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People today are motivated to give differently than people in our parents’ generation were motivated to give. That’s why you need a new set of strategies to financially resource the ministries of your church.Read More
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Our hearts grieve the innocent loss of life as 26 worshippers were gunned down at the First Baptist Church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, 2017. Headlines of major newspapers read: “Evil has invaded the Sanctuary” and “Can any church be open and welcome to All?”. Reasonable concerns when you look at a death toll of 48 lives from active shooter situations at houses of worship during the past five years:
Gaining Courage to Confront Evil
Houses of worship are places where a person finds safety and belonging. Society believes families will be safe as they attend services or participate in church events. Tragically, the evil of this world finds no boundaries to prevent tragedy and harm. Pastors, church elders, deacons, greeters and Sabbath school leaders must be trained and prepared to confront unthinkable situations and act responsibly when evil strikes.
Active Shooter Response Planning
Situational Awareness is the critical first step in a congregation’s Emergency Planning – “You can’t pat someone down and give them a hug at the same time,” said Lt. Todd Caron of the Anderson County Sherriff’s Office in South Carolina. Caron believes, congregations and church members must be aware of their surroundings. “We can still be open and loving and be cautious and prepared… you should notice if someone is disgruntled or upset, they may need some help or you may just want to keep a watch on them.” 1
Many churches have an informal security or emergency plan. Some congregations use off-duty police officers, retired military or hire security personnel to watch for signs of danger as they observe those who enter for services. Extra care must be taken if armed security is going to be used on church property. Pastors should always seek counsel from Conference officials before any security contract is signed. Consideration must be given to applicable state laws concerning weapons on church property, local Conference policy and liability insurance to protect both the security officer, local church and Conference. (See Resource #6 – Firearms on Church Property for more information) Being welcoming and open doesn’t begin with songs, sermons or bible studies. It begins with awareness at the door.
Even talking about an Active Shooter scenario is a difficult conversation that church leaders want to avoid or believe it will never happen here. Most active shooter situations last less than five minutes and are over before law enforcement arrives on scene. Church leaders cannot be complacent; they must face the issue that the unthinkable may happen and be ready to respond.
This can be achieved through five action steps: 1) Discussing “what would we do” with the church board, 2) Establish an emergency response plan for your church facility, 3) Review your emergency plan with local law enforcement agencies, 4) Conduct practice emergency drills with church leaders and 5) Be aware of what is taking place during all church activities and report all threats or suspicious behavior to law enforcement officials. Building strong relationships with local law enforcement is key so they know your facility before an emergency 911 call is placed in the event of an emergency. Remember, situational awareness begins at the front door. Knowing how to respond, knowing alternative ways to exit, taking immediate and appropriate actions can save lives.
Arthur F. Blinci is senior risk consultant and owner of Azure Hills Risk Management
Helpful Online Resources…
2. Detailed Emergency Planning Guide for Houses of Worship
4. Run, Hide, Fight – Training video:
Resources from Adventist Risk Management
Pastors and ministry leaders are often the first to arrive at church on Sabbath morning. You unlock the doors, turn on the lights and equipment, and prepare to greet members as they arrive. Often the same people close the doors, shut off the lights, and lock-up the building until the next scheduled program.
As a pastor, you are probably quite familiar with this process and have become accustomed to opening and closing the church every week. Each time you lock the church doors, someone may be lurking in the shadows, watching and waiting for an opportunity to sneak in. Sometimes, they succeed and you are left with a theft and stolen or broken equipment.
WHAT IS A MINISTRY LEADER TO DO?
The claims department at Adventist Risk Management, Inc. (ARM) receives a variety of theft and burglary claims each month. Is the answer armed security or simply improving lock up procedures?
Before hiring armed security, there are five questions you must ask yourself:
1. Have you consulted with local conference leadership and the conference attorney to review the gun use laws in your jurisdiction?
2. Does your conference have an established policy that no firearms will be allowed on conference-owned property? Your church is considered private property. In many states, the property owner can establish their property as a weapons free zone. Some jurisdictions require specific announcements or postings.
3. Does the individual who may be willing to provide armed security for the congregation have the proper license or concealed weapons permit and firearm liability insurance? State laws vary on gun licensing and whether a concealed weapon permit grants permission to the owner to have a gun in a house of worship.
4. What level of training in firearm use does the individual have and do they have law enforcement experience in the use of deadly force in a public assembly area?
5. Is the armed security service provided by a licensed and bonded security company? Be sure the person has insurance or be willing to purchase such insurance for the church.
If you decide to move forward with hiring armed security, work together with your conference to make sure your ministry has the correct insurance coverage, chooses from a professional security provider, and follows the procedures for keeping both members and visitors safe. It is important to note that most church organizations insurance coverage does not provide protection from liability arising from the use of firearms. Please work with your conference and ARM for needed insurance.
INCREASED AWARENESS CAN IMPROVE SECURITY AT YOUR LOCAL FACILITY
ARM has created a check list to use each time you lock-up after each event. These steps will help further secure your church building.
Step 1: Check the exterior of the building
Begin by walking around the perimeter of the building and lock all doors, windows, and gates. If there are other buildings such as a gym, fellowship hall, or a storage shed be sure to securely lock all windows and doors for these buildings as well. As you conduct your perimeter check, look for and pick up any trash, personal items, or non-secured items.
Step 2: Sweep and secure the inside
Take time entering each room, and making sure they are empty before locking windows and doors, and shutting off lights. Collect any misplaced personal items for your lost and found containers. Check each stall in the bathrooms and make sure faucets are completely turned off before locking doors. All electronic equipment should be shut down and put away in its corresponding storage area. If there is no specific storage area for your equipment, lock equipment in an interior, windowless room.
Step 3: Set your security system
Once you have secured the exterior and interior of your facilities, it’s time to activate the security system. Some alarm systems will alert you on a digital screen if a door or window is unlocked or open. Check to make sure your system does not detect any unlocked entrances. Then set the security system and exit the premises in the appropriate time.
ADDIONAL SECURITY SYSTEMS FOR YOUR CHURCH
Besides a security alarm, there are various other security systems and steps available for installation to better protect your facilities and your church members. These include:
· Security lighting around the facilities’ perimeters and in the parking lot.
· Motion sensor lights in hallways, near entrances, and by the perimeter security lighting.
· Security cameras
Taking the extra time to install these security systems and work together with your conference can save your ministry from avoidable incidents. Combining security systems and a thorough, regularly conducted lock-up process, you can rest easy knowing that your church is better protected.
For more information on church safety, visit AdventistRisk.org/Prevention-Resources.
Elizabeth Camps is a writer and public relations specialist for Adventist Risk Management