Recently I was asked the question, “What could we do to create a safer environment for our children while they are at church?” This is an area of ministry 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. As a Sunday School teacher, this last Sunday marked the day that I got to see six of my fifth and sixth graders invite Christ in their heart. 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.
However, there is another area that we need to make priority and that is the safety of our children. Trained observer is an expression that is often used within the law-enforcement community. 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 that are under your care. 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, though, that being a trained observer isn’t the extent of your responsibility. You should know 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 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 by contacting authorities and getting others involved to help. If we do not think through these things ahead of time, we will not be prepared and we will 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.” We should listen to the wisdom of Proverbs 22:3, The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.
There are specific steps the church can take to increase the safety of our congregation and our children. Men volunteering to walk the church campus or ride in carts around the parking lot can deter incidences before they even happen. When effectively placed, cameras can be a very potent tool. Combining these by having someone that is viewing the cameras and able to communicate to those that are walking the church grounds can be a powerful setup. For those of you that are attending smaller churches, it might simply be having someone keeping an eye on the parking lot and watching the areas where people can walk onto your campus.
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 much more prepared 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 actions you should be prepared to take if this form of incident takes place on your campus.
(This also leads to another area that should be drilled regularly on our church campuses—lockdown drills.) When there is an armed subject in the neighborhood of your church you need to be able to go into lockdown mode as quickly as possible. Whether that is developing a horn, PA system, alarm, or whatever works to notify everybody, this is imperative. 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 something that will never happen to them. It’s extremely important to ask the questions “what if” during your training. Getting answers from the people that know is what matters.
Lastly, I cannot overstress the importance of having a 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. Listed above are a few things that you should start with immediately. Then fine-tune the small stuff.
If you have questions feel free to leave a comment below. If I don’t know the answer I will work on finding the answer for you. God bless, be safe, and always be sure to create a safe environment where you can further fulfill our primary task.