Recently my friends at KidCheck asked the question, “What could we do to create a safer environment for our children while they are at church?” As most of you know this is an area that I’m very passionate about for a few reasons; first, I have my own family (wife and both boys) involved in Kid’s Ministry. Secondly, a large part of what I do for a living involves the safety of children.
First off, we need to lay the foundation. Our most important priority as Kid’s Ministry workers is sharing the love of Christ and showing them how they can have a personal relationship with Him. I served as a Sunday School teacher, there was no greater joy then when a young person invites Jesus Christ into their heart as Lord and Savior. Teaching them biblical principles and how they can apply it to their life today should be above all else in our objectives as KidMin workers.
"Teaching children biblical principles and how they can apply it to their life today should be above all else in our objectives as KidMin workers."
However, there is another area that we need to make a priority and that is the safety of our children. There is a term that we often use within the law-enforcement community, and that is ‘trained observer’. Being a trained observer is a skill that needs to be developed and honed for those of us involved in children’s ministry. What I mean by being a trained observer is simply that: Training yourself to observe the things that are happening around you and the children you are ministering to. That’s why it is so important to begin to know the parents of the children that you minister to and watch the behavior of the children.
Keep in mind, that being a trained observer shouldn’t stop you from knowing what you’re going to do ahead of time if you do observe something that is out of place or criminal. Depending on the circumstances, it might be a matter of simply informing others to keep an eye on the situation, but it could also elevate itself to the point that you need to contact your church safety team or law enforcement if it’s an individual that has walked into a classroom and is acting erratic or non-responsive to your demands or requests.
In this circumstance or situation, you need to be prepared to react immediately to contacting authorities and getting others involved to help. If we do not think these sorts of things through ahead of time, we will not be prepared and fail our children that we’re ministering to.
I’ve heard it said many times by people within the church, “This will never happen to us” or “I pray that it never happens to us”. Proverbs 22:3 – The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.
Doing nothing is not a solution. There are certain things that the church can do to increase the safety of our congregation and our children. Smaller churches or churches without a Church Protector Team can start small with three simple things:
Have men volunteer to walk the children's ministry areas and be present during drop off and pick up.
When effectively placed, cameras can be a very powerful tool. Combining these with someone that is responsible for viewing the cameras and is in communication with those that are walking the church grounds can be a powerful setup.
Having someone responsible and vigilant in the common areas can be a great first step in your filtration system. Discerning the people arriving and walking around your church can often prevent issues early on.
Another area that churches don’t typically like to talk about is the preparation for an active shooter scenario. Over the last 5 to 10 years, our schools have become a whole lot more proficient at preparation for this form of attack. But for the most part, the church, in general, has not kept up. This is truly an area that we need to spend more time in preparing the steps we take when confronting an active shooter(s). I strongly encourage you to contact your local law enforcement agency to see what their protocol is when responding to this form of assault on your church campus. Moving on, there are certain things that you should be prepared to do if this form of incident takes place on your campus.
This also leads into another area that should be drilled regularly on our church campuses and that is lock down drills. Simply, when there is an armed subject in the neighborhood of your church, you need to be able to go into lock down mode as quick as possible. Whether that is developing a horn/ PA system or whatever works to notify everybody, this is imperative.
Taking it a step further, when you do have an active shooter situation being able to lock your campus down as quick as possible is something that should be regularly practiced. Your teachers and staff should consistently be reminded of the steps to take if this kind of incident takes place. Simply stated: the room needs to be locked and appear to be empty.
I have served as an active shooter instructor for our local law enforcement agency, I’ve seen the training done very well, but I’ve also seen some organizations dismiss it as though it will never happen to them. It’s extremely important to ask the questions “what if” during your training. Spend time getting answers from the experts who know how to respond strategically, tactically, and biblically.
Lastly, I cannot stress the importance enough of having a child check-in checkout program within your church. Having the ability for parents to have contact with your children’s ministry while they’re in service is very important. There is no price tag we can put on the safety of our children. A program like KidCheck is a very important part of the safety of your church.
If you haven’t started to develop a comprehensive safety plan for your church or children’s ministry, start now. We understand that well over 90% of church’s today are under one hundred attendees and have a limited budget. We want to support you and be a service that will help you protect your flock. Listed above are a few things that you should start with immediately but it is imperative it doesn't' stop there.
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Jason Hensley serves as Director of Safety/Pastoral Protection at Shadow Mountain Community Church. His wife Heidi is the Director of Children’s Ministry at SMCC as well. Prior to SMCC, Jason was a police officer in California for close to 15 years. Some of his assignments were Gang School Resource Officer, Public Information Officer, SWAT, and Active Shooter Instructor.
Prior to law enforcement, he pastored two churches in the Central Valley of California. Throughout his adult ministry he has always had a passion for men’s ministry, knowing that the spiritual health of the husband will provide a spiritually health home. Jason and Heidi have two sons, LJ and Jonah. LJ is a recent graduate San Diego Christian College and Jonah is a high school senior and is looking forward to a career as a fireman.