I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16 NIV)
Yesterday I wrote about caring for children in tragic circumstances. Today let’s talk about ways to enhance safety at your church. Naturally we cannot be 100% protected, but there are things we can do. As far as supplies in preschool/children’s areas and background checks, please see my blog “Child Safety” in the archives.
How can we keep our folks safe at church? Start with outside entries into the church. Have a Welcome Center sign pointing to one door at the church for visitors during Sunday School. There have been many churches where I visited and didn’t know which door to enter for Sunday School. (Visitors are going to decide within the first five minutes whether they will return. Part of that decision is making them feel welcomed.) Have someone at the door to greet them and help them find their class. It would be good for this person to have some intuitiveness when it comes to people and dangerous situations. (Be gracious while being shrewd.)
All doors leading to preschool, children’s and youth areas should be locked five minutes after Sunday School starts. Having someone monitor the halls would be helpful as well. We never know when an estranged parent or troubled person may try to cause havoc. Having someone monitor the halls cuts down on situations and helps visiting parents feel relieved and safe.
All outside doors except the front door of the sanctuary should be locked when worship starts. There is no need to leave the rest of the church open at this point. I have been in churches where outside doors were left open and the choir room was left open. Theft of purses of choir members finally led them to lock doors.
Have someone serve as greeter/security at the front door of the sanctuary. Remember we are being gracious and shrewd at the same time. Having someone who has the ability to sense danger can alleviate fears of church members. One church decided to ask persons entering the sanctuary to leave backpacks with them (as a safeguard against weapons that may be in the backpack). The church is hiring a plain clothes police officer to be in the worship service. This is a church who wants to be shrewd. Perhaps your church has a member who is an officer, and would be willing to sit in the back near the door in case an altercation takes place or serve as a greeter at the door.
Have a plan when an emergency takes place. Whether it is a fire alarm going off, a medical emergency during the service or an altercation, we need persons ready to respond. Have a group in charge of children/youth and a safe place to take them.
In a previous church, we had a young man code during the service. Medical personnel in the church quickly approached and did CPR. Certain persons were asked to take the children and youth out, while the adults were asked to bow their heads and pray for the person and the medical professionals. Thankfully the young man made it, and we considered other ways to prepare for an emergency. We decided to purchase a defibrillator and make sure volunteers knew how to use it. We decided to use the Sunday School bell to work as an emergency tool and trained our professional workers to listen for it during Sunday School and other times for emergencies.
Talk to police, firefighters and medical personnel in your community to discover other ways to make your place safer. Most community service personnel would be honored to come and look over your facilities and emergency procedures. The bottom line is to prepare and plan ahead before an incident happens.