Health and Growth

Church Security and Safety: The Definitive Guide and 15 Best Practices

Church security is essential to the professionalism that helps churches grow and proctively protect their members. Don't wing it. Here are 15 best practices from police and fire professionals.

Church Security and Safety: The Definitive Guide and 15 Best Practices
by

Paul Maxwell


Churches are full of well-intentioned, good-hearted people.

But your church isn’t automatically safe.

Every time a group of people gathers, there are church safety concerns.

  • Health issues
  • Mental health issues
  • Accidents
  • Liability
  • Child safety
  • Relational conflict

Do you have a protocol in place for how to handle each of these church security issues?

Pastors care deeply about the health and safety of their congregation.

This is why church leaders should not leave the safety of their members in the hands of chance.

If you are on your church’s leadership team and your church doesn’t have a safety team with strategic protocol in place, then establishing best practices for church security guidelines safety should become a priority.

Here are the 15 best practices you need to take to do your minimally sufficient diligence in protecting your church.

In writing this post, I'd like to thank Sgt. Tom Weger and Cpt. Chad Abel of Proguard Security for supplying their critical law enforcement and fire professional insights.

1. Whatever you have in place, you need to have something in place

Wherever you have a group of people gathering, you have the potential of an incident to occur—whether that be a conflict, medical issue, or mental health issue.

There needs to be a plan for an emergency situation and personnel who can take operational control when an incident occurs to execute that protocol and minimize the risk of real harm.

Don’t tell yourself: “We have police as members of our church. I’m sure they’ll do something if an emergency occurs.”

Don’t roll the dice with your church’s safety by failing to plan for undesirable incidents.

As church leaders, it falls on you to mitigate harm to your congregants—not by being the security officer, but by delegating to church volunteers or staff who are trained and competent to put a team and protocol in place for common potential incidents.

2. Get buy-in from the right people

Building your church safety and security team requires getting buy-in from three groups of people:

  1. Church staff
  2. Police and fire professionals in the church
  3. Volunteers

You must have all three in place to have success.

The church staff will administer the security team; the police and fire professionals will help get the team built and trained; the volunteers will assist in executing the safety and security protocol at each event.

No single person can manage the security of a church.

Each group must understand what their specific roles and responsibilities are.

Many churches assume that safety and security fall under “facilities,” but church safety and security require their own special designation. Just like you wouldn’t trust your plumber to give you a health plan; you shouldn’t make the janitor the automatic security officer simply because he is “responsible for the building.”

3. Ask for professional help

If you have a small church, ask police and fire professionals in your church to create a plan, vet that plan, and oversee the team.

The chances are that police and fire professionals in your church already have safety and security observations about the church.

4. It’s not your church security team’s job to be the police

The church security staff exist to take operational command during incidents that need immediate attention.

However, these staff members should also write in their incident protocol to contact on-duty law enforcement.

Then, on-duty law enforcement officers would take over operational command when they arrive at the church.

Ideally, in emergencies, your church security staff should serve as a way of preventing and deterring as much harm as possible between an incident and the arrival of on-duty police and fire professionals.

5. Run background checks on all church security team members

Most people who want to volunteer for the church security staff are good people with good intentions.

Nevertheless, you should run a background check on every single member who serves on one of these staff or volunteer positions.

Running these background checks is a way of demonstrating to the church that you take the moral and professional integrity of your security team seriously.

Requiring background checks will make people feel safer, and it will add a layer of trust and unity to your security team.

Failing to run background checks on church security staff and volunteers is itself a failure of proper security protocol, and is not optional.

Oh, and by the way, with Tithe.ly Church Management, we make it super easy to keep up-to-date on the background checks for your staff and volunteers.

6. Designate incident command protocol

The pastor does not have incident command—the security team does. The security team decides when to evacuate the building.

That’s not the pastor’s call.

The police and fire professionals who have been tasked with overseeing the church safety and security team should designate who has incident command, in what situations certain personnel should take incident command, and why that particular individual is taking incident command.

For example, if you have a fire professional on your team, this person will be tasked with taking command in a fire situation.

Alternatively, if you have a security issue, this might be designated to a police professional on your team.

Again—it is important to note that the pastor shouldn’t take incident command in these situations. He may communicate things on behalf of the security team, but he should not be tasked with overseeing or commanding security protocol in the middle of an event.

7. Write emergency scripts for the pastoral team

Work with your pastor to develop scripts for the pastor to say from the stage if a mid-service emergency occurs.

This script should communicate urgency while avoiding panic, and should communicate safety without obscuring the seriousness of a potential incident.

If someone has a heart attack in the middle of the service, the security team and pastoral staff should have written scripts that communicate clearly what congregants ought to do, where they ought to go, and when they will receive their next communication.

While your pastor doesn’t have incident command, this doesn’t mean that he isn’t responsible for managing the church on behalf of the security team.

The church will be looking to the pastor to communicate to them exactly what to do in an emergency.

Ideally, if an emergency occurs in-service that requires evacuation or immediate attention, the pastor would either utilize a script written by the security team or quickly hand off the stage to a designated security staff member who would take point publicly to direct members about what they ought to do.

8. Write and distribute a church safety protocol

You need to write a church safety protocol for possible common issues in your church. To do this, you should either hire a security consultant or find both a law enforcement and fire professional in your church to help you do the three things:

  1. Identify common safety incidents in your church
  2. Identify current vulnerabilities in your church safety practices
  3. Write and implement a security protocol that addresses these incidents and fixes these vulnerabilities

9. Create and train your safety team

Proactively ask trustworthy individuals in your church to join and train the safety team.

These individuals don’t need to be police or fire professionals, but the team should be trained and overseen by someone who meets two qualifications:

  1. They have extensive police or fire training
  2. They are able to build good report with local police and fire departments.

Your team should accomplish two things:

  1. Make people feel safe, not intimidated, by the church security team
  2. Be a team player and follow the security protocol written by the church security team leaders

Once you have recruited and trained your team with your team lead, you should hold monthly or quarterly incident reports and vulnerability analyses to see how the team and protocol can be optimized.  

10. Liaison with local fire and police professionals

Your church security team leader and pastor should liaison with local police and fire departments to develop a positive working relationship with them.

This can be as simple as buying lunch for the local department once a quarter and asking to meet with a point person from the department to share your incidents and vulnerabilities.

When you establish a positive working relationship with your local police and fire departments, you should communicate this positive relationship to your church. When members know that the police are present and friendly with the church, it deters potential security threats and it gives members a sense of safety and security within the church.

11. Invest in church safety technology

You should minimally purchase three things:

  1. Security cameras
  2. Two-way Radio communications for the Security Team and Church Staff
  3. An AED (automated external defibrillator)

Security cameras can detect, deter, and document potential security threats providing an additional layer of protection against liability.

A two-way radio communications technology enables your church security team and church staff to quickly and accurately communicate with other security personnel and church staff is absolutely essential when responding to potential security/safety issues.

At a minimum the following people or groups should the ability to communicate in “real time”:

  • Security Team
  • Children’s Ministries
  • Facilities
  • Speaker Assistant/Usher

An AED is a lightweight, battery-operated, portable device that checks the heart’s rhythm and sends a shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm.

It is important that whenever there is an event at church, there is always someone available who is trained by the security team to use the AED.  

12. Make child safety your top priority

If people don’t feel like their kids are safe at church, they’re not going to come to your church.

This is a vital component to creating a church check-in station.

Make sure that you have printable child security tag stickers that you can place on children when they check in so that only the parent with the receipt can pick up their child.

Make sure that nobody works with children who doesn’t undergo an in-depth background check to ensure that they are trustworthy and aren’t withholding any relevant personal information from the church.

If there is any such thing as a #1 security priority for a church, it is protecting the children. If you fail to prioritize this concern, the adults will not want to attend and your church will not grow.

13. Don’t overlook these 3 common church safety and security concerns

When people think of church safety and security issues, they often think of shootings, protests, and fires. But there are common issues over which the church safety and security team should take ownership that does not seem urgent, but are very serious.

Three primary examples of these commonly overlooked safety and security issues are:

  1. Domestic Situations
  2. Child Custody issues
  3. Mental health issues

If one member has an order of protection against another member, it falls on the security team to manage that situation and communicate with the appropriate parties to ensure that nothing unlawful occurs. Taking these measures is a way of deescalating an unfortunate situation and ensuring member safety.

If there is a custody dispute between parents, the church safety and security team should oversee child custody so that no fraudulent exchange of care can occur. One way of accomplishing this is requiring the parent who picks up a child to be the same parent who dropped them off. It’s possible that a parent might appeal to an emergency situation to retrieve their child from child care, but the response should be: “We have a protocol in place to keep the children safe in emergency situations. The original parent who dropped off the child still needs to be the parent who picks them up.”

Mental health issues are increasingly common, which can sometimes cause harassment, inclination toward violence, or self-harm. The church safety and security team should take a proactive role in partnering with the pastoral staff to help those with mental health issues to access the help they need, as well as deter those with these issues from causing any harm in the church.

14. Use a digital giving platform

One of the most common security concerns at a church is, sadly, people stealing from the offering plates.

One easy way to secure against this possibility is to use a digital giving software like Tithe.ly’s giving platform (which is completely free), or even better, Tithe.ly’s ChMS, which allows you to manage child check-ins, giving, and event management from a single platform.

15. Use a software that allows pastoral staff and security staff to manage security issues discretely

Pastors are sometimes reluctant to involve church security staff who are police officers because they fear that the first act of police will be to make an arrest, which could create drama in the church.

It’s easy for church leaders to think that they are not involving the security team in potential incident cases is better for the church.

It is not.

Police are trained to deescalate situations.

Police-trained church security staff are often the best people to be involved in a situation, make contact with those involved in incidents, and discretely track incident data.

One great tool for this is Tithe.ly ChMS.

Tithe.ly ChMS is a full-service member management software that allows church leaders and staff to manage who checked in at church, write private incident reports, and display member-specific data that tracks the overall health of every individual in the church.

Over to you

It is the pastor’s job to ensure that a security team is in place and following this 6-step procedure to protect the physical safety and financial integrity of everyone in the church building:

  1. Have something in place
  2. Get buy-in from the right people
  3. Ask for professional help
  4. It’s not your church security team’s job to be the police
  5. Run background checks on all church security team members
  6. Designate incident command protocol
  7. Write emergency scripts for the pastoral team
  8. Write and distribute a church safety protocol
  9. Create and train a team of volunteers
  10. Liaison with local police and fire departments
  11. Invest in church safety technology
  12. Make child safety your top priority
  13. Don’t overlook domestic orders, custody complexities, and mental health issues
  14. Use a digital giving platform
  15. Get Tithe.ly ChMS to manage the health of your members

Don’t roll the dice on church security.

Don’t throw a Hail Mary on your church’s safety when you could easily take steps to mitigate 90% of common security risks.

If you haven’t followed these 15 steps, then as a pastor, that’s your job today.


Author: Paul Maxwell, Ph.D., is the Content Strategist at Tithe.ly. He lives in Fishers, IN with his beautiful wife and rowdy wheaten terrier.

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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Church Security and Safety: The Definitive Guide and 15 Best Practices