“Do you have an active shooter policy?”
That was the question posed to me one day as I was talking to a friend who would be considered an expert on policy matters for churches. He explained that since there have been instances of gunmen opening fire in churches, we should all think about codifying procedures to follow in case of such a crisis. Really, though, as soon as our conversation was over, I forgot about it . . . for 4 days.
Four days after our conversation, I found myself at church (not during our service times or office hours) talking to a highly distressed person with a gun who was threatening suicide as well as violence to others (though not to me). That situation ended well, but I cannot say I handled it correctly. Though I never felt at risk personally, the truth is that I am not equipped to make such a determination.
The next day, we had a policy. In short, it states that any time a person is on our campus unlawfully armed and/or threating violence to self or others, our first step is to call 911. And that was the beginning of our safety policy (more on that below).
In my last post, I wrote about systems and processes. This time, I’d like to focus on another equally unsexy topic: policies and procedures. I know, I know, you’re in ministry, and this is not what you signed up for. Me either, but hear me out.
I once read of a church that was taken to court because the youth minister had sexually assaulted one of the teenagers in his charge. The church lost the suit. Why? Because they had not done a criminal background check on the youth minister before hiring him. And here’s the thing—the guy didn’t have a criminal record. The church lost because they demonstrated negligence and indifference because they didn’t conduct due diligence. This is the world in which we live.
Clearly defined and followed policies and procedures can not only protect your church as an organization, but they can protect the individuals within your church, and they can increase the trust level of your church among members and non-members alike. Therefore, let me give you just a few suggestions regarding the kinds of policies churches need to have today.
Emergency Policies – These can cover anything from threats of violence to natural disasters.
- What do you do when someone becomes violent? Do you call 911? Who is responsible for that? Do you allow guns at all on your campus? Do you encourage people lawfully carrying guns to engage threatening persons? Think about that last one. If you encourage a guy with a concealed-carry permit to “have your back,” you have placed him at risk.
- What do you do in the event of inclement weather. What happens when a tornado is coming? In the case of a hurricane, how do you communicate with your people? Our ministerial staff all have re-entry placards so that we can get back after an evacuation to be involved in coordinating disaster relief work. We even have a person designated to disconnect and take our network server when evacuating.
- What happens when someone has a medical emergency while at church? This has happened to me before. One caution: we learned from our insurance company that we cannot designate a church member as a medical professional for emergencies. We cannot have nurse in our congregation labeled as the VBS nurse. When we do, we become an advertised health care provider subject to regulations and malpractice complaints.
Policies for Working with Minors – These deal with any ministry to those under 18-years-old.
- Background checks. Most of you probably do this. No one may work with any minor in our church in any capacity (teacher, van driver, etc.) without this. A man once balked at providing us with his Social Security number. He does not work with our kids.
- Who can do what with young children? Our policies stipulate that men cannot change diapers. Now, while all the ladies are sure a man wrote that policy, the reason is that statistically, men are far more likely to be pedophiles than women. Also, at least one woman has to be in each room with young children, but a married couple cannot serve alone together in the same room (wives are more likely to cover for their husbands).
- Check-in/check-out procedures. Who can pick kids up from your preschool and grade school areas? In a previous church, we had a fairly rudimentary procedure that involved pagers. When a parent dropped off a child, she received a pager. The child could not be retrieved without that exact pager. One day, a dad showed up to get his daughter, but he didn’t have the pager. He didn’t get his kid. We later discovered that the dad had a restraining order against him and was trying to kidnap his child. The mom was very grateful for our policy. Our church now uses a computer program called KidCheck.
Personnel Policies – If you have one employee, you need this.
- Job descriptions. Does everyone have one?
- Lines of accountability. To whom does each person answer? Who can hire and fire? What are grounds and processes for dismissal?
- Vacations, sick days, days off. These need to be clearly defined.
Financial Policies – Having these can alleviate much stress and create much trust.
- Who can sign checks or access funds?
- How do expenditures get approved? I once served a church that required an expense requisition in triplicate if I wanted to buy a book for $10 that would be charged to my book line in the budget. That was over the top. However, are guidelines clearly defined?
- Review. Our church brings in an outside firm every five years to do a financial procedures review. This is not a full audit, but sort of a mini-audit. Our financial health as well as our policies (both stated and practiced) are examined, and we make any changes deemed necessary. Because of this, we run a tight ship, and the trust level is high.
I could go on, but for sake of brevity, let me just add a few more brief suggestions.
- Have a good insurance policy, not only for your facilities, but also with liability coverage for your ministers.
- Make sure that you have clearly defined your church’s position on marriage and sexuality. You don’t want to be sued for “arbitrarily” refusing membership or not allowing a wedding in your facility because of someone’s sexuality.
- Revisit your bylaws annually. Are you following them? If not, you are susceptible to litigation if a church member becomes disgruntled. Take a look at them every year, and if they are outdated or no longer useful, make the necessary changes.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Contact your local association or your state convention, and they will likely provide good counsel and possibly even sample policies. You can also talk to those at churches that have solid policies. I know our administrator has helped other churches walk this road. Get help where you can find it.