10 Things – What’s in a Name?


Sheepdog-Iconography---Safety-TeamI mentioned that the Safety Team must be more than a simple team, they must be a ministry. One of the paradigm shifts that must occur to push the team towards ministry is simply how they are presented to the church. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to choose the name of the team wisely. 

When I first started planning and building this team, I really didn’t think through some of these issues.

The original name of my team was “Emergency Response Team”, or “ERT” for short. As I began planning, I began to realize that we needed a “softer” name for the congregation. With anything involving “security”, or potentially involving weapons, a softer, nicer sounding name will create a different impression to the public at large.

When most people think of “security”, they think of the polyester blue, or white uniform with a shiny badge. I would submit that most Americans would even think about some gruff “old geezer” in a guard shack, or some young “wannabe police officer” who is a bit overzealous guarding their local mall or shopping center. Having worked as a manager for a large physical security firm in Indianapolis, In, I would say that the vast majority of the 400+ officers working there fell into those categories. This is NOT the impression that any church can afford to give. God’s church is supposed to welcome the hurting and broken, not intimidate or threaten them. In my opinion, churches should not have “security guards”, as it conveys a different mentality.

This perception based on language is the reason that many local law enforcement departments around the country are shifting from being called “Police” to “Public Safety”. Look around your area, and you will quickly see local law enforcement that has “Public Safety” instead of “Police” on their vehicles and uniforms. It is the same reason that older generation officers might still refer to themselves as “peace officers”, instead of police or law enforcement. Being a peace officer from a Public Safety Department sounds much nicer than saying that you are a police officer from the Police Department. It is all about public perception. And in public perception, EVERY word matters.

Beyond public perception, the internal perception that is based on language is an even more integral part of the issue. Being a peace officer from a Public Safety Department will convey an internal dialogue that is different than being a “cop” from the local PD. When this internal shift corresponds to the external perception of the public, then the culture of the department shifts, and the citizens notice it.

This is why we made the shift, internally and externally, to being the “Frontline Safety Team”. After making the shift, I spent several months correcting anyone who asked, including pastors, staff or congregants. It was several Sundays in a row where I was asked by the senior pastor, or the intergenerational pastor, “Hey, Bryan. Are you on security today?”

I was always quick to smile and reply, “Nope. Safety.” As the staff got used to the correction, they began using it publicly as well. We worked hard to make sure that every communication about or from the Safety Team ready “Safety”, and not “Security”. One of the biggest changes was to the “building use” forms and email confirmations when someone reserved part of the building.

Because we have a large facility, we often have groups inside and outside the church ask to rent some portion of the facility. When we were starting the team, the Trustees thought it would be a good idea to have someone from the Safety Team present with larger groups, especially if they were not part of the church. Depending on the circumstances, this duty may even draw a small stipend for duty. The early confirmation emails simply listed “Security” as a line-item, regarding times and billing. I worked with the church office for quite a while to get them to change the terminology to “Safety”. I finally explained it to the administrator this way:

They had received several calls and questions regarding whether “security” was necessary for events, especially with long-time church members involved in the events. While there had been some damage and theft which would have warranted the presence, the real threat level was very low for “security” needs. When approached about this from the church’s office administrator, I explained how she could cut the vast majority of those calls out completely. If she simply changed “security” to “safety”, she would get less calls. For those few calls she received, I recommended that she let the caller know that safety is there in case anything goes wrong. With trained and certified Professional Responder-level personnel on hand, if anything does happen, they, or their guests, will be well taken care of.

After she made the changes to the forms, her questioning calls dropped dramatically, and those that did call, she was able to give them an explanation that satisfied them, without causing additional alarm.

This is the same answer that I give almost anyone who asks what I do at the church. I tell them, as leader of the Safety Team, we are there to respond to any emergencies that come up, especially medical-related emergencies. With our training and equipment, we can respond to virtually any medical crisis professionally, as we wait for the ambulance crews to arrive. When couched in those terms, people are usually very pleased that a Safety Team is around.

This change to “Safety Team” had one other huge benefit. As I mentioned in the prior chapter, our outer “appearance” and branding was “Safety” but really was “security” when we first started the team. While we went through the tumult and trouble of revamping the ministry, one of the things that I became cognizant of was our “security” attitude. At times, our team was frankly more of a hinderance than a service in the ministry of Frontline. As we were coming out through the other side, I was made much more aware of what being a “Safety Team Ministry” meant to the church, and to our group.

As silly as it sounds, words have meaning. By making the switch in all of our internal and external communication, we began to internalize that function of the ministry. Instead of being “security”, we became “safety”. By accepting on the inside, the very verbiage that we were using on the outside, our very culture shifted from “security” to “safety”. Although we still train vigorously for security issues, when our language and internal thinking shifted to reflect an ideal of “safety”, we no longer acted like security guards or bouncers.

As I train other churches, I always recommend that they adopt the “Safety Team” language. In fact, I’m very quick to correct the verbiage in any training session, or when meeting with church staff or leadership. I actually look forward to the first time that someone starts talking about “security”, especially when it relates to what I do in at my church. I use that moment to start to re-train the language and shape the culture of the church volunteer team, and once I explain why I’m so adamant about it, the staff and leadership will most often understand and agree.

As you start, join, or revamp your church Safety Team, remember, the language that we use invokes certain images and feelings and consider the following questions:

  1. What language are you using? Does it invoke images of “mall cops”? Or does it instead convey a sense of ministry and helping others?
  2. What does the name of your team say to those that you serve?
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