Open Doors vs. Secured Facility – A Tough Balance

One of the most difficult “industries” that we serve as security consultants is that of faith based institutions.  All organizations have some level of resistance to the recommended strategies of a security program.  However, churches must incorporate a philosophy and environment that encourage visitors to feel welcome to walk in when they seek God’s direction and love.  This atmosphere, while effective for the operations of the church, can create huge challenges for any security planning.

Following are a few of the major obstacles that churches must overcome to better protect its facility, staff and members/congregation:

  1. Doors – Often left unlocked to allow easy entry/egress by those visiting the church, they also allow criminals to walk right in the door, steal a flat screen TV off the wall.  Depending on the location of facility, this can often happen without anyone’s knowledge until the thief is long gone.
  2. Hours of Operation – Most churches have a myriad of events occurring day and night, all days of the week.  Bible study, worship, prayer groups, meetings, children’s functions, day care and other functions turn the church into a revolving door of occupants.
  3. Culture – One of the greatest attributes of a church is the kind and welcoming treatment that a person gets from the staff, pastor and others within the clergy.  However,  that same trusting mindset can be detrimental if there is any hint of naiveness or a denial that a subject is there to commit an illegal act.
  4. Money – Large amounts of money is collected at every worship service, often multiple on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  Criminals are smart enough to realize this and that the money is often kept overnight for a next day deposit.

Based on the challenges and obstacles, SCG recommends that a comprehensive (and holistic) security audit should be conducted on the facility every 2-3 years.  Beyond the standard assessment guidelines that we follow, we also consider the schedule of our client’s facility, movement of people through the facility and the overall cultural difference which may impact the implementation of the security program.  Churches should also consider creating a security/safety team which can respond to incidents which occur at the church on Sundays when large numbers of people are in the buildings.  A separate article will cover this concept, or call our staff to learn more about our services in this area.

In summary, a faith based institution is not a facility which can be locked down like Fort Knox, but there is a balance between protecting its assets and occupants and still maintaining the environment which is paramount to their success and their goals as a church.