How to Design Your Church with Safety in Mind
In this heightened era of anxiety about active shooters and other safety concerns, churches are increasingly asking how to design ministry space with security in mind.
“You want to design churches that are inviting, hospitable, and safe,” says Tim Miller, president of LionHeart International Services Group and director of security at Christ Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach, Florida. “This can be a challenge. Pastors aren’t thrilled about having to enact security measures; they’re hoping the church doesn’t turn into an armed camp.”
Discover doable ways to deter the most common—and the most feared—security threats at churches.
Keeping Kids Safe
“Security is the number one conversation churches want to have with us when we’re discussing a remodel or building project where kids’ space is addressed,” says Greg Snider, Ministry Space Strategist for Aspen Group. “If first-time attendees bring their kids to church and they don’t feel assured that the nursery and kids’ ministry area are built with safety and security in mind, they are not likely to return.”
Jessica Bealer, a 20-year veteran of children’s ministry, who has spent the last five years overseeing standards, systems, staffing, and atmosphere for the children’s ministry of Elevation Church in North Carolina, describes how the design of their churches helped create a secure environment: “Elevation built all of their buildings so that the children’s wing is a horseshoe,” says Bealer. “The only way to get in is through two doors. The same volunteers that secure the lobby could also secure the children’s wing doors.” That’s good news for parents and for ministry directors who struggle to recruit enough volunteers.
Restrooms are another potential danger zone for churches. “For toddlers through school-age kids, we try to design children’s ministry space with restrooms that are within this secured area,” says Aspen Project Designer, Rosie Mitchell. “Churches can’t always afford bathrooms in every classroom, but at the very least, we try to include restrooms inside the large room space so children don’t have to leave this secure area.”
Another emerging, sobering technology being tested: bulletproof drywall mud. “We’re looking at what this might look like in our children’s ministry area,” says Miller. “What if we could provide a place where kids can flee and be safe from bullets?”
"Smart" Ways to Increase Security
Frank Pollina, facility manager for three of the six campuses at The Orchard Church in Chicagoland, encourages churches to install cameras in strategic places inside and outside of the church.
“We have security cameras throughout the buildings in the hallways and sanctuary,” says Pollina. “We can monitor every door and the outside of the church. These record on movement for up to three months. We’ve had theft happen. With the cameras, we can look back at the recordings and see who was there and identify them. We got most of our gear back a month and a half later.”
Tim Miller’s church uses cameras with analytics—“smart” cameras. “We can real-time search all of our cameras across all of our campuses for a person’s image. If there were a kidnapping situation, we could pull up a child’s image and see where the child is.”
Creating a security plan is as much about reassuring your leadership and congregation that they can operate from faith and not fear as it is about protecting your church and leading them to respond to security threats.
Though large churches and multisites face more complex security issues, every church has to confront the reality that evil exists and is sometimes perpetrated at churches, no matter the size or location. For more practical, actionable ways to keep your congregation safe, download our free PDF resource, “3 Keys for Building a Secure Church.”