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3 Keys for Tackling Church Security Threats, Part 1

Special Feature by author Marian Liautaud. Part one of a two part series on implementing new security strategies, to assist houses of worship in creating an environment where people are free to connect with God and others.

(First in a two-part series on essential considerations for church security. The second installment can be read here - Keeping Kids Safe: Tackling Safety and Security Threats, Part 2)

With recent church shootings, many churches are taking security more seriously.

According to Frank Pollina, facility manager for three of The Orchard’s six Chicagoland multisite churches, however, it has been the less sensational issues that have sparked the greatest need for security measures at his church.

For instance, Pollina cites one security challenge that involves the handling of protestors outside their church. “We’ve had groups of protestors on our sidewalks and in our parking lot, protesting social issues, like abortion. We’ve asked them not to distribute materials, as the church is private property. “

Maintaining an off-duty police officer on their property has helped keep protests peaceful. “We’ve trained our parking team and trustee team. They are kind and gracious and show the love of Christ, and they know how to de-escalate and help in a calm, conforming manner,” says Pollina.

Training the Right Team

The Orchard’s solution for protestors highlights two key aspects of implementing security measures at church:

  1. Recruit the right team.
  2. Train your team.

“Training is key to having an effective security plan,” Pollina says. “If you’re not sure how to do this, call your local police and fire department to learn how to evacuate the building, what to do if a tornado strikes, how to handle a power outage—all of the basic things that can go wrong.”

“A lot of church security companies are trafficking in fear,” says Tim Miller, cofounder of Secure Church, and director of security for his church, the 10-campus Christ Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach, Florida. “It causes the pastors who don’t want to perpetuate fear to turn away from the whole issue. I try to help churches think about what it would look like to have a healthy, dynamic safety ministry at church. What kind of people do we need? What tools do we need? What processes?”

Though Pollina and Miller both emphasize the need for churches to recruit and develop a security team that can handle the most common security issues, they also agree that knowing how to respond to more serious threats is wise. The Orchard obtained Secure Church for training for their team to learn how to respond to an active shooter event and other high-impact incidents.

“I’m trying to teach our trustees to learn how to watch for someone who’s agitated or out of sorts, who could raise the potential for a threat,” says Pollina. “You can’t always tell by the way someone dresses. It’s their behavior—are they getting up and down, looking around a lot, confronting people, showing mood swings? When you become aware of these things, you have to pay more attention to these behaviors. They may be off their medication and burst out, or be violent in a service.”

“Knowing how to minister to those living with a mental illness is essential,” says Mark Lundgren, cofounder of Secure Church, and director of security for his home church, Christ Church of Oakbrook in Illinois. “Instead of escalating and thereby destroying hope, safety ministries can leverage such opportunities to guide people to proper care and resources, and more often than imagined, the outcome is leading someone to Christ and helping them with their illness, rather than perpetuating the cycle of abandonment.”

The Orchard has a team of people who they call “shadows,” shares Pollina. “Half of the congregation doesn’t know they exist or who they are. Their primary role is to be the eyes and ears during the service, watching for anyone who seems to be out of sorts. ‘Shadows’ are volunteers, some retired and active law enforcement, or with military training. They go through Secure Church training.”

(Looking to train/educate yourself and your team about the complex topic of Church Security? Don't miss Worship Facilities FREE webinar Sept 5 | 2PM ET with presenters Tim Miller and Mark Lundgren. For more information and to register click here. Particpate in the Live Event or watch later On-Demand).

Medical Responders

It’s essential to also incorporate first aid providers into the safety ministry team of every church, outfitting medical responders with the same radios and communication tools as the security team.

“Ideally you want EMTs and nurses,” says Lundgren. “The first aid team’s focus should be to apply basic first aid measures to prep for the arrival of an ambulance.  We never let the patient determine if an ambulance should be called, as embarrassment often results in compromised decision making. This measure alone has saved two lives at our church.”

Threat Assessment Team

Lundgren and Miller recommend that every church have a Threat Assessment Team, which should be comprised of a senior church official with decision making authority, a safety ministry team leader, a mental health professional (preferably with "violence" experience), a church attorney or trusted lawyer from your congregation, and at least one law enforcement official from your jurisdiction. “This team is convened to assess any threats or threatening behavior on the part of church members and visitors. This group can consult with the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit when additional expertise is required,” says Lundgren.

Having the right team and making sure they’re properly trained is a church’s best, first line of defense when it comes to keeping the congregation safe and secure.

The next key to building a secure church is tactics—utilizing technology and the physical layout and design of the church building for another line of defense.

Design and Technology

If you’re building a new church or renovating your building, you are in the ideal position to design for security. You can also retrofit your church with security features.

First and foremost, consider your entry and access points throughout the building. How many points of entry are there into your building? Are these doors monitored by people or cameras? Can the doors be controlled by an electronic key system, which allows for specific doors to be locked and unlocked remotely?

“We have electronic locks on exterior doors that are time-controlled. This minimizes points of entry,” says Pollina.

Along with being vigilant about how people enter your church building, consider whether or not your security measures will protect people as they leave your church too. Of the 22 recent ramming attacks across the globe, more than 200 people were killed and more than 850 were wounded. Striking arriving or departing crowds can be prevented by installing bollards and other blocking strategies.

(Looking to train/educate yourself and your team about the complex topic of Church Security? Don't miss Worship Facilities FREE webinar Sept 5 | 2PM ET with presenters Tim Miller and Mark Lundgren. For more information and to register click here. Particpate in the Live Event or watch later On-Demand).

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