Why Your Church Needs a Security Plan

A new Christian security consultancy wants church security plans to operate on more than just a wing and a prayer

Church security: The FBI does not keep statistics that specifically correlate violent incidents in churches. But Jeffrey Hawkins believes a glance at the headlines on many days will turn up at least one incident involving a faith-based organization.

Churches may require security plans too

Hawkins, most recently a chief security officer for a large international Christian ministry, has more than 27 years in security, risk management, and law enforcement. He recently launched the Christian Security Network, a niche organization he says will fill a gap in the security-services industry.

The Christian Security Network will offer consulting and training for faith-based organizations, with an emphasis on Christian churches. Hawkins spoke with CSO about CSN, and why churches are in more danger now than ever before.

There are already few other organizations out there specializing in church security. So, what was your inspiration for starting Christian Security Network?

I've spent many years in security in the secular world in a corporate environment. About four years ago, I began doing work for a Christian ministry. That opened my eyes to the need for security management in the Christian church community. I realized that, compared to the secular world, churches are so far behind the curve in terms of security and emergency planning.

Approximately 80 percent of this country claims to be Christian. But when it comes to churches having security plans in place, over 75 percent say they have nothing. Our mission is to bring security awareness into the forefront of the minds of the Christian community.

For some, the idea of security for a church might seem unnecessary. Churches have always been viewed as places of safety.

For many years, they were. I grew up in Chicago and churches were my refuge. Church used to be place where I could go to get away from gangs and other problems. Churches were considered a safe haven. People respected that 20-30 years ago. That is not case anymore.

What happened?

Our society in general has changed. As issues become more controversial, the church becomes more controversial, too. Christian churches can take varying views on issues and those views might be perceived by some as too liberal, or even too conservative. So, as controversy around a church starts to develop, there is a rift that comes with it.

As I said earlier, over 75 percent of churches don't have risk management in place. They have become a soft target.

We've seen church shootings, church torchings, as two examples, in recent years. Are these particularly troubled times for faith-based organizations?

What we see in the headlines here in this country is only the tip of iceberg. We monitor intelligence from around the world. That is only what happens in the US. Two years ago, I sat in on a press briefing and then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said faith-based organizations are one of the top-five at-risk sectors in the world. Sectors can cover every type of business or industry.

That was a pretty startling wake-up call that we have to start taking measures, much like the business world has been doing for while. They have put plans in place, put programs in place. The Christian community will have to follow suit now.

What does you organization plan to do?

We will offer a lot of service for different types of people within the church structure. That begins with the lay person with no knowledge whatsoever of security. We feel a majority of Christian churches are just overwhelmed with all that is going on now. They are overwhelmed with attendance issues, the economy and giving is down. When you go in and say "You need to develop a risk management or security plan," I think they are just overwhelmed. There is really no one on staff to do it.

What we want to do is appeal to people and offer basic information. We'll offer baby steps about what is risk, what is security, what is due diligence and liability. We want to be a resource where they can come and get introductory knowledge.

We will also offer information for people who are savvier about security We will talk to them about topics such as security when you go on mission trips. Also, crisis management teams and information security concerns

Mission work takes the concerns out of the building. What advice will you offer there?

We find a lot of the Christian missionaries going out there really don't have a plan in place. They kind of know where they are going and get information from locals. But they really don't do research about the areas they are going into. The often fail to ask: What are the risks? What happens if something happens?

There are places where it may seem stable and suddenly things can just go wrong. These missionaries are caught in middle of it. We want them to consider: Do you have plan in place for the people you are sending out? Do they know who to call? Everyone thinks the government will assist, but that is often just not true. The government might not have resources to assist quickly. It is up to the individual organizations to develop a plan. And while it is happening is not the time to plan.

Do you anticipate a busy year? How confident are you churches will take interest?

With the economy, you just don't know right now. But we are hoping people in Christian organizations don't put security on the back burner because times are tough. We understand cuts need to be made, but this isn't an area where cuts should be made.

We are trying to show them through training and education that a lot of this can be put in place without a lot of cost. I think many in the community may think of alarms, camera systems and card access when you mention security. But really security starts off with some very basic concepts and it doesn't cost a lot to implement. Most importantly, we want to build this into the Christian culture and create and understanding that security is not a one time thing.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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