A distraught intruder walks into the church office, making demands. Do you still think it can't happen to your church?
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(Photo: REUTERS)A law enforcement officer enters the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.

A marital disagreement turns violent prior to a pastoral counseling session. A distraught intruder walks into the church office, making demands. A man carrying a semi-automatic weapon enters the sanctuary during a Sunday morning service.

Do you still think it can't happen to your church?

What if it does? Are you ready?

What's stopping your church from developing a safety and security mindset? Matt Parmerlee, risk strategy specialist for Brotherhood Mutual, says that denial or fear often prevents churches from creating a safety and security program. "I hear, 'we know everyone in the community' or 'our church is in a good part of town.' I tell churches, to consider the possibility of not if, but when."

Starting a safety and security program at your church doesn't have to be complicated or costly—it's important to do what you can. "Many churches don't know where to start, or think that a huge budget is necessary to develop a team," Parmelee says. "There are many things churches can do right now that are low cost or no cost."

Is your leadership motived to make changes today? It's possible to make quick, meaningful changes. Jump-start your plan with these 10, do-it-today action steps:

1. Assign roles.

In an emergency, determine who will call 911, who will talk to authorities, and who will talk to the media. Assign backups for each role.

2. Identify trained professionals within the membership.

Look for trained medical professionals, current or former law enforcement officers, and members with military or security backgrounds.

3. Invest in two-way radios.

Two-way radios eliminate spotty cell service and scrambling to locate a list of internal phone numbers. Ushers, day care workers, and office staff equipped with two-way radios can relay information quickly throughout your building or campus.

4. Create a single entrance into the church.

Assign an usher or team member to lock doors once your service starts. Any unlocked doors should be actively monitored. All other entrances should be inaccessible from the outside of your church. Ensure that the exit doors remain unlocked from the inside.

5. Monitor doors and lots.

During services, assign a volunteer to monitor an unlocked door or two volunteers for the parking lot. Equip your volunteers with two-way radios.

6. Move your pulpit.

If your pulpit is in the middle of the stage or platform, consider relocating it to the side. By doing this, pastors and other groups facing the congregation can be closer to an exit or side room. Position people at the front of the congregation who can observe comings and goings during the service.

7. Draw attention to the exits.

This may seem obvious, but in an emergency, it's easy to forget about side or back exits. Start your message this weekend by pointing out all exits to your congregants.

8. Ask, "what if it happened here?"

Schedule a leadership or staff meeting to spur discussion. Brotherhood Mutual offers several free resources to help guide you through difficult topics.

9. Obtain a list of area crimes.

Your local police department can provide a list of crimes that have happened near your address.

10. Knowing is half the battle.

Invite local law enforcement, a fire marshal, ambulance service, or your insurance agent to your campus to identify trouble spots. They'll help you better understand potential risks and offer solutions to help you create a safer church environment.

You've come this far...are you willing to do more?

Capitalize on your momentum. By working these additional five steps, your church can be ready to respond to just about any emergency:

  • Overcome objections and fear. Engage leadership in deeper discussions.
  • Take a closer look at the unique aspects of your ministry and buildings.
  • Ask, "what does success look like?" Map a strategy to bring your vision to life.
  • Recruit, screen, and train a safety and security team that's ministry-minded and calm; formalize the role of each team member.
  • Create a plan that addresses all relevant emergencies.

If that sounds daunting, know that help is available. Brotherhood Mutual offers free resources that approach safety and security from a ministry point-of-view. You can access free articles, checklists, publications, webinars, and videos here.

Your staff and church members can develop a safety and security mindset. The first steps are always the hardest. By overcoming objections and making small changes, you can help your congregation rise above their denial and fear, and create a safer place to worship for them and others.

Excerpted from the Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company's Church Safety & Security Guidebook.
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