Physical safety is paramount in Children’s Ministry. Nothing else is more important. If you thought that solid teaching, or great kids worship, or charismatic teachers was most important, you’re wrong. If parents don’t trust you to keep their kids safe, none of those things matter because their kids will never find out since the parents won’t ever drop them off.
I can’t begin to tell you how many churches my wife and I decided not to attend because of their Children’s Ministry. It’s our one deciding factor. If the Children’s Ministry is great, we’ll go. If it’s not, we won’t. And a large part of that has to do with safety for our daughter. We won’t compromise on that.
The good news is, you don’t have to be a security expert to keep your ministry safe but you do have to think through some situations. It’s likely that you have room to grow in this, all ministries do.
Here are 10 simple things you can do to increase safety……
1. Maintain a good relationship with local law enforcement
Police Officers are taking a lot of heat nowadays but the fact is, if you have an emergency at your church, you’re still dialing 911. So show you’re local Police Officers some love. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll treat you better if you do, but it does mean that they can enter your building for an emergency situation and be familiar with their surroundings and people. Contact them and ask to be notified of any potential threats or security alerts. Invite them over for coffee and donuts (lol) and provide them with a layout of your building as well so they are familiar with it in case of an emergency. Also, see number 8.
2. Train your staff and volunteers
Make sure your teams know procedures for crisis situations. Situations like fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and active shooters. Have an emergency plan that includes lock down and evacuation procedures.
3. Have a heightened sense of awareness
Be aware of suspicious people, vehicles and containers. Approach and assist people approaching the children’s ministry area that look out of place and be aware of people taking pictures.
4. Control access to Children’s Ministry areas
If anyone can just stroll into your Children’s Ministry area, you have a serious problem. You need to keep the area secure. That means restricting the flow of traffic into the area. In some places this is easy, in others, it’s really difficult, but not impossible.
5. Don’t forget First Aid
When we think of an emergency situation, we often think of an active shooter coming into our church to hurt people. Most likely, you won’t ever encounter that. What you’ll likely encounter is a child experiencing an allergy, a child bumping their head, someone fainting, or someone choking. Be ready for these! We had all of our Children’s Ministry volunteer be CPR certified. Work with Paramedics/EMTs to make sure you and your volunteers know what to do in case of an emergency.
6. Background check all your volunteers
Applications and reference checks are not screening! Those are just regular volunteer selection processes that everyone should go through. Your Children’s Ministry volunteers are a step above that. You need to run background checks on every single one of them. Start with yourself and work with your leadership team to determine what should happen when something comes up, and trust me, it will.
7. Build a Security Team
You don’t have to call them a security team, you can call them shepherds, ushers, security, whatever. The point is that you’ll recruit responsible adults who feel a calling to protect others and assign them to monitor hallways and access points to your Children’s Ministry. This is not the place for an over zealous deacon with a concealed carry permit. This is for someone who can keep cool under pressure, who can get yelled at without taking it personally, and for someone who can subdue an individual if necessary.
8. Hire an off duty Police Officer
Believe it or not, an off duty Police Officer is not out of the budget reach of your church. You’d be surprised at how affordable it is for a few hours. They’ll come armed in uniform, with their squad car. Have them park their car right out front and show them around. They’re used to doing jobs like this but will likely need a little direction in what exactly you need. Make sure they know everyone on your security team. If someone starts getting belligerent or physical, don’t bother dealing with it, get your Police Officer!
9. Keep a detailed list of children under your care
You need to keep an accounting of every child under your care along with a way to contact the adult who brought them. If you don’t already do this, you need to start this weekend. It doesn’t matter if it’s rudimentary, you just need to do it. We used a simple sign in sheet and wrist bands with matching numbers. You know what, it’s simple but it works.
10. Have a clear chain of command
What if one of your teachers needs help, what should he or she do? What if there’s an emergency and you’re not there, what happens? Make sure you plan for these situations.