Throughout the upheaval of COVID-19, discussions of church safety have primarily focused on masks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing.
But as churches continue to reopen and resume in-person programs for families and children – and with mass shootings continuing to undermine Americans’ sense of safety, and the legacy of past church violence still painful – now is an important time to once again focus on how ministries can proactively work to protect their congregations from violence and abuse.
Think Smart about Safety
In response to violent acts, most schools have adopted measures such as locked doors security cameras, as well as heightened screening for teachers and staff – but many churches are hesitant to implement such practices. They want to be seen as open and inviting, and provide a peaceful area to worship. Enhanced security measure don’t infringe on these beliefs, though; they actually help create an environment that’s free from stress and fear.
Even in the sacred confines of the churches we love, there are very real dangers – but fortunately, there are ways churches can protect their members while maintaining the loving, welcoming atmosphere that is so vital to a Christ-focused mission.
Here are four practical steps you can take to improve the safety of your church:
1. Complete a Safety Assessment
Safety assessments offer a solid baseline to identify security strengths and weaknesses, and take meaningful steps to address any shortcomings.
You can find free safety assessments for churches at a variety of locations around the web, but be sure they include checklists for building and property maintenance, employee trainings (like child abuse prevention), hiring measures (like background checks), emergency safety protocols, guidelines for working off-hours, and first aid situations.
Sometimes, an ‘outsider’s’ eye will see things that you might have overlooked. Consider tapping the expertise of local law enforcement, fire marshals, ambulance services, health care, insurance firms, and other areas to help you assess the safety of your ministry and opportunities for improvement.
You can also engage members of your congregation who represent these fields – doctors and nurses, police officers, firefighters, and other first responders – to take an active role in helping you assess and improve the safety of your church.
2. Conduct Ongoing Safety Trainings
Should a single adult ever accompany a single child into a bathroom? What would you do if someone showed up for Sunday service carrying a large backpack? Is it okay for a youth group leader to give a student a full-frontal hug for a job well done?
Church leaders, employees, additional temporary staff and volunteers should all know the answers to these questions, and safety training is the best way to get everyone on the same page – it should be a key component to any hiring and on boarding processes you have. Recurrent training should also be required during annual reviews. You just can’t be too safe.
A great place to start is by reviewing our free videos – you can access them here.
3. Implement a Communications Strategy
A tested, reliable communications platform serves a dual purpose – making your church members aware of safety and security measures that are in place and any essential guidelines they should follow, and providing a clear flow of information for your church leadership in the event of an incident.
Safety guidelines should be incorporated thoroughly into your overall communications strategy with your congregation. You want your members to feel engaged with your church ministries, and confident that their safety is among your church’s primary concerns. Safety information can be included in regular emails, weekly bulletins, and other materials that will reach and be seen by a large number of your church families.
Your internal communications system is also essential in making sure all stakeholders understand and prioritize safety concerns, and are aware of any emerging risks or specific incidents. It keeps your entire team on the same page, so you can be prepared for and quickly respond to any situations that may arise.
4. Implement Background Checks
Finally, conducting background checks on ALL employees, volunteers, and temporary staff is critical to the safety and security of your ministries. Background checks are the number one tool you have at your disposal to protect your people. They are surprisingly affordable, and have evolved through the years to be even more thorough and effective.
Why are background checks so important? Here are three reasons:
- Studies show that 30-40% of all job applicants put false information on their resumes or applications, and “exaggerate” their qualifications during interviews.
- Lawsuits for “negligent hiring” are on the rise. If an employee’s actions hurt someone, the employer may be liable. So when considering an applicant, it’s in the church’s best financial self-interest to find out if that person has done anything in the past which might indicate future problems.
- Child abuse and abductions in churches do happen – there are far too many examples, such as this horrible story and this debacle. Background checks create a safeguard at the doorway of your ministry that will, in most cases, scare off sexual predators who don’t want to take the risk of having their past actions come to light.
It’s important to remember that background checks should not be considered as “one-time” measures for new employees or volunteers – rescreening your staff and associates is essential to maintaining a culture of safety for your church.
Security Shows You Care
Improving and sustaining the safety of your church shows love for your congregation and concern for all church members, especially the most vulnerable – and taking these four steps is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to safety.
If you’re ready to fill the gaps in your risk management strategy, Protect My Ministry can help – we’ve served thousands of ministries across all fifty states, and we are committed to helping faith-based organizations maintain a safe environment. Check here for more information!