Church Safety Trends for 2021

What the future may hold for your ministry

By Craig Cable

If you’re anything like me (and maybe the rest of the world for that matter), you’re grateful to put the craziness of the past year behind us. While we would love to start 2021 filled with all of the renewed optimism and energy that comes with a fresh start, we understand that remnants of 2020 may likely be hanging around.

So, in this season of continued uncertainty, I would like to offer five safety and security related trends that I think ministries will want to prepare for over the next twelve months.

 

1. Focus on gathering scattered volunteers

As if attracting and retaining volunteers weren’t already hard enough, many ministries were forced to unplug much of their volunteer base due to the canceling or limiting of in-person services. If you lead a volunteer church safety team as I do, you’re probably wondering if you have any team left. Rather than focus entirely on getting the old team back, put a concerted effort towards identifying new volunteer candidates. But what should you be looking for in these volunteers? Most ministries that I work with tend to focus on finding people based on the individual’s work or training experience. While that’s not a bad process, I have found that it’s better to find an individual who is more weighted heavily in the qualities category and highly teachable in the qualifications category. It’s hard to train someone to be a good communicator, or calm under pressure, or discerning and wise, which I feel are essential qualities for a church safety team member. I have also found that being more discerning in the interview and on-boarding process attracts better quality candidates who want to serve on your team for all the right reasons. Let this year be focused on building a team filled with committed volunteers who are sold out for the mission of your ministry. I would love to show you methods to build a team worth retaining.
 

2. Kick your training into high gear

I predict that people are going to be increasingly ready to get back into social groups and spend meaningful time together. When it comes to gathering for training opportunities in the new year, focus less on training presentations and more on training experiences. People have spent the last year watching friends and colleagues talk in small video boxes on their computers. The last thing they want to do is sit passively and watch someone drone on for a couple of hours on a topic that they could have watched on YouTube®. 2021 may need to be a year focused more on quality hands-on, scenario-based training that requires problem-solving under stressful circumstances and invites trial and error. I also recommend focusing on implementing a well-rounded training program. From de-escalation training to medical training, it’s important to equip and empower your volunteers with the skills and attitude to help them be successful. I would love to help you and your team develop a training plan that keeps everyone coming back for more!

 

3. Recognize the emotional impact of isolation

COVID-19 robbed us of so many things this past year. While individual experiences varied, many of us lost the opportunity to gather as a community and a body of believers. If the effects of isolation from our friends and support systems weren’t enough, you can also add the stress of uncertainty, job loss, financial strain, medical concerns, or even loss of loved ones. According to a July 14, 2020 webinar interview with Dr. Robert Redfield from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said, “We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We’re seeing far greater deaths from a drug overdose that is above excess than we are seeing the deaths from COVID.” If what Dr. Redfield said is happening on a large scale around the country, our ministries will want to be prepared to address these mental health and substance abuse issues. From someone threatening self-harm in your lobby to an individual potentially overdosing in your bathroom, does your staff know what to do in a crisis like that? It is equally as important knowing what not to say as it is knowing what to say. I would welcome the opportunity to share my safety and security training and experience on ways to intervene with someone who may be in crisis.

 

4. Prepare for increases in domestic violence
Another troubling byproduct of the isolation was the unfortunate reality that stay-at-home orders would likely trap victims of domestic violence with their abusers. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, one in four women and one in ten men experience intimate partner violence. This can take the form of physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological abuse and it crosses all races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic classes, and religious beliefs. In several major cities across the country, domestic violence homicides in 2020 significantly surpassed last year’s numbers. Unfortunately, I think this trend will continue into 2021. In response to this pandemic within a pandemic, ministries may want to be more intentional about creating safe channels of communication for victims to be able to seek ministerial help. It is also important to have an open dialogue regarding the monitoring and enforcement of protection orders that may be in place to help protect members of our congregations. I want to help you work through the process of trying to create a safe place for victims of abuse.

 

5. Rethink terrorism
When most people think of terrorism, they immediately think of the World Trade Center attacks and international terrorist organizations. However, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the greatest threat we face here in the U.S. is that posed by lone actors attacking soft targets with easily accessible weapons. The FBI reports that these groups are motivated by a mix of ideological, sociopolitical, and personal grievances against their targets, which have included houses of worship. It may surprise you, but more deaths were caused by Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs) than international terrorism groups. In fact, 2019 was the deadliest year for domestic extremist violence since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. [Click here to see the full November 19, 2019 FBI report] Unfortunately, I see this trend continuing for the near future. Ministry security teams may wish to pursue being educated in the rhetoric, symbolism, or radicalization methods for which these DVE groups are known. As the Threat Liaison Officer for Houses of Worship and Faith-based Schools at the sheriff’s office, I have the privilege of working closely with our local FBI and Department of Homeland Security agents. Both of those federal entities are very interested in working with our houses of worship and faith-based schools to identify potential threats. They are also very open to sharing threat information with ministries. They feel that such cooperative efforts can shed light on violent extremist groups that may be operating in our communities. I would like to try to help you identify potential threats to your ministry.

 

After the year we just had, I know we are all ready for some good news. While there will be significant challenges to overcome in 2021, there is one clear certainty—you don’t have to navigate these struggles alone. Deuteronomy 31:6 reminds us “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord, your God, who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” This gives me great hope as I look forward to the new year with divine anticipation to see what God has in store for His children and His church.

I also want to reassure you that we are here to help every step of the way. I, and the team at the American Church Group of Colorado, want to come alongside you to provide training, resources, and risk management solutions that will help ensure the health, vitality, and longevity of your ministry for many years to come.

Please don’t hesitate to call me at 303-590-9657 or you can email me at CCable@americanchurchgroup.com.

 

Craig is a sworn peace officer and serves as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff for the patrol division at the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office. In addition to protecting our streets, Craig also helps protect county schools as a school marshal. Craig has trained hundreds of security team leaders and volunteers and was the lead developer of the Safe and Secure Church: The Ministry Approach training kit produced in partnership with Group Publishing and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. 
Copyright. © 2020 American Church Group of Colorado, LLC. All rights reserved. The information is this article is intended to help your ministry better understand issues of vulnerability and mitigate risks. It does not constitute legal advice between an attorney and a client. If specific legal advice is required, your ministry is encouraged to consult with a local attorney. Neither Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, American Church of Colorado, LLC, nor Craig Cable assume liability for reliance upon the information provided in this article. 
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