Church Safety vs Church Security: Does the Name Matter
Back in 2013, I published my first blog about church safety called “Safety or Security? What’s in a name?” It is, to the day, still one of the most frequently read pieces on site. I’m on a journey. I don’t always agree with everything I said or thought 10 years ago, so I decided to revisit this topic and see how my thoughts have changed and what has stayed the same. So does it matter if you call it church safety or church security? I still say it does…usually.
The Legal Stuff of Church Safety
If you visit church safety Facebook groups, you’ll see this scene on a regular basis: A person comes into the group and asks about something for their “security team”. 25 members will then all either “contribute” how the laws in their state don’t allow them to be called security or they will admonish the poster and tell them it’s illegal, even without knowing the laws of that person’s state.
Rather than consulting random “experts” on the internet about the legality, check with your church’s attorney. If that’s not an option, check with the state agency that licenses security guards in your state.
Team Mindset Matters
The last church I was the safety director for had a security team when I came on board. One of my first changes was to move to “church safety”. Yes, there were some legal concerns involved, but the bigger motive was about mindset.
My goal was to have an environment that felt safe. Safety and security can work together, but they’re not interchangeable terms. In my physical security classes, I use the illustration of a maximum security prison. It’s a very secure building, but would you feel safe having your family spend the night there?
By changing the wording from security to safety, we encouraged a broader view of what the team should be doing. Security is part of a safe environment, but there’s more to it. Safety is also ensuring fire exits are kept clear, that trip hazards get taken care of, and that medical equipment is stocked and ready. We needed to encourage a more holistic view of what makes a safe environment.
Another mindset concern was more of an individual one. Sometimes the word “security” starts to put people into a ‘rule enforcer’ mindset and we wanted to avoid this. While this was infrequent with us, it can happen. Although this is best addressed in recruiting and early training, we decided that the name change could help prevent having that mindset creep in.
A related thing I’ve seen is a drift toward becoming the “behavior police”. I think this is something that safety should avoid unless it’s needed. For example, I listened to some team members discussing how to deal with a couple of teen boys that they felt were looking at girls the wrong way. As they talked to each other, I listened to the plans get formulated on how they would remove the boys from service and so on. That’s when I decided to speak into the issue and get it back on track. Boys looking at girls isn’t a safety issue. It doesn’t make the church less secure. Creating a disruption to remove them, creating embarrassment (and the opposition that comes with it), and then playing the heavy doesn’t seem like the best first move to me. What if we quietly had a word with the boys afterward in a way that guided them as young men? Or had the youth pastor that already has a relationship with them do it?
My preference is always to try to minister to them first. Even with people who are low-key disruptive. (Obviously, we’re not talking about a protestor that tries to take the stage) Let your church staff minister to them first and be there to support their resolution, whether that means letting them stay or asking them to leave. Better Protectors always takes a ministry-first approach to church safety training and constructing church safety procedures and guidelines.
Even though the idea of a safety or security team in a church is no longer uncommon, there are still people who question its need. I’ve noticed those questions become fewer when the teams are operating with the goal of a safe environment instead of just worrying about the security of the building.
10 years ago, I ended with the questions “So does it matter whether you call it safety or security? Is it a matter of mindset or truly just semantics?”. I think those questions are valid today. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.