Let’s remember that many attacks against the church have started in the parking lot. That means that we must be ready and prepared to deal with potential threats while also making sure we are focused on ministry. Just like every church is different, satellite campuses of the same church can be unique. Despite their differences, the mission is the same. It's very important for us to remember whether you have a church of 100 or 100,000 that the principles of church security still apply.
Proactive security in the parking lot comes down to three things. Our teams must be engaging, evaluating and encouraging while greeting people in the parking lot. Security team members in the parking lot must not be standoffish. Sometimes we see church security teams that are discreet or hidden and they prefer to stand back and just watch. What if we change that?
If you think about your parking lot security, let’s ask a few questions. First, do you have teammates actually in the parking lot? We’re not talking about inside the lobby looking out through a door or window. We know that sometimes cold, hot or rainy weather can be a challenge, but it's very important to have that presence in your parking area. This should be somebody who will own the responsibility for physically being in the parking lot and engaging people as they arrive.
Engaging means that we approach people and we're smiling. Often times we may be the very first touch that they have from the church. So, if we're not engaging what does that say about our church? Remember, church security as a ministry is all about supporting the ministry and mission of the church.
During visits to Israel, we noticed that their security forces are never on their cell phones or even spend much time talking to each other. You see, they know that if they are distracted even for a minute, they could miss the indicator of an attack or act of terrorism.
Be alert to where people park, how people park, and actions when they leave the vehicle. Are they following the normal flow of traffic, or insisting on parking somewhere else? Are they spending time in the trunk of the vehicle or gathering items onto their person or in a bag? Does the bag match the behavior such as a family with a diaper bag – or does it appear out of sorts for church, like a man walking in with a large utility bag? Are they socially aligned or avoiding people?
Pre-pandemic, we would always shake people’s hands as a way of assessing body language and pre-attack indicators. Looking in their eyes and evaluating their body language could also determine if people are in a physiological or psychologically excited state. But also evaluating as we greet them and listen to their response. This has become more difficult in the era of social distancing and masks, because we're not going to be able to see some of the physical identifiers that you would under normal circumstances. But body language, eyes, and limited facial expressions can still tell a story.
Finally, we are encouraging people in the parking lot. For example, if they're new, help them find the children’s space or welcome station. It's important that you understand not just what your church does in terms of ministry, but also how to get help for people who need it. You may find yourself dealing with a domestic issue in the parking lot. Maybe somebody's at a difficult place in life and we need to be able to connect them to the help that they need. That's what ministry does.
I'm reminded of a story when a young woman walked into one of our campuses with a child. One of our security team members noticed that she looked distraught but didn’t view her as a security threat. Instead, he looked at this as a ministry opportunity. He engaged her and asked if she needed help. She broke down and started crying while sharing that she was going through a terrible situation. Our team leader assisted with checking her child into the nursery and then connected her with a lady from our prayer team. Together, they sat with her and led her to Christ before she ever went into the sanctuary.
That’s what great security with great ministry looks like.