For many years, I was bi-vocational. I worked full-time as a police officer in Maryland and part-time as an associate pastor in churches. As time passed, God allowed me to be more full-time in ministry and less in law enforcement. The old saying is that “old cops never die — they just work security.” That saying has come true for me. I now work part-time as a consultant for three major security companies in Maryland, in addition to my calling as a director of missions. I also serve as a reserve deputy sheriff in West Virginia, where I live. I love serving others and making a difference.
In conjunction with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/ Delaware’s emphasis on protecting the vulnerable and protecting the church as a whole, I would like to encourage you to have a safety and security plan in place for 2022 and beyond. It doesn’t have to be complicated or costly, but it is extremely important.
Here are a few steps your church can take to move in the right direction.
- Find a leader and develop a security team. The best leader within your church family might be someone with former police, military, or security experience. Volunteers need only to be willing and vigilant at their tasks. Still, some in-house training will be necessary to discuss responsibilities, actions, and reactions that may be required when a situation arises.
- Make sure team members can communicate with each other and the police. Cell phones are best for every member to call 911 in an emergency. Two-way radios with earpieces are inexpensive and a great way for the team to come to the aid of other members as needed.
- Limit and monitor entrances to your building at all times — occupied and unoccupied. Ushers or security team members should secure outside access doors once your service starts. Actively monitor any unlocked doors. Ensure that exit doors remain unlocked from the inside for adequate fire egress. Camera systems can record video 24/7 at entrances to the church and upload footage to a hard drive. In my previous church, we set up a camera system that helped us catch two burglars who broke into the church at night.
- Establish roving patrols of parking areas and the building’s exterior when the building is in use and occupied. It’s best to do this in pairs. Be aware of crimes that could be committed while the church is having worship services or other activities. In my home church, a roving group of bandits used a mechanic’s creeper (used to slide under cars) and a battery-powered saw to steal catalytic converters from 4×4 vehicles during our worship service. A roving patrol could have prevented or stopped this.
- Make sure attendees are aware of all exits. Reviews of many church attacks in the U.S. show that people inside were caught off guard when an assailant entered the building. They didn’t know the location of alternative exits. In a panic situation, “not knowing” can be deadly. Seconds count. Mock drills and instructing your congregation how to respond in an emergency are not a waste of time. They could save a life.
- Partner with law enforcement and other churches in your area. Training and a regular exchange of ideas are essential. Your local Baptist association can help you host or participate in church security training, with updates as needed. Also, check with the law enforcement agency that would respond to your church in an emergency. Ask them to make recommendations on how to best protect your parishioners. Invite them to do training in your building when it is empty. The result will be responding officers who have a better knowledge of what they could be walking into in an emergency! Ask your local police about crime trends in your neighborhood.
- Take the time to put policies and procedures in place to protect both the vulnerable and the workers in your church. God’s church MUST take wise steps so that it does not become marred by unseen or ignored sin. Background checks for children and youth workers are now a must. Children should never be left alone with any adult leader. This can also protect the worker from a potential false allegation. Policies must be carefully put in place for youth and mission trips and camps. Programs like MinistrySafe can help your church train all of your workers and reduce your liability. It’s not enough to put plans, policies, and procedures on paper — someone needs to be responsible for carrying this out consistently.
You must identify potential trouble spots or situations to understand risks fully so that your church can formulate plans and develop solutions BEFORE something happens. Church leaders have an important responsibility to keep a safe church environment.
Don’t be afraid to ask for outside help if you need it. If I can help your church, feel free to contact me at bruce@ blueridgebaptist.org.
Bruce M. Conley serves as the director of missions for the Blue Ridge Baptist Association.
Blue Ridge Baptist Association Director of Missions Bruce Conley, a former police officer, and current security consultant encourages churches to form a security team
Feature Photo: Adobe Images