(The second of a two-part series by author, Marian Liautaud. Missed part one? Here's 3 Keys For Tackling Security Threats, Part 1)
Keeping Kids Safe
“Security is the number one conversation churches want to have with us when we’re discussing a remodel or a building project where kids space is addressed,” says Greg Snider, account executive for Aspen Group.
The reality is, if first-time attendees bring their kids to church and they don’t feel assured that the nursery and kids’ ministry area are built with safety and security in mind, they are not likely to return.
“Our original campus has five entrances into the facility,” says Pollina. “Prior to our renovations, you could enter any of these five doors and easily get to the lower level where our children’s ministry is. When we renovated, we added doors to the hallways, and now you can only get to the children’s ministry area through one location. People can only go up if they enter the lower level. By adding doorways in the hallways and locking off doorways to outer doors, we’ve reduced security threats. Same with our nursery. You can exit for fire safety, but no one can enter from outside.”
The check-in desk for the children’s ministry area is usually outside security doors. Once a child is checked in, they should then go through secure doors that are not accessible to other adults. This helps parents know that outsiders will not have access to children.
“I love it when there’s a complete door at the children’s wing,” says Jessica Bealer, a 20-year veteran of children’s ministry. “You can’t go beyond this space.”
Bealer spent the last five years overseeing standards, systems, staffing and atmosphere for the children's ministry of Elevation Church in North Carolina. She has overseen the launch of nearly 20 locations and is considered a specialist in kidmin multisite. Today, she also serves as director of family ministry services for Generis.
“Elevation Church built all of their buildings so that the children’s wing is a horseshoe,” says Bealer. “The only way to get in is through two doors. The same volunteers that secure the lobby could also secure the children’s wing doors.”
Not only was the design of the children’s ministry wing safer; it also helped reduce the number of volunteers needed to monitor and secure the entry point. The horseshoe design meant you only needed one volunteer to comb the hallway.
In the nursery, it's important to have viewing access of the changing table and to be able to observe the volunteers and children. Installing windows is a great way to improve visibility. At The Fields in Mattoon, Illinois, the nursery features an open floor plan. Spaces are sectioned off with half-walls and every volunteer and child is visible throughout the whole space.
Transparency is important in church offices and counseling rooms too. At The Orchard, Pollina says, “Our building was built in the 60s so most of our rooms had heavy doors with no windows. We’ve added windows to our doors, and we’ve renovated to make the whole church more of an open floor plan.”
(Looking to train/educate yourself and your team about the complex topic of Church Security? Don't miss Worship Facilities FREE webinar Sept 24 | 2PM ET with presenter Mark Blandford. For more information and to register click here. Particpate in the Live Event or watch later On-Demand).
Restrooms for Kids
Restrooms are another potential danger zone for churches. “If a children’s classroom doesn’t have a bathroom within it, and you only have two adults in the room and one has to leave to help a child who needs to leave to use the bathroom, now you’ve created two points of liability,” says Bealer.
A better solution is to build restrooms into the children’s rooms, especially for preschoolers. Shared bathrooms between two classrooms can be a cost-efficient option.
“For toddlers through school age kids, we try to design children’s ministry space with restrooms that are within this secured area,” says Rosie Mitchell, an architect for Aspen Group. “That way kids don’t have to leave the large group area or classrooms to use the bathroom. Churches can’t always afford bathrooms in every classroom, but at the very least, we try to include restrooms inside the large room space so children don’t have to leave this secure area.”
People and processes
“We can solve many security issues by making changes to the facility,” says Snider. “But children’s ministry safety also involves having a good process, people, systems, and volunteers.”
Here are some additional ways to create a safe, secure environment in your children’s ministry:
- Always secure rooms. Before each service, completely vacate each room and perform a thorough safety check on the space.
- Gather your volunteers and leaders before each service time to remind them of the “why” for serving kids. Share any necessary information, such as curriculum details or last-minute training. And take time to pray with and for your volunteers and the kids they’ll be caring for.
- Weed out potentially malicious volunteers by adhering to a thorough application process that includes doing a background check and eliminate potential opportunities for abuse within the ministry by using the two-adult rule and other supervision procedures.
In addition to background records checks, Lundgren’s home church requires volunteers to be at the church for a minimum of six months before serving in the children’s ministry, they must be recommended by someone else, and the candidate and their references are interviewed as well. These same practices for children’s ministry should be implemented for volunteers of vulnerable adults.
Cameras are being installed in more churches, especially in children’s areas. Though most churches may not be able to monitor cameras for real-time activity throughout the facility, they can be helpful for reviewing suspicious activity or persons.
“We have security cameras throughout the buildings in the hallways and sanctuary,” says Pollina. “We can monitor every door and the exterior of the building. We’re always trying to locate these optimally. Our cameras record on movement up to three months. No one is monitoring them, but we’ve used our cameras to identify crimes. For instance, one time we had theft occur. With the cameras, we were able to look back at the recordings and see who was there and identify the thieves. We got most of our gear back a month and a half later.”
According to Tim Miller, you have to know what you’re going to do with cameras. There are cheap cameras and high-end cameras, and “smart” cameras with analytics. “At Christ Fellowship, we have 10 campuses with approximately 35,000 weekly attendees. We can real-time search all of our cameras across all of our campuses for one image. If there were a kidnapping situation, we can pull that child’s image up and see where the child is. Not every church will need to be this sophisticated,” says Miller.
Security for Multisites
“If you’re a multisite church, security needs to be standardized across all campuses. You want to build an enterprise system, such as integratable video across all campuses,” Miller says.
This means having the proper web connectivity. Make sure the systems you have, such as electronic access control, can communicate with your video systems.
How Secure Is Your Church?
It’s wise to evaluate the effectiveness of your church’s current security measures and identify future needs. After you’ve evaluated your current situation and potential future needs, you can begin to create a layered plan for security.
Ultimately, for a church security team to be effective, their team, training and tactics must be aligned with the mission of the church. The Church is intended to be a sanctuary, literally and figuratively. Implementing safety and security strategies is one tangible and necessary way to create an environment where people are free to connect with God and others.