September 11, 2001, lives were changed forever. I am convinced that it will never be like it was before that time. Security has been heightened in our country and continues to change. If this is true in airports, public buildings, stadiums and even in theme parks (anywhere there’s a crowd), I believe it should also be of importance to us in the church.
My story began in 1985; I started implementing things I learned at a conference where a former FBI agent who investigated the McMartin Daycare Scandal (March 1984) shared some simple things churches could do to keep children safe. I saw immediately that screening volunteers works. Just by implementing background checks of potential volunteers criminal history backgrounds and requiring personal references along with an application started weeding out folks immediately. It also helped me know the people who were joining the team better and help me to add them in the spots where that were the best fit for their gift set.
Another thing I did right off was to control access in and out of children’s ministry areas. I added security team members to watch doors that lead to the outside within the children’s areas as well as on doors to check tags. I also learned that I could take advantage of a risk assessment offered by my church’s insurance company and also use their legal council. In addition, I developed a relationship with a lawyer in my state to help create forms, policies and procedures that truly did what I needed them to do within the laws of my state.
Today, I’m using more security personnel within our buildings during every service time as well as special events. It’s normal in this day and time to see uniformed officers at church especially during student ministry services and events.
In times of heightened national security, I’ve served at churches that implemented bag check. If you bus in students you do not know, a metal detector and bag checks are a must. Simple things like patrolling parking lots especially during student events can cut down on any potential funny business.
Plain-clothes officers are also helpful roaming hallways as well as stationed at key locations. Your computer check-in system is worthless without tag checkers on duty in entrances before, during and after the service. Fifteen minutes after a service begins, all side and rear doors are locked and only the main entrances remain open. It’ amazing how exposed most churches are if you don’t sneak up on your church and look at it through the eyes of an evil-doer.
The larger your church, the more all high-profile staff members and their spouses need to have an assigned trained usher or personal (protection) security guard with them. Most of us don’t want this but it’s needed. There was a pastor in Tulsa Oklahoma who was praying for people at the altar and some one came down front for prayer (they thought) but ended up punching the pastor in the face.
Video monitoring in hallways, entrances, classrooms and outside restrooms also is commonplace in today’s security minded congregations.
A must for any size church is to not allow adult visitors to come inside a classroom without completing an adult visitor card and receiving a nametag.
We photocopy drivers’ licenses, and immediately look for them on the Offender Locator app on my smart phone. Collect personal info and ask why they’re visiting. All adult visitors are assigned a place to sit and are watched at all times. They are not allowed to be a worker or act like a worker. They do not have direct contact with any minors who are not theirs.
Radios should be made available for the workers at the door when children and students are entering and exiting the classrooms. Children up through fifth grade are not allowed to exit the classroom without being accompanied by an adult
Custody issues are commonplace, and the smart kidmin has a policy and procedure in place. Ask others what they do or sit down with a law enforcement officer within your church and come up with some simple guidelines for workers to follow. Restroom and diaper changing polices are also a must! If you don’t do anything I’ve listed in this article so far, do this: Never allow a worker to ever be alone with a child. Two workers do everything together (this includes teen workers). This includes taking a child to the restroom, changing diapers, altar counselors and even a small group leader. I recommend not allowing men to take children to the restroom or change diapers for the man’s protection.
I also recommend teenagers under 16 are not allowed to change diapers.
Man, Jim, that’s a lot to consider. We didn’t even cover everything needed to safe guard our workers, safety on trips and activities, and safety within electronic and social media.
The starting place is to evaluate what you already do and even begin conversations with other staff, parents and police officers on better ways you can serve the families of your church and beef up your safety systems.