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The Critical Need to Balance Command Presence in Church Security

Command Presence is non-verbal communication indicating that you are in charge, aware and engaged. Houses of Worship, however, must strike a balance between visible deterrents and a welcoming atmosphere.

Command Presence is non-verbal communication indicating that you are in charge, aware and engaged. This is accomplished through dress, appearance and body language.

A visible deterrent can range from a security officer posted outside a church, to cameras to signage...all the way to environmental design considerations. A visible deterrent in church security is the people, place or thing that is designed to discourage predators, criminals and those will ill-intent; hereafter referred to as bad actors.

However, in a church setting there are degrees of command presence that must be balanced with visible deterrent considerations

The ongoing challenge of church security is how to create and maintain a warm, welcoming atmosphere while also sending the clear strong message to bad actors that this is not a church to trifle with!

In looking at violence on church grounds...the final numbers for 2017 are in. 118 Violent deaths (homicides, suicides and killed in action) in one year is the worst violence ever seen in America concerning faith-based organizations. Certainly anyone involved in church security will always associate 2017 with the horror at The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs when 26 men, women and children were gunned down during service.

While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when most churches began to lock their doors, at least locking them overnight; the general consensus appears to be it started sometime in the seventies, and began to be commonplace in the eighties.

Randall Balmer of Barnhard College, who studies and writes about American church history, says congregations began locking doors in the 1980s, when mental patients swelled the ranks of homeless people. "It's a generalization, of course," he says. "Some churches locked their doors long before that, and others still don't. But the massive influx of homeless people, without a doubt, accelerated the process."

Just as people were resistant to the now common sense idea that churches need to lock their doors overnight; there are people who range from discomfort to outright anger at the idea of church security.

With large churches of 250 or more members, changes are usually somewhat easier to institute, just by the nature of a church serving so many people, most members recognize when you get that many people together, there are bound to be at least occasional issues. However, for smaller churches, creating a Church Protection Team (CPT) can and likely will draw very strong reactions. The average church size in America is around 75.

Anyone who has visited different churches can attest that once you get past the normal, exterior of the church, that is, the aesthetics of the church, along with the general feel of the sermons, how the ushers greet visitors and other first-time impressions, each church has what can best be called an individual personality. As with most organizations, there is an “ebb and flow” to the way things are done, and certain people have more of an influence in various areas. In Psalm 144 Church Protection Seminars, this is described as Church Flow.

In the average sized church of around 75 people, the influence of one or two people is usually more apparent, as is the nature of their Church Flow. When a Church Protection Team is introduced in an average sized church, the risk of adversely affecting Church Flow and drawing the ire of any number of members of the church is always going to be higher than in a large church. This risk can be mitigated with some forethought and planning.

A deeper understanding of the nature of Command Presence, being a Visible Deterrent and balancing these concepts with Church Flow is key!

Try to think like a predator for a moment. That is, the bad actor looking for a place to rob, all the way to the deranged individual looking for a place to engage in a mass shooting to try to become internet famous. Now, imagine seeing your standard church: Nobody that is clearly in charge out front, people coming and going from various doors, (which are clearly unlocked) and perhaps some kids running around.

Clearly you can see that while this may look like a warm welcoming atmosphere to a potential visitor, it also looks like a big easy target to the bad actor.

Now, imagine yourself as the bad actor again looking at the church with a couple of differences:

  • First, there is a late model sedan or truck with a car door magnet that has church branding,, the words "Church Protection Team, Call 911 in an Emergency."
  • That marked vehicle is prominently parked by the main entry to the church parking lot.

Then, you observe a man wearing nice slacks, wearing a black blazer (sport coat), who has a radio, a name badge and is watching the parking lot, with his hands at the ready. You notice that he moves around at least every 1 - 3 minutes and is clearly purposeful and engaged as he continuously scans the parking lot.

You (the bad actor) then notice that while there is a very friendly looking person opening the door and handing out the program, there is another man in the same professional looking outfit in the lobby who watches people as they walk in the door. You notice that while they make eye contact and give a quick welcome, they never stop watching their post and they never allow themselves to be distracted by the duties of the ushers and the greeters.

You further notice that the church has a current sign out front, the grounds are well maintained and this is a church that is taking care of both the big things and the little things.

How likely are you, the bad actor, to continue to target the church after observing all of these things?

Yet, you will notice that due to a professional, almost business like appearance from the CPT members, the visitor is unlikely to feel afraid of these men or women in their sharp blazers, radios and engaged, purposeful body language...the very definition of command presence and visible deterrent. This appearance and dress, combined with a nice looking church, maintained grounds and orderly parking all strike the balance between hardening the target and presenting a warm, welcoming church!

If a police officer makes entry into a bar that is experiencing a fight in progress, that officer’s command presence will deliberately look as intimidating as possible. From body language to verbal commands she will be aggressive and assertive. Even when she is not on a call of that nature, her uniform, her patrol car and the authority of the office she represents, inherently gives command presence. However, even when she is relaxed, she is likely intimidating to the average person.

In contrast, a CPT member must be aware that to have command presence in a church security setting, he must be careful to avoid the appearance of being deliberately threatening. By working well with the ushers and greeters, this greatly reduces the chances of seeming intimidating to church members and visitors. By working to not interfere in the duties of other church workers unless there is a security threat, he lessens the chance of interfering in church flow; which will help the congregation to be more accepting of the newly formed Church Protection Team.

In time, the idea of not having church security in all churches will seem as foolish as the idea of leaving a church unlocked overnight seems to most people now. Until that time, pastors and church leaders are likely to face resistance when introducing the idea of a volunteer Church Protection Team.

Everyone involved must simply remember that unlike most branches of security, where Command Presence and Visible Deterrents are common and fairly straight-forward, in church security, there must be a balance. For the volunteer Church Protection Team member to achieve a professional look, Psalm 144 Church Protection Seminars suggests the following:

  • Black Blazer with a plain black crew shirt in cooler weather.
  • A black polo style shirt in the summer, white in very hot locations.
  • Black or gray dress slacks.

For footwear, the CPT member must be tactical. There are several brands of low to mid cut tactical boots that have a sharp look. Three quarter length dress shoes for ankle support and a rubber non-slip bottom are also suggested.

A name badge in a plastic clip on (never, ever a lanyard, even the kind that break apart) that follows this template:

  • Church Protection Team
  • Volunteer
  • A radio (walkie talkie)
  • Small powerful flashlight, the parking lot officer should consider a large maglite
  • The choice of weapons and to be armed or not needs to be decided by the church, in conjunction with your attorney and insurance agent.

CPT members need to never tie up their hands, never, ever put their hands in their pockets, do not look at their phones, and to know the security procedures of their church. The member needs to remember to never stand in one place for too long, and when she moves around, to do so in a confident, purposeful way. Understanding her role and assigned zone, the proper above stated uniform and this body language will create the theologically sound approach to church security by balancing Command Presence, Visible Deterrent and Minimizing Church Flow Disruptions.

Remember, in most churches, there will be some pushback when forming the CPT. Just look at the stats on Carl Chinn’s website, read about what really happened at Sutherland Springs and accept the reality that churches cannot continue to be so wide open and vulnerable to attack.

Finally, reassure your congregation that this is not being done in a spirit of fear but love. Remind them that the church loves them enough to take these measures to keep them safe, and really, is it any different from having a fire plan and fire extinguishers, a tornado and earthquake plan? It is all about preparation in a purposeful and tactical way.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. - 2 Timothy 1:7 New King James Version



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