Keeping people safe at church is a responsibility a Fort Worth, Tex. company that produces church management software wants churches to understand.
A report issued by Fellowship Technologies outlines seven tips that it calls “critical” for church security. They include:
- Background checks of all volunteers and staff members.
- Secure check-in systems.
- “Aggressive” friendliness, meaning training members how to intervene with difficult people.
- An action plan for such emergencies as power outages, bomb threats, fire drills and medical situations.
- Triage teams of paramedics, doctors and nurses.
- Emergency response team kits to be used in case of emergencies.
- A communications command center.
A key statistic illustrates why security is so important: the number of registered sexual predators has increased by 56 percent over the past nine years.
“Churches are prime targets for criminals due to the open nature, easy access and limited security measures at most churches,” says the report, which was written by the company’s communications director, Anthony Coppedge.
Background checks are particularly important. The report says many churches believe they are safe because they have done simple, low-level background checks of volunteers in their children’s ministry.
However, Chris Wilson — president of Clear Investigative Advantage — said that most churches limit searches to specific departments. Many also use free, online searches, which he said are not thorough enough.
Steve Durie, CEO of SecureSearch, told Coppedge that over seven years, his firm discovered nine percent of church volunteers and staff have a flagged profile. Four percent possess criminal histories that should prevent them from interacting with children or youth.
“Child abuse in churches is a huge problem, but getting church leaders to believe that fact is surprisingly hard to do,” added Kim Norris, an attorney with a Fort Worth firm.
Norris recommends five basic steps for every children’s program, including background checks and sexual abuse awareness training.
Others include screening training for early identification, tailored policies for each ministry of the church, and effective oversight of all ministry programs. The cost of security also revolves around how a church operates and includes its architecture and whether there are ways to minimize access.
A lot of trust clearly is given in churches to other people who members think they know, but in reality haven’t thoroughly investigated their background, he said.
“You have to go the extra mile to make sure,” Coppedge said. “The question is: are you doing what’s necessary to protect your members — especially children — in the best possible way?”