Church Safety and Security

John Maher: Hi, I'm John Maher with Stewart Signs. I'm here today with Bob Chauncey, certified protection professional and consultant with the Church Security Institute in Virginia Beach. Welcome, Bob.

Bob Chauncey: Good morning, John. Nice to be with you.

John: Thanks. Bob. Tell me a little bit, briefly, about what you do.

Bob: Sure. Church Security Institute is a ministry. I was a preacher's kid, a PK, and started in law enforcement, that's what I wanted to be: a policeman not a preacher. God has a sense of humor. He let me do other things. In Church Security Institute, I'm giving back to Him and to His people, His church ... what I've learned and experienced over the years.

John: You would do a lot of traveling to churches all over the country, or where is it that you visit churches?

Bob: Well, we've got associates all over the country. At this point in my life, I'm semi-retired, have been a police chaplain after being a police officer and then going into private police service. The Lord brought me back and I ministered for 10 years as a police chaplain, but also as my sheriff's chaplain and as a sworn deputy sheriff. I retired from that also with 10 years. Now, my ministry ... I try to keep it local here in the Hampton Roads area. Hampton Roads is the Seven Cities of what some used to call Tidewater, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk and Hampton and Newport News on the peninsula.

We do have associates across the country and [I've] got two I've been working with recently on something down in Florida, one up in New York and one out west in Texas. We do things with churches to help them see their risk and how to address some pastors of the Good Shepherd that the Lord provides to take care of His flock. It's that job to help them. We see a lot of signs as we go to visit churches. Sadly, some don't give the message I think the church wants to give.

Church Signs Around the Seven Cities

John: Yes. I wanted to ask you about that. You and your associates must see a lot of church signs as you go about your business, you're visiting churches all around. What are some of the things that you notice or that strikes you the most about the church signs that you see?

Bob: Well, John, I see a lot of church signs as I'm going to visit a church. That's one of the first things that I notice. Probably somebody come in to visit the church may also notice. People will hear about a church from word of mouth sometimes, friends that attend, other times they're just driving by they're looking for a new church, a new place to worship. When you look at a church you look for a couple of things, I believe, having visited some churches to be a prospective member of myself. I look at the building even if it's a small country church or it's a neighborhood church or a large megachurch.

What kind of maintenance, modernization? The repair. Is it really a viable church or is it looks something run down? The sign is very much the same. Sometimes they are out-of-date, they are painted sign, maybe it's a sign with the letters that they go out and change. Does it give the impression that the church wants to give that they're a vibrant, modern part of today's society? Are they in the digital age? To me, a church sign should not only give the name of the church, maybe the pastor, but it'll give the times of service, it'll give maybe a phone number and ideally, it'll have a little theme, maybe it's a sermon topic coming up, maybe just as a general message.

The old timey signs I don't think fill the need of the church today. What I've seen in this Stewart-type sign that is ... has changing digital wording that can give a better impression.

Important Messages to Place on a Church Sign

John: Right. What do you think is the most important thing for a church to get out there in terms of their message?

Bob: I believe the first thing is the time of service. Some churches as I go around will start at ten o'clock in the morning, they may have an 8 o'clock or 8:30 service. Then they'll have a 10:00, 10:30 or eleven o'clock service. Well, if you're going, thinking that it's an eleven o'clock service because that's what you're used to, and they started at ten o'clock or 10:30, you're going to be disappointed and you're probably not going to go in.

The church should tell what time their services are. Second, it's ideal to have a little theme, a message. Maybe it's the sermon topic of the week, maybe it's just a scripture or maybe it's a faith-based message to encourage you. As people ride by during the day of the week, a sign's message that inspires, encourages, supports them, the attitude, the position they may be in, you can be blessed by a sign. In the Steward-type sign, that's colorful changing colors, changing words, the digital image, it's much more refreshing. It is much more attention-getting. It's not only attractive, but it serves a purpose of getting out the message that the church and the pastor want to share.

John: Right. I think that a lot of churches need to remember too what their goal is, is to get new members in and reach those people who are not being reached by God's message. By having like you said maybe a little scripture verse on there, maybe a little welcome thing, whatever it is ... something that maybe catches somebody's eye who is not one of the members of the church yet, but might get them, might draw them in or something to say, "Hey, you know what? I'm going to stop by this coming Sunday and see what this place is all about." Like you said, a nice modern sign is more welcoming and maybe more inviting to those types of people.

Bob: Exactly. It makes the difference. They may not even be thinking of changing churches, but they get the in a low state, maybe they're somewhat depressed, discouraged, something's happened in their life, business, family, health, whatever it might be. The new thing with the Stewart-type sign, it can change the message instantly almost. They change it from inside, you don't have to get the box of letters and go out there and stay in the rain to put up a message that says, "God's blessings are raining down on you just as the weather," or something like that.

I think you've got to get people's attention today. Sadly, they're not looking for a church. They don't go to church, but that inspiring message may reach them in a way that that old painted sign is just not going to do or just the name of the church. If you're not looking for a church, it's not going to make any difference but when you're attracted to an attractive sign, a message that means something to you, that makes a difference in your life that day, I think that's important. That's what the church usually wants to do. They want to make a difference in somebody's life and the Stewart-type sign can do it.

Old Church Signs

John: Do you still see a lot of churches in your travels that are not doing that type of sign, that still have the old types of signs?

Bob: Yes, sadly. Yes, I've seen some beautiful, painted. I've seen some signs recently, a couple of signs that a particular denomination is using in this Norfolk area. They're almost engraved into the wood. It's cut into the wood the name of the church, but there's no message there. Obviously, if you're engraving it into the wood, you can't put the message. You can't change that message. Just the name of the church, it's a beautiful sign, they use a gold reflective paint with your vibrant colors, blues and things, but it doesn't give the impression that the digital sign of the lighted changing message can do.

John: Right. Like you said, you can change that message on a whim like you said it might be raining out so you put a message about raining down God's love or something like that, or just you can do it on the spur of the moment, which you can't do with a lot of those other signs.

Sharing Public Service Messages and Condolences on a Church Sign

Bob: Right. One of the things in addition to my Church Security and it's a ministry, it's not a business, but Church Security Institute, I also do Critical Incident Stress Management, CISM, for our local Seven Cities First Responders. We're called out in the event of a tragedy where an officer, a firefighter, an EMS has had a really difficult call. Today, sadly we're seeing police officers, firefighters that are killed not only just in the line of duty but sometimes ambush.

If something tragic happened in your community, boy it would be nice to pop that sign up for real quickly that says, "Our thoughts and prayers for officer so-and-so." "Our thoughts and prayers to the whatever city Fire Department for the loss or the tragedy," or a hurricane alert warning. A lot of messages that could be a real public service and a good impressionable image of the church, even though it's not pushing the church. That old sign with just the name of the church on it, it's pretty and in the new ones with the vibrant colors, it's nice, but it's not the same thing as really giving a vibrant message.

How the Church Security Institute Helps

John: Yes. I think that's a really good point. Bob, I wanted to talk a little bit more about what you do. How important is safety and security at churches and how does the Church Security Institute help them out?

Bob: Well, it really goes back to the Bible. I thank the Lord. The Bible says that the pastor, that the leader is the shepherd of the church. God provides and He guides us, it's what I tell pastors. If He's going to guide and provide people to you, and His Word says that your job is to provide for and protect these people or His people that are coming to you, you've got to do that in such a way that you can be obedient to His call to be His shepherd.

A church today is much different. I can remember and I've talked to people even older than I am when I'm getting out there, but they say that we never lock the doors in their church, or the church was open from 6:00 or 7:00, 8:00 in the morning till 7:00 or 8:00, 9:00 at night. Many churches, people would go in and pray there, in Boston, in New York after 9:00, 11:00. There were churches that never closed their doors, people came in and prayed at any hour. You don't see that today because there are attacks not only on the church, it could be arson, it could be vandalism, it could be [an] active shooter type [of] situation.

What I try to do is to help the church to see that they have a mission. Churches have a lot of ministries, they have new members ministry, they have a benevolent ministry, they have a missions ministry but do they have a safety security ministry? Has the church looked at the risk? I don't even charge for what I do because it's a ministry, it's my gift to them that God provides. I do a brief risk review to see what some of the risks are, point those out to them and if they don't have a plan to address this risk, we try to help them to develop that plan.

There're some things that you can't predict, earthquakes and they're going to happen and they're going to happen without warning. We're lucky here on the East Coast that we know when the hurricane's coming. We know when the bad Nor'easter storm is coming but it's those things that are unexpected and the church needs to be prepared.

Everybody today is so aware of the fact that they've got a cell phone or they've got a nearby phone. They call 911 and they expect public safety, police, fire, EMS to be there in just a couple of minutes. Being a police officer, a deputy and having been in the past firefighter, it could be an average of three to five if you're really lucky, five to eight, eight to 12 minutes before they get there in a situation depending on what else is going on.

Worse than all of that, if it's a real tragedy and there's something big that's happened ... we had a few years ago an aircraft accident in here and it landed in an apartment complex. Fortunately, there was no loss of life but there was some bad fires and every fire engine, every ambulance, every police car in that section of the city was tied up. If you had an emergency and called 911, you're not going to get that five-minute response that you normally expect and a life can be lost in two or three minutes, less than 5, 8 or 12.

I tell the churches that when seconds count and help is minutes away, you that are on the scene are your first own responder and if you're going to be the first responder, you've got to be trained, you've got to be equipped. Churches today, a lot of them that are really thinking ahead have AEDs, Automatic Electronic Defibrillators, to restart that heart that stops.

Every church just about, regardless of its size and its location, its denomination, even its age group is going to have a medical emergency, a heart attack, a stroke, somebody falls down stairs, somebody cuts themselves in the kitchen, somebody gets burned, somebody falls in the parking lot, you really are responsible. God calls us to be good stewards of what He provides and if somebody gets hurt, and you can't do something to help him at least temporarily and until emergency service can respond, then are you really being a good steward? Are you being faithful to what God has called you to do, to provide for and to protect those people?

Once the church has a plan, they have policies to carry out the plan, we encourage them to develop, recruit and select a team and I prefer to call it the ministry safety team. I start with safety because when you talk security, then the question of guns comes up and a number of other things that some people are hesitant about, but we call it safety. Everybody wants to be safe for themselves and for others. If I have a safety ministry team, it sits in with the team of all the other, your other ministries, it's serving the church, it's serving the community.

In Sutherland, Texas at that shooting there which was horrible and people died. They died in the church but the first shots fired, the first person to be killed was out in the parking lot. In Tennessee, the first shots fired, the first person killed was in the parking lot. In a recent school shooting in another state, the first person shot was in the parking lot. In this case, the school had a plan, they had a lockdown procedure. The attacker never really got into the building but he was able to fire a few shots through the window before he got scared and took off, but the alarm went off.

Church security ... we're trying to help the church to realize they have to protect God's people, they have to provide to them and that safety is paramount, security is important. It starts in the parking lot having a greeter, having a safety person out there in case of a fall, to help that visitor, that new person that's coming into your church. How nice to be greeted and welcomed before they ever get to the building. If it's a suspicious person, then the guy in the parking lot is the first person to be able to warn inside that, "Here comes a potential problem, you may want to meet them at the door."

That's why our church's communication is so important, because the person in the parking lot can either deter by their presence. I suggest that wearing a traffic vest or something that easily identifies them [as] out of the ordinary, not just a regular member or visitor. There's something special about them, they're attracting attention to themselves and that's going to deter some of the attackers. If you can deter the attacked, if you can detect the problem, the guy with a hoodie or a raincoat on a sunny warm day, that's suspicious. You're not going to be able to do anything about it, you speak to him, you greet him, you welcome him and he ignores you and walks right on by you. You need to radiate the door and say, ''Stand outside of the door and lock it, let's get a little more about this person before he comes in.''

If you can't stop him at the door, then somebody in before you, in the lobby, a third person should be able to do something. You deter, you detect and you delay it a little bit to prevent him getting in, until you're comfortable and assured. If you can't delay it, then you've got to defend the people that are inside, the innocent that are lambs to be slaughtered if you don't do your job. If we can't defend it then we've got to defeat that enemy, that attacker, that danger.

Today, you've got to be prepared. God calls us to do that and so we try to help them to see that you need training, you need equipment and you've got a role to play, you've got a job to do because when seconds count and help is minutes away, you're there, you're your own first responder, you're the person that's going to help that one that's in need.

Using a Church Sign to Promote Safety Issues

John: That's really interesting Bob, really good information. I'm thinking that if a church starts a security or a safety ministry, maybe they could advertise that on their brand new LED sign out in the front, "Hey, come join our security and safety ministry." [laughs]

Bob: Exactly, there are actually a couple of churches that say on their signs, "Guns are not forbidden here." It was one that I saw and there was another one that says, "Your concealed weapon is welcome like you are." There are other churches who prefer not to have the guns inside.

I was shocked recently to attend a church that have their security people and it says security on their shirt which I thought was unusual. I usually tell them to make security inconspicuous but obvious, but these guys and girls had security on their shirts and they're checking people at the door coming in, opening and looking in pocketbooks and using the hand-held metal detector to scan somebody to keep a weapon out of the church.

This church was really adamant about it and I just wondered, "Okay, your existing members are now comfortable with this, they put up with it, but how many visitors are going to do that or turn away?" The church has this sign that says, "We have a safety team here to help you." I think that's a plus, I think that's an advertisement of, "We're ready for you, we're welcoming you and we're prepared to help you ..."

John: Keep you safe.

Bob: " security, whatever it may be."

Contact Church Security Institute to Learn More

John: Bob, how can people get in touch with you?

Bob: The easiest thing, two ways, a website which is a little bit long but it's the three words: ChurchSecurityInstitute.wordpress,, That's the web and we have articles information and tweets on Twitter. It's @churchsecurityi, the 'i' for Institute, we didn't have enough letters to do all this. It's church security on Twitter and in fact, if you go there you're going to see two tweets about the Stewart Signs recently because they have a tweet that they sent out and I thought it was a perfect message that we could complement and add to. Our email is [email protected] and phone number 757-580-5966.

We're here to serve the Lord, His people, His church and we're here to encourage people that having a new sign something like what Stewart Signs can provide and they can be inexpensive. They don't have to be all of the bells and whistles. You can start out small and grow just as the church starts out small and grows. There were no megachurches that popped into existence. Somebody already had a message, some preachers started the ministry that grows to be a big church today. Church Security Institute, we're here to serve the Lord and we're here to serve His people and His church.

John: All right, well thanks again for speaking with me today Bob, I really appreciate you.

Bob: Thank you, John. Have a great day. Be safe.

John: You too. For more information about church signs, visit

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