Everything You Must Know About Church Security – A Comprehensive Guide
Most churches won’t face a shooter or terrorist attack, but other emergencies are more common and church leaders must have a security plan in place. This article discusses how to create a detailed plan and protocols for all to follow, who should be part of your church’s security team, and different types and practices security plans should address.
Most churches will not face a shooter or terrorist attack, but other emergencies are more common, and church leaders must have a security plan and team to keep their congregation secure. Video surveillance, alarm systems, and security staff are only part of the solution. This article discusses how to create a detailed plan and protocols for all to follow, who should be part of your church’s security team, and different types and practices security plans should address.
While most churches will not face a mass shooting, churches of all sizes are in danger of facing health emergencies, accidents, robberies, fire, and other catastrophes like weather disasters. If your congregation does not feel safe and secure, they may lose sight of your church’s mission and God’s message. Every church needs a security plan that details what church leadership, the security team, and church members should do during an emergency.
Preparing for these events should be looked at as a security ministry. Those called to this type of ministry may have a military or history in security, but their primary goal must be to protect those who rely on the church for their physical and spiritual protection. Churches can look to their own members to find security team members.
Who Should Serve on the Church Security Team?
Your church security team will likely include a combination of people with a security background and others who are better suited for office and administrative roles.
1. Oversight board or council
Your church board will oversee creating a security plan and managing the security team. Board members must remain focused on the church’s mission while working with team members to finalize the plan. After the plan is enacted, the board will continue to meet at least once a year for risk assessment and review security policy.
2. A security director
A security director will be the leader of a church’s security plan. The board and pastor should select a security director from the congregation. This individual can have a military or police history, but it is not necessary.
The role of the security director is not as physical as it is administrative. They should be in charge of choosing and training the volunteer security team and purchasing necessary safety equipment for the church.
3. Church security team
Your security team must be physically and mentally capable of serving on the team and be willing to help in tense situations. Security team members must be competent and self-controlled. These individuals will be expected to think fast in the moment. The church and its congregation must be able to rely on team members to make the right choices to keep people safe and help the church fulfill its mission.
Once the security director chooses the Security Team members, their initial training should include an orientation that provides them with the church’s mission and purpose. This mission must remain at the top of their mind while performing their duties.
After orientation, the team will attend regular meetings held by the director to go over plans and protocols. Security team members are expected to understand lockdowns, evacuations, and medical emergency responses.
Team members must attend all services, classrooms, and special events to cover security needs. It is best practice to rotate these members on an annual basis and have enough members on hand to cover all necessary activities.
Common Types of Church Security
Your security team is the most important part of your security plan, but other types of security will be essential for your church. Video surveillance, security systems, private and public WiFi, and two-way radios are all security tools that should be included in your plan.
1. Physical security
Video surveillance and security systems are excellent tools, but your church’s best defense is still your security team. Your plan must include all ways your team can contribute to your church’s security and stop an emergency before it happens.
1.1 Patrol staff
One of the best ways to do that is to have enough people on hand. During Sunday services, larger classes, or events, your security director should assign security members, volunteers, and staff to patrol the parking lot and building perimeter. There should only be one door that remains unlocked from the outside, but each exit must remain unlocked from the inside and have a person standing nearby in case of emergencies.
1.2 Vital contact information
All members of your security team must have updated emergency contact information to local law enforcement and other contacts. Each team member should know who to call and when and have easy access to these numbers on their cell phones. In addition to the police and fire departments, team members should have contact information for board members, church staff, and other security team members.
1.3 Two-way radios and communication tools
While most individuals have smartphones, it is best practice to give each patrol member a two-way radio to communicate with the others. Cell service is not always reliable, and even though you have provided everyone with emergency contact numbers, you still want an easy way for team members to remain in touch.
In addition to the patrol staff, ushers, daycare workers, and office staff should have their own two-way radios to allow them to contact the security team during an emergency.
What security issues has your church had in the past?
Does your church have one building or more?
Is it an open plan, or do you need cameras in every room?
Do you rent out space for outside special events like sports activities or weddings?
Your answers to these questions will help you decide on the type of video surveillance tools your church needs. In addition to these questions, you need to learn more about each camera’s installation requirements, broadcasting, video footage, and image resolutions before purchasing.
Churches should weigh their needs closely as the following security systems differ in cost, image quality, usability, and convenience.
2.1 Digital video recording security systems (DVR)
Digital video recording has been around longer and costs less than the alternative, but there are limits to how and where you can use them. DVR systems use Closed-Caption Television (CCT) cameras and need coaxial cables and power tools to install. These cameras are permanent parts of your system and are much more difficult to steal. This allows them to continuously record footage and store it on tape or digital media in a single locked location. Although these systems have limited audio options and the image quality is lower than an IP camera.
2.2 Network video recording security systems (NVR)
Network Video Record (NVR) systems use Internet Protocol (IP) cameras to record and stream video over the internet. These cameras are easier to install and move. They have a higher-quality image and audio resolution than the CCTV cameras, and footage is uploaded to the cloud so it can be viewed from anywhere.
Since this is a newer technological system, the cost for these cameras is greater, and IP camera systems are generally mobile apps that require a subscription with monthly fees. You must choose a plan with enough space for your needs.
3. Alarm systems
Once again, finding the right alarm system for your church will depend on your answers to questions like the size of your church and how many buildings you own. The location of your church, and the number of people that have access to your facility when others are not around, will also determine which alarm system you should purchase.
Your alarm system should be hard-wired, with wires that run through the walls of the building to ensure they cannot be cut. When researching alarm companies, ask the following questions to determine whether you can trust them to stick around and support the system as your church grows.
How long has it been in business?
Does it offer any other security services?
Will the company install and maintain your system?
Is the company in charge of monitoring the alarm systems, or do they subcontract this out?
4. Access control systems
While Alarm systems protect your facility from outside intruders, access control systems provide extra security for church offices, IT, and storage rooms. These digital lockdown systems allow churches to control who enters each room. They also track who has entered the room and when they came and left. This report can be crucial in case of an internal robbery or vandalism.
When setting up these systems, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Make sure admins can trigger and end lockdowns remotely. Sometimes, a staff member locks themselves out of their office or leaves an essential file for someone else to collect. In these cases, it is crucial to have remote access to unlock and relock these rooms.
Easy to manage credentials. To end the ‘I forgot my keys’ issue entirely, you can purchase a system that gives mobile codes to staff members, so they don’t need a key card or fob, just their smartphones.
Adaptable to tech changes. As your church grows, the fewer times you need to update your security, the better. When purchasing an access control system, do your best to find one that easily adapts to change.
5. Public and private WiFi
A less obvious security concern is with your church’s WiFi. Your church leadership may ask why this is even a question, but to give your church a mix of security and benefits, you will want to get both public and private WiFi for your church.
Public WiFi is not secure, so private WiFi is essential for all business-related activities for all front office, security systems, and childcare admissions details.
Private WiFi encrypts all messages that go in and out by email or other messaging systems.
Multiple users can also use a Private WiFi system, so you do not have to be concerned that all members of your church staff and volunteers won’t be able to work simultaneously.
People have come to expect WiFi at more places they attend. Coffee shops and restaurants that do not offer it may even lose customers. Historically, churches have not wanted to encourage online scrolling during sermons, but there are several ways churches can benefit from their parishioners having online access.
Church attendees can share about a sermon or special event through social media
Church attendees can easily access the church website
Ability to take notes and learn more through Bible apps
12 Steps Needed for a Church Security Plan
Building a security plan for your church will take several steps, and many people are dedicated to fulfilling this mission. The following steps will help your church create a detailed plan to use in case of emergencies.
1. Get executive buy-in
Before anything can start, you need to have the support of others in your community. You will, of course, need your Board’s approval before creating a plan, but other groups are equally important. Three groups in your church must be convinced of the need for a security plan and be open to playing a role to make the plan succeed.
Along with the pastor, church staff members are often part-time and will have no security background. While their knowledge is limited, this group may be the easiest to convince since they will be directly affected in the case of emergencies. Once you have convinced this group, you can ask for their help finding potential volunteers and professionals to help get your plan off the ground.
1.2 Police and fire professionals in the church
Most churches will have one or two members with military, police, fire, or other security backgrounds. These professionals are vital when researching and developing your church’s security plan. Do your due diligence to find these members of your church and get them involved as soon as possible.
The final group is those who will be doing the actual work on the ground. Individuals willing to serve on your security team or volunteer for this security ministry should be treated as essential staff members. Each volunteer must receive orientation and training to keep them prepared for every situation.
2. Conduct a risk assessment
If you start building your security plan before determining the threats your church may face, your plan will be close to useless. To create the most effective plan, you must look to your local law enforcement and church history to find your current plan’s potential threats and weaknesses.
Call your local non-emergency police department to request a list of area crimes. Look through your church’s files to see if anyone documented past crimes and issues your church has faced. Once you have a better idea of where threats may come from, you can look for safety measures.
A risk assessment should be done more than once. You cannot get complacent. Each year, you can look through your documents and prepare follow-up assessments to measure where your strengths and weaknesses are and how you should address them.
3. Get professional feedback
Your risk assessment is an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the security professionals in your church and the community. When looking at past threats and emergencies, security professionals in your church can help determine the best courses of action.
You should also meet with local police and fire departments to start a working relationship, make them aware of your security activities, and ask for any training they may be able to offer. When you meet with these departments, the security director, pastor, and other team leaders should attend and document all they can. Do not make this a one-time event. Scheduling regular meetings will help further develop these relationships and strengthen your security plan.
4. Run background checks on team members
One area the local police department can help right away is background checks. Most people who volunteer for your security team are doing it with good intentions. They feel a strong connection to the church and want to keep their family and friends safe.
There may be one or two, though, that have nefarious reasons. This is where a background check can weed out the dangerous and unqualified. Your church must take this seriously and perform background checks on all staff and volunteers who have access to security measures regardless of who they are.
By spending time, money, and effort on the background checks, you will reassure your congregation of their safety.
5. Train team members
Once team members have passed their background checks, you can begin orientation and training. Security team members should be trained on using the access control system, two-way radios, and other security tools. They must also learn how to develop strong observation skills and remain calm when dealing with emergencies.
Most of your team will remain unarmed. If you have security guards, military personnel, police officers, you must ensure they are trained and capable before bringing a firearm into the building. They must also be aware of the chain of command. This is not a job for anyone just because they have a concealed weapons license.
All team members should be trained to help with missing children, handle threats, and be given some medical training. If your church purchases an Automated External Defibrillator, team members should learn how to use it to check the heart’s rhythm and send a shock during a heart attack.
6. Assign roles
Training will help the security director determine who is best for each role on the team. During an emergency, you need people to do their jobs and avoid too many people jumping into the action. If your church needs to be evacuated, the pastor should not be the one to call for the evacuation. You need a team member assigned to this role.
7. Draw attention to exits
Your security plan will detail the importance of having only one door open from the outside, but all other exits must be unlocked from the inside. These will be used to exit the building in a calm manner during a fire so everyone remains safe.
At the beginning of each service, you can have someone point out all emergency exits to make people aware of how to exit in an emergency. Thanks to movie theaters and airplanes, people are used to this type of announcement, so adding it to your service should not cause much of a concern.
8. Prepare emergency scripts
During emergencies, your church should have emergency scripts for the pastor and other staff and security team members.
Develop a script for the pastor to say from the stage in case of emergencies. This script should convey calmness and avoid panic, but it must also make people aware of an emergency. The congregation will look to the pastor during emergencies. Since they do not know what is happening behind the scenes, they need a calm authority to walk them through what is required.
It is best to have different scripts for each potential situation. This gives the pastor a level of comfort in how they should deal with each emergency.
9. Define your emergency action plan
In addition to emergency scripts, your security plan needs a sequence of actions the team must take for each emergency. There are a few crucial details that must be included here:
Define the goals for each emergency
Layout the necessary steps to reach those goals
Situation status reports – create a form for each emergency to keep members aware of what actions are needed
Safety issues for responders – security team members should be prepared to keep themselves safe when responding to an emergency. Ensure your team is given all the tools and steps to take to make this a primary concern.
Communication methods – two-way radios, updated emergency numbers, and contact information for all team members, staff, and volunteers should be given to each security team member.
1o. Create child safety policies
One of the primary reasons for a security protocol is to keep safe those who are most vulnerable. There is no one more vulnerable than a child. Your childcare professionals and Sunday school teachers must be trained and prepared to follow security protocols.
10.1 All childcare volunteers must have background checks
Along with your security team members, all childcare volunteers must pass a background check before working with children. These individuals will be alone with children on various occasions, and parents want to know their children are safe.
10.2 Restrict access to minors
Unfortunately, children may get stuck in the middle of domestic and custody issues between parents. It is necessary to restrict access to children to teachers and the parent who initially dropped them off. The best way to do this is to create a drop-off and check-out process. There are online options for this, but you can also do it with a printed form and stickers to keep it simple.
10.3 Collect vital information
The church can also keep children safe by having parents fill out an information sheet for all children when they drop them off. Ask parents to fill out a form detailing the child’s allergies, medical conditions, medications, and physical limitations. Make sure they include emergency contact information so a parent can be contacted.
11. Maintain incident reports
If the worst happens, the church must collect as much information after the fact to find a way to stop it from happening again. It is essential that the security team documents all major and minor emergencies.
To ensure that nothing is missed and the information remains consistent regardless of who is asked, the team should create a standardized form that includes the following:
Date and time
Witness names, contact information, and comments
Injuries or claims of injuries
Actions taken by staff or bystanders
Police, fire department, or EMT Involvement
Explanation of events
12. Introduce online giving
When people think of a security plan, they focus on emergencies like shootings, fires, or other catastrophes, but most churches will never face these crises. Churches will most often be confronted by vandalism and robberies.
Collection plates with cash and checks are easy targets for theft. Collecting donations online keeps church funds safe. Online processors include features like fraud detection, encryption, and strong customer authentication. Remember to choose a tool that never stores card information, so your church member’s credit card information is completely safe.
Donorbox has helped thousands of churches across the globe with its fundraising solution that makes collecting tithes and offerings convenient and quick. Here’s a quick 1-min video to show you how –
Leaders can no longer rely on reputation and good feelings to protect their church. Church security teams must prepare for external and internal threats of theft, shootings, fire, weather emergencies, and more. Your church can remain safe and secure by developing a thorough plan and investing in security tools and programs.
Donorbox keeps your church members’ offering safe with affordable online donation processing. To learn more about our features and how they can encourage parishioners to give online, visit our website. Check out our blog for more tips and resources on subjects like website building, virtual church services, and fundraising ideas.
Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.