By Eric Spacek, JD, ARM
It’s no secret the world we live in today is much different than it was just a few years ago.
In today’s society, it has become clear that churches are no longer the safe haven they once were thought to be. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of church violence or allegations of abuse on the nightly news. Unfortunately, churches have become more vulnerable to these types of incidents that threaten the strength and reputation of the organization.
To help protect your religious organization from these threats, the leaders of your church are encouraged to set aside time each year to ensure the safety and security of the facility. During this time, it’s important to analyze, review and modify current church policies and procedures to ensure adequate plans are in place to help prevent potential risks.
If your church is like many others, it probably has a limited budget, and it’s difficult for staff to take on additional responsibilities. However — with little to no extra money — your religious organization can make dramatic improvements in the way it protects people and the property.
Create a team
Creating a Safety and Security Team within your church is a great way to get other members involved, and it allows church leaders to focus on other aspects of the ministry. This team should be comprised of three to eight members, each with different backgrounds, skills and experience. They also should feel strongly about implementing a proactive risk management program. The goal of this team is to begin identifying risks at your church and formulating a safety and security program. Your team should meet at least once per quarter and should give activity reports to church staff and the administrative body regularly.
Determine areas of risk
After the Safety and Security Team has been created, it’s important they look at all areas of the organization that could pose a risk. With the goal of making churches a safer place, GuideOne Insurance suggests using the EFFECT framework to determine risk areas:
Emergency preparedness — to prepare for emergencies and crises, such as natural disasters, medical emergencies, terrorism, and moral or criminal failures of key leaders.
Facility safety — to keep the church buildings and grounds safe, including heating and air-conditioning systems, electrical hazards, preventing water damage, kitchen safety, reducing the risk of slips and falls, and property crime prevention.
Financial safeguards — to prevent theft, mishandling and embezzlement of church funds.
Employee and volunteer safety — to keep workers and volunteers safe, including physical safety, workers’ compensation issues, employment practices safeguards, adult sexual misconduct prevention and board member liability.
Children and youth safety — to keep children safe from risks, such as sexual abuse and injuries in the nursery, on playgrounds and during recreational activities.
Transportation safeguards — to address safety in church transportation, including selection and maintenance of vehicles owned by the church, rented or borrowed vehicles, selection of drivers and occupant safety.
Use risk management resources
Insurance companies typically have various risk management tips, tricks and resources available for churches to use as a reference. These can include fact sheets, risk management articles, training videos and assessments, and more. Some companies even provide a discount on your insurance policy for following certain proactive measures and guidelines.
Educate the congregation
The Safety and Security Team should obtain resources and seek training to become informed on key elements and responses of church risk management. The team should then educate the church board, staff members and congregation. Speak to small groups, key committees and other members to keep them informed and receive their input on safety issues and implementation. If your church members become more knowledgeable about the steps being taken to protect the facility, they might begin to be more proactive, further limiting the risk of loss.
Determine when your organization can dedicate time to church safety and security, and try to make it an annual process. Once the Safety and Security Team is appointed, develop a strategy for slowly phasing in a prevention program. The goal is to integrate safety and security measures into the daily life of the congregation without compromising the church’s ministry.
Although the culture of the church is a busy one, adequate safety and security precautions are necessary to limit loss and disruption of your organization’s services and activities.
Eric Spacek, JD, ARM is the Director of Risk Management and Loss Control at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, IA. Before joining GuideOne, he served as Minister of Operations for a large Methodist church in Raleigh, N.C., and was a liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.