By Craig Cable
I travel all around the country leading church safety trainings for churches of all sizes and can testify that most churches are safety conscious. They perform background checks, have evacuation plans, and worry about active shooters. These are all good things.
The problem is when churches hyper-focus on one threat exclusively. The active shooter threat is a great example of this.
Though rare, active shooter events are highly sensational, drawing attention and stirring up anxiety. In response, church safety teams often disproportionately channel their time and resources into preparing for shooters. While this preparation is admirable, the problem is that they’re turning a blind eye to other threats that their church may be vulnerable to as well.
So, how can churches avoid turning a blind eye?
Churches Open Both Eyes Through A Comprehensive Risk Assessment
One of the most effective ways for churches to keep both eyes open is to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of risks and train accordingly. This begins with a formal risk assessment, and, sadly, it’s a grievously overlooked ministry tool.
The goal of a risk assessment is to understand the past, evaluate the present, and use that information to prepare for the future. A good way to begin the assessment is to take a tour of your church facility. As you walk around the different areas of your church, you should be asking questions such as:
- What incidents have occurred here?
- How did we handle those incidents?
- What incidents have occurred at other churches?
- How prepared would we be if those other incidents occurred at our church?
Once you’ve gone through the process of documenting potential threats and identifying areas of vulnerability, you enter the most challenging part of a risk assessment: deciding how to respond.
You must choose between these three options:
- Mitigate the risk: taking intentional and demonstratable steps toward reducing the risk
- Accept the risk: making the determination that mitigating the risk isn’t feasible or necessary
- Ignore the risk: intentionally disregarding the risk and hoping that nothing bad happens
I think we can all agree that the third option isn’t really an option at all. That said, you’d be surprised by how many churches are doing just that. In spite of the warning signs, past incidents, and close calls, they choose to turn a blind eye and hope for the best.
For example, a church that has identified the risk of sexual abuse decides to conduct background checks with prospective volunteers. Unfortunately, they hyper-focus on this one solution and fail to comprehensively assess the risk. As a result, they ignore other basic best practices for background checks, like rescreening volunteers on a regular basis and requiring references from prospective volunteers. They overlook the connection between check-in and checkout procedures and safety, and thus miss key opportunities to shore up vulnerabilities through improvements in their process. They fail to see the value of security cameras and radio communications to monitor at-risk areas. And they fail to train their staff and volunteers to recognize signs of abuse or how to identify children that may be at risk of sexual abuse.
A comprehensive risk assessment can shine light onto these overlooked areas. Assessments help ministries adopt safety as an integral part of their procedures and their mission.
No matter where your church is in the spectrum of preparedness, there’s always incremental improvements to be made. Safety and security processes and procedures are not static, but rather they need to evolve as your church evolves. And whenever you take a proactive step to mitigating a risk (big or small), it’s a step in the right direction.
Craig Cable is director of church safety at Group Publishing, www.group.com.