By Gale Flowers
"A prudent person foresees danger and takes precaution." Proverbs 22:3
You may have noticed some new activities in the last year on our campuses. From simple things, like locking external doors that we used to leave unlocked, to more complicated things like more security cameras in our venues. Our approach was to take incremental steps to provide a safe environment during CTs and special events. To that end, we formed the Xenos Safety Team (XST).
Mission & Scope
The XST started in response to a dramatic increase in crimes at faith-based properties over the past decade. However, “church safety” IS NOT just about violent intruders. Criminals know that faith-based organizations are typically "soft-targets" for all manner of mischief. Because of this, local law enforcement agencies encourage churches to remove opportunities for crime and create safety teams to keep watch over their meetings. To that end, the current scope of the Xenos Safety Team includes:
- Monitor parking lots to deter burglary or vandalism.
- Help oversee and protect OASIS classes and children.
- De-escalate guest or domestic disputes on church property.
- Mitigate groups who may protest on church property or guests who disrupt a Central Teaching meeting.
- Assist in medical emergencies.
- Respond to a violent intruder.
History & Accomplishments
In 2015, we virtually had no safety plan in place. But in just over two years we’ve developed a fairly robust safety plan. In 2016, our elders began considering a practical approach to increasing church safety and began showing a budget commitment to this ministry. In 2017, the Columbus Police Department and a professional security company performed risk assessments of our venues. Based on those assessments, we began taking steps to make our venues more secure. We also began taking focused training, including basic awareness training, on how to respond to non-violent scenarios, verbal de-escalation training, and even trauma training to be ready for a violent attack. In 2018, training continued, we bought 2-way radios for our Safety Team members, and we consulted with other churches to learn from their experience. Also in 2018, XST membership grew by 50%!
Retired Lieutenant Columbus Police Officer Del Allen leads our efforts with assistance from Gale Flowers. We currently have 5 Adult CT Safety Teams and 4 Student CT Safety Teams, with over 40 volunteers serving on these 9 teams. Each team is directed by a competent and proven team leader. These teams consist of men and women dedicated to providing “eyes and ears” at our venues to help establish a safe and secure environment. The majority of XST members are civilians, but we are fortunate to have several highly-skilled resources from local law enforcement, as well as federal agencies, and people with prior military training.
Before CT begins, safety team members meet to pray together, then they get busy! They walk the perimeter of the venue to inspect the property and lock any doors that are not essential to the meeting. During CT, some take strategic posts – and some stay on the move, touring the venue looking for anything that “doesn’t look right.” We also monitor our existing security cameras and use 2-way radios for immediate communication. We remain “on duty” until many of our guests leave the venue.
Plans for 2019 include (but are not limited to):
- Consult with a professional security company to improve surveillance strategy of our venues.
- Install more cameras in parking lots and classrooms for real-time monitoring via phone app.
- Send more XST members to training courses that match our church’s needs.
- Refine our safety and security policies and processes.
- Re-establish our Traffic & Parking Teams
- Grow XST members by 25%
Since 70% of crimes on faith-based properties begin in the parking lot, we will formulate teams to monitor CT parking lots and report any suspicious activity. This is the easiest and most practical way we can make our CTs safer. Parking volunteers are often the first faces our guests see and can have an important impact on our guests’ overall CT experience.
Our efforts rely heavily on volunteers who have a predisposition toward securing our venues, who recognize the value of vigilance, and who have a propensity to protect--to notice what "doesn't look right" and act for the benefit of others. Our current volunteers are excited to serve in this ministry! We hope their momentum will help expand this role to provide an even safer and more welcoming environment for the gospel to be preached among our guests and peers.
Team Leaders nominate new XST members for their CT. New members must be committed to a home group and be approved for ministry by their home group leader. Once approved, the candidate must pass a background check, and is then vetted over a period of time by current safety team members.
Everyone can help make our CTs safer by being an extra set of “eyes and ears.” If you see anything suspicious, contact an XST member. Some of our XST Volunteers wear gray polo shirts and wear ear pieces for 2-way radios. They can also be quickly reached by contacting any of our Welcome Booth volunteers.