What do hospitality and security have to do with each other?
There is a tension between hospitality and security. Traditionally our churches have purposed to be open, welcoming places for all. We have positioned greeters to welcome and gently guide visitors to the right Sabbath School, meeting room, or available seating in the sanctuary. To be honest, we haven’t always met our mark even though warmth and hospitality is the goal. For churches, the commitment to serve people makes the security needs more complex according to “How to Balance Hospitality and Church Security”. Some bad actors may see churches as so-called “soft targets,” while church leaders may be tempted to think a bad incident won’t happen to them.
In recent years, many of our churches have become more aware of the need for increased thought and planning about security. For some congregations, experiences with theft and vandalism may have raised the importance of security. Meanwhile, news stories of violent incidents motivate many to reevaluate their security plans.
Part of security planning is access control. In other words, it’s important to know who is coming into your facility and to be able to limit access as needed. It can be tempting for those who are enthusiastic about security to put this important goal at odds with the primary goal of church: to advance the kingdom of God, which is inherently a relationship-building enterprise.
The Solution is CooperationMany churches find that an intentional approach to hospitality and security offers complementary advantages. Keeping an eye on the missional priorities of the church, a team can be formed that will examine the security risks of the church, building effective plans and partnerships. This will ensure that both a welcoming atmosphere is cultivated and that the right processes and responses are in place. Thanks to this team, potential threats can be perceived early and mitigated effectively. The idea that security is an afterthought or delegated to a head deacon is not a viable model for our current times or the future, according to church safety consultant Lewis A. Eakins in his article, “ Good Church Security Means Good Hospitality”.
Careful thought should be given to form safety or security teams. Team members should be those who are mission-focused and have a strong spiritual foundation. Those who are too enthusiastic for the role and see themselves engaging in conflict may not be a good fit for participation in this important ministry. Include the hospitality team members or leaders in your security planning. They are part of the frontline that will be engaging and greeting individuals as they come onto your campus or into your facility. If properly trained, they can provide eyes and ears to detect the potential for danger and can communicate to the right team or authorities if you have need for additional support or response.
Unfortunately, many times the discussion around hospitality and security includes fears related to mental illness. It is important that we educate ourselves and ensure our teams are equipped and trained to be able to identify what may seem like unusual behavior related to mental illness and distinguish that from unusual behaviors associated with potential threats. We can remember that all people have equal worth in God’s eyes. As a recent article in Pastoral Psychology noted, “Faith leaders should be careful to remember that these sorts of hierarchies (distinguishing the worth of people with differing abilities) are cultural constructions and not based on the theology that all people are created in God’s image (see Genesis 1:27).”
Our training for hospitality and security should help these team members identify unusual emotion, behaviors, or clothing. These team members can learn how to best observe and assess both the physical and mental state of the person and determine if a concern is justified or if an immediate threat exists.
In “Worship Without Worry: Safety and Security for Places of Worship,” Tina Lewis Rowe, a former police officer and United States Marshal, offers these suggestions for assessing a concern or possible threat:
- Courteously separate the person in question from others.
- Talk in a normal and calm tone of voice, but keep some distance between you and the other person.
- Signal to another greeter/team member if you become increasingly concerned during the talk.
- If you are still concerned, even if you don’t have specifics, let a greeter in the sanctuary know about your concerns. If you are a greeter in the sanctuary, alert other greeters so they can watch when you are preoccupied.
- If in doubt, or if the situation escalates or cannot be resolved, call the police or have someone else call immediately.
- Do not attempt to detain a person who wants to leave before the police arrive.
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16, KJV).
- Duncan, A. “Does Church Security Make Your Church Less Welcoming?” Strategos International (April 19, 2021). Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://strategosintl.com/does-church-security-make-your-church-less-welcoming/.
- Eakins, L. A. “Good church security means good hospitality (LifePoints).” AL.com (July 29, 2011). Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://www.al.com/living-times/2011/07/church_security_means_good_hos.html.
- Lang, P. H. D. “Do's and Don'ts on Ushering,” Ministry Magazine. Originally published in American Lutheran, April 1946. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1951/11/do-s-and-don-ts-on-ushering.
- Lehmann, C. S., W. B. Whitney, Jean Un, Jennifer S. Payne, Maria Simanjuntak, Stephen Hamilton, Tsegamlak Worku, and Nathaniel A. Fernandez. “Hospitality Towards People with Mental Illness in the Church: a Cross-cultural Qualitative Study,” Pastoral Psychology (2021): 1-27.
- Woolever, C. “How to Balance Hospitality and Church Security,” Southern New England Conference of the UCC (May 2018). Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://www.sneucc.org/blogdetail/how-to-balance-hospitality-and-church-security-11156638#_ednref1.