Safety in places of worship is a growing concern in America. Today more churches are addressing the issue of homosexuality, and some do not have a safety program in place. Here are some concepts for the leadership of those churches to consider.
Define the Potential Problems
The pastor may receive resistance within his congregation to preaching on homosexuality. Leaders should prepare in advance a framework of response to congregants who feel offended by the topic and be ready to engage honestly with those people while minimizing the risk of division.
A church that preaches clearly on homosexuality may encounter active protest by homosexual rights activists. They may stage a demonstration on the church grounds. They may send a handful of their group to attend a worship service, then instigate a disturbance during that service, shouting down or goading the pastor. These actions may be recorded on video for later dissemination on the internet, and the activists sometimes agitate in an effort to provoke a church leader or member to anger and emotional outbursts.
Direct violence against churches by political activists is rare; however, since the impact of such violence is so grave that this potential threat must be considered. The church must strive to keep this kind of threat as far away from the pulpit as possible. The closer a violent activist gets to the congregation in the sanctuary, the more destruction he can cause.
Steps to Mitigate the Potential Problems
Be aware of these possibilities, and decide ahead of time what your church’s response should be. Consider that as believers we are to act in a graceful and earnest way, even in the face of active provocation. Organize small groups of mature, well-grounded men of the church to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior. Educate these men on the principles of law in your area, including local legal doctrines on self-defense and defense of third parties. Did you know that a leader who touches a protestor in any way, even with a genuinely friendly hand on a shoulder, could be charged with assault?
Teach safety team members to use assertive friendliness as they interact with people on the site. When new people are noticed, approach them with a genuine welcome and a sincere expression of delight that they have chosen to worship at your church. The vast majority of these visitors are regular people who will appreciate being warmly received. The small fraction of potentially disruptive people will know that they have been noticed. This is a good thing, because research has shown that when people are spoken to and know they have been observed, they are less likely to commit disruptive or violent acts.
Working in partnership with church members who are law enforcement officers is a critical help. Officers have authority to deal with disruptive people in any circumstance. For example, in South Carolina it is explicitly illegal to disturb a worship service. On-site law enforcement personnel, either on or off duty, are a tremendous resource for quickly and properly dealing with safety issues.
Church parking attendants, greeters, and ushers see everyone who comes to the church property and are key people for detecting problems early. Again, it is best to deal with safety problems as far from the pulpit and sanctuary as possible.
Whatever a church’s safety policy and plans are, they must be communicated to everyone in leadership and to those in lay service roles, not just the people on the safety team. In the heat of a crisis, there is no room for confusion on church policy and approved procedures for dealing with problems. A respectful response that is unified and orderly is much more effective than a response hampered by awkward indecision.
Serve Your Members by Being Prepared
Dealing with disruptive reactions to preaching on difficult subjects is just one aspect of church safety. A full spectrum plan looks at medical response, child safety, fire and hazardous weather events, and many more concerns. Legal and insurance issues are strongly involved. Church insurance companies frequently offer comprehensive advice to pastoral leadership. The internet is a vast source of information on church safety, but beware of underlying commercial interests and response suggestions that may not align well with your church’s teachings. An excellent way to get started is to talk with other churches in your area who have instituted successful safety programs. Learn from their experience, and tailor their effective approaches to your church’s culture.
Approach church safety with the heart of a servant shepherd who is willing to think ahead and work for the protection of the body.