What about the children? Building a safety culture in your church
Christian churches should reflect our values of caring for people’s well-being and safety—especially the children. I remember visiting a church some years ago where the carpet was buckled and peeling back in sections, the lights were dim, and it did not seem as though paint had visited the walls in some time. The entire property appeared poorly maintained and created a negative impression. Perhaps less consciously, I sensed that this was not a secure location, and I was never at ease there.
The idea of the church as a light-house has more than a metaphorical or strictly spiritual sense. A location that is attractive to its members and community includes a physically cared for building with members who provide excellent hospitality. It should be a place where attendees are ensured they have a place to park, will not trip and fall, and can fellowship and worship in a clean and serviceable environment.
The priorities of a church are often based on the areas that the pastor values and understands. This is not unusual, as many organizations reflect the personality of their leader. If our churches are going to be more effective in risk management, we must raise our awareness and knowledge in the practical aspects of preventing injury and loss.
What can a pastor do to enhance or influence a culture of safety in their congregation? What are some practical steps you can take to empower volunteers to take up the tasks that will ensure that your facility is not perceived as weak, neglected, and vulnerable?
The first step would be to acknowledge that safety, security, and maintenance should be a priority of the leadership team. Discuss these ideas with the leadership, and engage the team in the process of promoting safety as a priority and implementing next steps.
The second step is to empower a point person who can work with ministry leaders to effect change and spearhead projects that improve risk management in collaboration with leadership and participants at your church. We recommend to many churches that they have a safety committee. Include leadership on the committee, as well as individuals who serve in key ministry functions. The group should address issues and ensure that critical processes are moving forward. This also helps to engage more people in leading the culture change.
The following four issues should be addressed:
- Child protection. Ensure that an effective child protection plan is in place and that it has been communicated to all parties.1
- Self-inspection. Review your physical plant for safety issues through a periodic self-inspection of your facility. We recommend doing this at least once a year as a starting place. More frequent inspections are better. Online tools are avail-able to assist you in conducting the self-inspection of the building. Adventist Risk Management, Inc., provides a free form on their web-site that can assist you in organizing the inspection. It lists the items that you should inspect, such as fire extinguishers, exit signs, the baptistry, mothers’ rooms, kitchen, fellowship halls, and more.2
- Preventative maintenance. Be sure that maintenance is scheduled and done regularly and that the property is prepared in advance for seasonal changes if you live in an area that has hot or cold seasons or potentially serious weather pat-terns. Keep records of maintenance and upkeep.
- Emergency planning. Emergency planning is an ongoing process that should address the types of emergencies your congregation may face. Be sure that the plan is in place, effective, practiced, and adjusted as needed.
As you address issues at your church, be mindful of your church organization’s structure. Who should set or create policies? What part of the organization is responsible for signing contracts? How are insurance policies structured? Work with your denominational leadership to navigate these issues adequately and efficiently.
I have seen churches that take actions, make policies, and sign con-tracts without proper authority or understanding of the more significant implications of such actions. When a loss happens, the validity of the contract, for example, is questioned and becomes an issue because they had no authority to enter the agreement in the first place.
It is up to you, as the leader of your church, to take the first step in raising these issues during an upcoming staff or board meeting. Set a date for your next meeting, and include “Safety and Risk Management” on your meeting agenda.
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For this and other church safety resources, visit the Adventist Risk Management Church Safety web page at adventistrisk.org/en-us/safety-resources/church