. Conduct a table-top exercise (TTX) for various contingencies. Hopefully you’ll never confront a crisis, but hope is not a strategy. Assemble all church stakeholders and local responders to talk your way through who would do what in an emergency, how communications will be achieved, evacuation and reunification procedures, etc. Your eyes will be opened!
  12. Conduct a comprehensive assessment of your safety and security plans and capabilities. Just how good are your plans and capabilities? A TTX will reveal where you need help. This assessment should identify your priority goals, identify all the resources needed to meet them, and develop a time-phased plan of priority cost-effective corrective actions. 

About the author

Dr. John Weinstein is a retired senior law enforcement commander with over 40 years of public service. He is a national and international lecturer and has published more than 50 articles on various safety and security topics in professional journals and publications. He is currently a Principal with Dusseau Solutions. For more information about Dusseau Solutions, go to www.dusseau-solutions.com.

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