You walk up to your church on a Monday morning and the first thing you notice is broken glass everywhere. As you enter, the devastation slowly reveals itself with every step — graffiti spray-painted on the walls, computers and audio equipment stolen, smashed bathroom fixtures flooding nearby classrooms. The destruction affects nearly every room in your building. The physical damage can be repaired, but the resulting emotional trauma can affect your people for months or even years.
Mike McCarty, founder and CEO of SafeMinistry Solutions, a security consulting company specializing in safety and security for ministries, saw first-hand how theft affects ministry. His church experienced two separate break-ins within weeks of one another. “The theft really created unease among our congregation that lasted for quite a while. Losing the equipment also affected our ability to hold virtual services. The incident heightened the awareness of the need for a focus on security with our leadership team,” said McCarty.
Every year, thousands of ministries are affected by burglary, vandalism, arson and other property crimes, according to FBI crimes against property by location statistics. The physical and emotional damage can devastate a congregation, leading to disruption of services and reduced attendance. As a result, many ministries have started security teams and implemented Sunday and mid-week plans to protect their people and property. But security teams can’t monitor property all the time. By incorporating technology with a 360 view of security, you can create a full circle of safety for your ministry’s people and property.
Protecting your people begins with a comprehensive screening process for any volunteer who will work with children, youth or vulnerable adults. Since these volunteers are trusted with an increased level of access, it’s important for ministries to carefully select and screen each person. Part of the process involves a background check. It’s common practice for ministries to run a background check at least every three to five years for volunteers, with an annual renewal application that asks volunteers whether they have been arrested, charged or convicted of any offenses in the past year.
ArrestAlert, from SafeMinistry Solutions, is a new service that immediately alerts a ministry in the event a volunteer is arrested and can be used as an added layer of protection. “The foundation of ministry security is managing who has access and to which specific areas,” said McCarty. For more information about Arrest Alert, visit safehiringsolutions.com/arrestalert.
Layers of Security
McCarty recommends a layered approach to securing your property. This method helps you focus on critical areas to address first, such as having policies and procedures, a safety team and a robust volunteer screening plan. Once you have the basics in place, take your security to the next level by incorporating technology to protect your property. There are several key technologies that can help, including access control, security systems and security cameras.
Churches are uniquely open and welcoming, particularly when there are worship services, so they have different access control needs than a regular business. This means that ministries need to think about which doors need to be locked or left open as it relates to events. “Many churches have open doors on Wednesday night, Saturday night and Sunday morning, but they need to look at keeping doors locked on weekdays during regular hours,” said McCarty.
When considering ways to secure your property yet still maintain an open and inviting space, McCarty recommends looking at who has access to specific areas of your ministry’s property. The layer that is the most open includes the parking lot and sanctuary. Ministries want people to feel welcome as they come and go from a worship service. But as those layers get closer to critical areas, such as the children’s ministry or office area, the access becomes limited. Don’t be tempted to relax your access control measures when there aren’t any children or youth activities on campus. Keeping your people safe is important, regardless of who is on campus.
Controlling access to specific areas of a ministry building can be as simple as locking doors, but this isn’t always safe or practical. An alternative is to install access controls — such as a digital keypad or key card reader — to doors leading to the critical areas of your ministry. Whether your ministry uses electronic access control or simply chooses to keep doors locked or monitored, providing safety while maintaining an open and friendly atmosphere is the goal.
Full Circle Safety
Security cameras are another great tool to layer into your safety and security plan. Criminals often look for less secure facilities, or facilities that offer the least chance of being caught. They’ll typically avoid buildings with alarm systems or surveillance cameras. In one study, security cameras were found to be an effective deterrent to burglary. Security cameras may also deter other criminal acts. Learn more by reading the article “Security Cameras at Church” in the Brotherhood Mutual Online Safety Library (https://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/resources/safety-library/risk-management-articles/buildings-and-property/building-security/surveillance-cameras-at-church/).
Finally, consider installing a security system. A system with an audible alarm can potentially reduce the amount of time a burglar or vandal remains inside your building. “Criminals panic once they hear the alarm because they know the police will arrive soon,” offered McCarty. You don’t need an expensive system, either. The idea is to force the person to move quickly, minimizing the amount of damage.
As your ministry implements robust layers of protection, you’ll strengthen your people and property against disruptive events, and ensure the continuity of essential ministry services.
SafeMinistry Solutions provides safety and security services, education, trainings and customer care. The result is a 360-degree solution for the safety and security of your congregation and your called ministry. They specialize in background checks, volunteer management, digital security, and physical security. To learn more, visit the SafeMinistry Solutions website.