By Terry Berringer
I visit one church when making calls that sits atop a beautifully manicured hilltop. The winding drive that ascends the hill is spectacularly well kept. The parking lot is clean and well marked. The lot is completely empty except for one lone vehicle.
When I park near the sole vehicle, I walk up a well-kept sidewalk to the unlocked door and enter the lobby of this church. I walk past the sanctuary and several offices.
I then approach the door marked “Church Office” and enter to find the receptionist siting at her desk. I startle her as I open the door, since she had no notification that I was even coming down the hall.
I have spoken with this particular receptionist several times now with the purpose of trying to advise her that the church needs to improve their security awareness. I have even suggested that they can simply lock the door and install a “Ring” type doorbell. But it is always met with the utmost resistance.
Because of the remoteness of the church, if there was any type of incident, the receptionist could very well scream for hours before anyone would happen to hear her.
This is an example of the worst of the worst of “The Mayberry Syndrome.” It is also an unfortunate view of many of the churches I visit. Even if they do have a security team established for the times they are meeting on the weekend, the office is left completely to their own device Monday through Friday.
Is your church office staff sitting ducks? Are they left swinging in the wind?
It is noteworthy that the Texas shooting on December 29, 2019, at the West Freeway Church of Christ was precipitated by the shooter visiting the office asking for money days prior. He was allegedly offered gift cards for food but left after causing a scene due to being told he would not be receiving cash.
The problem is rarely addressed by church leadership.
Sometimes they will put a buzzer on the door to get into the office, but most of the time after ringing the buzzer, the door is simply opened by the staff member without any type of vetting as to the purpose of the call.
The ideal setup would be to have a double set of doors that has the intercom at the second set of doors in order to be able to visually inspect the visitor to allow or deny access. At the very least, it would give the receptionist the available time to contact another person (or security) to be present in any uncomfortable situation.
Cameras are great, if they are constantly monitored; otherwise, they are just there to be submitted as evidence at the trial.
Office personnel need to be trained on distinguishing between the Odd, Suspicious and Dangerous. They must be trained to recognize PAINs, which is short for Pre-Attack Indicators (the body language of a person preparing for an attack).
The office staff can not recognize a threat without training on threat assessment. And how is the staff to be expected to deal with a problem developing without any type of de-escalation training?
And, if it does get ugly, is there a way to have the receptionist contact the rest of the staff? Have they been trained in evasive maneuvers? Do they know the difference between concealment and cover? These are all questions that need to be asked.
Does your Emergency Action Plan that sits on the shelf collecting dust even have anything in there related to the receptionist and office staff?
Considering that the church’s security team is normally only employed on the weekends, how does the office staff, that is open to the public five days a week, work within the overall church security plan?
I realize this article has asked many more questions than answers. And that was intentional. This article was intended to get you thinking about the environments in which many churches leave the office staff.
Terry Berringer is the owner operator of Church Emergency Consulting in Pittsburgh, www.churchemergency.com.