So many thoughts come to mind when we hear the words “Protecting His Ministry.” On the insurance side of things we discuss them often, and indeed the topics are numerous, but who would have thought those words today would most likely resonate around church security and the threat of violence within our church walls?
Protecting His Ministry; An Insurance Perspective
Still fresh in our minds is the 2017 shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which has led to many church leaders asking what steps they should implement to protect their congregations. That’s a fair question, but we also need to understand that most churches in America are safe places, and while acts of shootings on church property are shocking, they are rare.
That said, as with any good risk management program, our task is to minimize a risk, knowing that we cannot completely prevent one, and the same holds true for acts of violence. Let’s review four possible options church leaders might consider as part of their safety programs.
- Utilizing Off-Duty Officers. Of all options, this is the best deterrent to the threat of an armed assailant on church property – or for that matter in other tenuous situations. Ideally, have two or more off-duty law enforcement officers on site during services, with a police car parked in a highly visible location outside the church. The mere presence of their uniform and vehicle is a deterrent. Of course there is a cost associated with using off-duty officers to provide security, but the costs feel more manageable when you consider that you’d only be using them for a few hours each Sunday. Consider also the reduced liability exposure by utilizing off-duty officers because if they have to respond to an emergency crisis, it’s their liability that kicks in, not the church’s.
- Utilizing Technology. Modern security conveniences are so commonplace that we have a tendency to overlook some of the easier-to-use solutions churches can consider with nominal expenditures. Have a reputable alarm carrier evaluate your needs and consider utilizing items like surveillance cameras, entry control devices and panic buttons. For larger and even some mid-sized churches, the use of walkie-talkies or ear buds among parking lot attendants, greeters, or those assigned to patrol the grounds is an ideal way to communicate, not only useful for effective church organization on a busy Sunday but also essential in the event of a crisis.
- Responding To a Crisis. While our first thoughts might go to having an active shooter on the premises, it’s important that we have a well-thought-out plan to respond in the event of any type of emergency. For example in anticipation of a medical emergency, form a team of well-qualified individuals who can best respond to that type of event. Or in the case of some form of family disturbance or other tense situations, know in advance how you’d respond. By the way, having uniformed police officers to handle these types of events is another ideal reason for having their presence. And of course in the case of an active shooter or even word of a nearby shooter, know who should respond in such a situation, and how.
- Forming a Church Security Team. Okay, this is the proverbial elephant in the room, so let’s address it. Should we have a church security team? Are we allowed to have a church security team? The Texas state law put into effect last September made it legal for houses of worship to have armed volunteer security. The problem here is the wide range of competency among permit holders in handling a firearm, and of course the associated training that would be needed to deal with an active shooter. Even the best marksman is most likely not trained to meet the demands of such a situation, but church security teams do not always have to be armed. They can serve a valuable purpose in communication and coordinated responses. Armed security teams, in our opinion, are among the last options a church should consider forming, and if they do, those individuals with a law enforcement background and ongoing training options are then preferred. Even so, the church needs to take into consideration that it is placing a tremendous amount of responsibility on these individuals. There is also the potential for civil litigation to be directed against armed individuals who might injure or take innocent lives while discharging their weapons, so again, what is involved is more than just a volunteer spirit. Most “church insurance policies” probably do not have an armed guard exclusion, but you need to check with your insurance carrier/agent to be sure.
Prevention, preparedness and training for all types of crisis situations in churches are effective tools towards protecting your ministry. The best prevention measures to be agreed upon will take time to apply and will be an ongoing process, but your efforts will undoubtedly reduce your risks in these areas.