The issue of church safety and security continues to be a hot topic inside our churches as well as in the public eye. Churches are being rightfully called out when they put our children and youth at risk, and this problem needs to be addressed more aggressively in our churches. As local church leaders, we must be committed to making positive and lasting changes to make sure that our churches have prepared environments where our kids will be safe and their families can feel secure.
The Situation Today
Some of the startling realities include:
One in three girls and one in six boys will be subjected to some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18. (National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse)
Approximately 30% percent of all churches experience a threat or other emergency each year – but 75% of churches have no safety and security plan in place. (Christian Security Network)
5.6 million children under age 18 (that’s one in 13 children or roughly two in every classroom) have food allergies. Every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. (Food Allergy Research and Education)
As we support our local churches, we must keep three things in mind: awareness, education and relationships.
First and foremost, we need to be constantly aware of the kids that we minister to, their family situations, any change in habits and how they are interacting with others – including other kids in the class. We need to be sure that we are also aware of other adults who are around. If anything seems strange, suspect, not right or uncomfortable, we need to be ready to ask questions and investigate with discretion and tact while being sensitive to confidentiality.
We should be taking extra precautions as we give our kids snacks and other treats in classrooms and other settings. A great way to make sure that we are capturing important health and wellness information about our kids is through Child Information Sheets that include spaces for parents/caregivers to let us know about allergies and other special needs a child might have. These forms should be updated frequently.
Education – especially of our servant volunteers – is another area that needs to be ramped up. We need to be educating and reviewing educational material regularly.
We all need to be willing to keep learning about safety and security issues and how we can be part of the solution, creating the best environment that we can so that the love of Jesus can be shared. Ongoing education should allow for open and frank discussions that will lead to positive change for everyone.
Finally, it is important that we strive to build strong relationships with kids, their parents, their families and other volunteers. This will help us create an open and caring atmosphere that communicates our support, in addition to showing any would-be predators that we are watching and will take any action necessary to keep our kids safe and secure.
Building relationships also helps us to know if there is anything not right or if there is something that we should address. Having relationships with families give us the ability to have conversations that might be uncomfortable but necessary so that the needs of the child and family can be met.
Our churches should be safe and secure places for children and their families to gather and encounter the love of Christ. Unfortunately, many times this is not the case. But by implementing best practices at all times and helping others on our team to do the same, we can work together to make sure that we are making every effort to be a part of the solution in keeping our kids safe!
Editor’s note: The BCNE has recently released a four-part video series to educate churches on safety and security. You can access the video series here.
Sandy Coelho serves as lay leadership development coordinator at the Baptist Convention of New England.