“The body won’t go where the mind has not already been.” We’ve heard a lot of security professionals say something very similar to this statement when they talk about how important it is to not only train, but to practice different scenarios that could happen at your church or school. While training for a high-impact situation like an armed intruder is key, safety and security teams also should practice scenarios such as a medical emergency, disruptive individual, severe weather and lost child.
“This helps pressure test your policies and practices to improve your team’s effectiveness,” said Eli Hernandez, pastor and head of safety for Bridgeway Community Church in Maryland. “When we train at our church, it’s designed to keep our volunteers engaged and to think through how we can better serve our people.”
Setting up scenarios in the environment where the event is likely to occur helps volunteers see the opportunities and challenges in that space. For example, practice disruptions in the sanctuary, kid-based scenarios in the children’s ministry area, or medical emergencies in gathering spaces.
“Training is the learning ground, it’s where you can make mistakes and explore ways to improve,” said Craig Cable, a church safety specialist and professional trainer who works for the American Church Group of Colorado.
Whether it’s a couple arguing in the parking lot, a disruptive individual during service or a custody dispute in the children’s wing, emotionally charged situations can quickly escalate. If volunteers aren’t trained to deal with the added stress, their own emotions can take over, leading to poor decisions and the potential for injury or liability for your ministry.
Training also is an opportunity to see how team members will react during stressful situations. This enables the team to practice appropriate responses to verbal challenges and allows participants to adjust their approach to help calm the situation. It also helps volunteers see the ministry opportunity in helping people through stressful or emotional situations. “We want our volunteers to see the person, not just the problem,” said Pastor Hernandez.
“Using your words to help find common ground, and getting people to comply with the ask, can resolve issues peacefully, and that’s what we call the WIN,” said Cable. WIN stands for What’s Important Now, and it’s a helpful reminder to maintain proper perspective. For most situations, Cable advises, “You need team members who can pull back on the things they want to say and focus on the things they need to say.”
To help security team volunteers learn how to safely de-escalate potentially threatening situations, they need to first learn how to control their natural reactions. Realistic training scenarios introduce stress in a controlled environment, helping your team prepare to handle chaotic scenes with composure and calm. Using this de-escalation strategy can equip your volunteers to approach scenes with a heart for ministry and a clear goal of protecting your people.
Without proper preparation, even small disagreements can turn into full-blown shouting matches. What starts as a request to leave the building can end in a physical altercation. Even mild-mannered volunteers can unintentionally escalate a situation if they lack the training to keep their emotions in check. To help successfully resolve situations, security team members need to be inoculated from the stress. Using realistic training scenarios can help volunteers become more accustomed to controlling their emotions. As a result, they can think more clearly and stay focused on safely resolving the confrontation. This helps protect the volunteer, the ministry, and the individual causing the disruption.
Adding to Your Team If you need to replenish your security team volunteers, consider adding the following interview questions to your onboarding process:
• Tell me about a time when you were under a lot of stress. How did you manage the stress?
• Tell me about a time when someone was really upset with you. How did you work through that situation?
• Have you ever had a disagreement with someone at work? How did you resolve the issue?
Make sure your volunteer team is covered for costs resulting from injuries and damaged equipment with security operations coverage from Brotherhood Mutual. Ask your insurance agent for more details.
The following scenarios test “tactical communication,” which is how your team uses words strategically to get individuals to willingly comply with a request. While this is a good place to start, get creative, adding variables and new scenarios as your team becomes more proficient. Here are a few examples:
• Sanctuary — During regular church service, an individual draws the attention of your security team. He’s not disruptive, but he is acting abnormally. He’s wearing sunglasses, a ball cap and a long coat. He’s mumbling to himself. What’s your plan for monitoring him? What’s your plan if he walks toward the stage or retrieves something from his vehicle? How will you engage him in conversation?
• Youth Room — A father thinks his daughter’s boyfriend is a bad influence and asks that she not see the teen anymore. The teen shows up to a Sunday service and is stopped by the father in the lobby. An argument breaks out.
How will your team navigate this potentially volatile situation? Who is the aggressor? What is your goal for this situation (What’s Important Now)?
• Lost Child — Following worship, a mom attempts to pick up her daughter from the nursery. The volunteer is unable to find the child. The mom immediately becomes frantic. The dad learns of the situation and becomes outraged.
How do you get productive info from the upset parents? How will your team locate the child? How will you coordinate bystanders that want to help?