Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today we’ve got Jeremy Taylor on the show from Black Rock Church in Fairfield, Connecticut. Great to have you, Jeremy.
Great to be back on the show with you guys.
Yeah, if Jeremy’s name or the church sound familiar it’s because we’ve had him on the show before, so we must like you a lot, Jeremy. For those listening, Jeremy recently became the executive pastor at Black Rock Church, and we’ve got him back on today to talk about church security, the hidden necessity in today’s world. Jeremey, let’s start with a birds eye view of Black Rock, Sunday morning attendance, how many locations, number of staff, all of that.
Yeah, so we’re a church that is about 170 years old, and we have a rough attendance of about 2,500 kids and adults on a Sunday. We run four services here at our main campus. And then we have one very small campus of about 100. Then our staff is, I have about 25 full-time and 20 part-time.
Okay, 20 part-time. So, church security can cover quite a few things. Everything from background checks to actual physical security on a Sunday morning, there’s also secured giving which most churches have dabbled with now. You’re new to the XP role and you’ve also been on staff there at Black Rock for about 15 years in other roles. Would you take us through the evolution of Black Rock’s approach to security?
So, I think we were a typical church 10 years ago that we did not think about it at all, and we’ve learned over time about the necessity. And so for us, I think the beginning was starting to do background checks on people, but we weren’t very strong and doing that to every person. And I know for us, we’ve grown there that every person who serve, no matter where they serve, we’re doing background checks and also training them on how to identify child abuse and just things like that. So, we take every person who volunteers through that here at the church. Another thing that we implemented a few years ago was just kids checking. And so, every kid who’s checked in between birth and fourth grade has to get a tag, and when they’re picked up, their parents have to show that corresponding tag to get them. And so, we have those areas that are secure. And then we also have a volunteer team that just checks that and make sure that no one entering those areas is not permitted to enter there. So, we made some good progress in those two areas over the last two years and then with giving, that’s a big one for us. And we just really did our homework on finding a company that is very reliable with that technology and who just really protects people and their credit cards. And so, did a lot of homework there to pick a solution that helped us. And for us, we chose Push Pay and just have really enjoyed that side of ministry and of what they offer.
And how long have you been using Push Pay?
Two years now.
Two years. Okay, good. That’s plenty of times to have been using them and to be able to give good feedback.
Yeah. I love working with them and are giving, we’ve seen, a dramatic increase in online giving and consistent giving, which has really been great for us.
So, sorry, I interrupted you. So, you said started with background checks now everyone has them. You’ve got the kids check in for K through four, you use Push Pay for secure giving. Are there any other solutions that you’ve kind of introduced at the church?
I think a big one that, for the last two years that we’ve we’ve done, is we’ve created a security team that has really helped us, as a church, start to understand how on Sunday mornings and even during the week, we can have a team that can respond to situations and to be trained in even training my staff on how to respond to different situations. So, we started very slow and I think over really the last year have really picked up on, I now have a group of 20 people that on a Sunday serve within this team, and we’re at a great spot that I go, “If there was ever an incident here at the church, we have people who can respond in a timely fashion and really make it where I never fear for what could happen at my church anymore.”
Okay, I want to just put that on a shelf for a second ’cause I wanna come back to the security team and hear a little more details about that. But just staying broad view for a second, was there a particular incident, or maybe community demand even, that propelled Black Rock to maybe go one or two steps further than most churches go and it comes to security?
Yeah, I think we’ve just heard in the news in the last 10 years of either schools, or even churches, I know probably around eight years ago there was a shooting at a church, and we had heard that they had a security team that responded to it. And I think there was good intention, eight years ago to do something, but there was no one to lead that team. And so, the idea was there, but nothing ever happened. And it was one of those that usually things boil up and then you have to have someone to run it. No one ran that team and just fell apart, a couple of passionate people that just stopped doing it. And so, I was able to, two years ago, raise that level and that idea to say, “Hey, we’re gonna have this team. We’re gonna put time and energy behind it and really make it something that can be successful.”
Now, there are a lot of different areas demanding your attention as staff member at a church. So, why is security such a big topic for you, such a serious thing for you?
Three young kids, and I’m passionate about them being safe. And it was really my wife about two years ago, just saying she has asked me a couple questions as our kids were entering elementary school and just going, “Do we do this as a church?” And I was like, “Nope, nope, noep.” And she’s like, “Why?” So, that just got me asking some questions at that time. I seen her staff and just saying, “Why don’t we do this?” And they came back and said, “Those are great ideas, who’s gonna do it?” And so, I said, “Let me try to find some people.” And so, I went to a couple of police officers in our church and just said, “Hey, I wanna do this, and will you help me lead this team?” And what was the coolest thing for me was they were like, “That’s what I’m designed to do. And I’m just glad you asked.” And they were all about joining in and figuring this out together. And we’ve learned a lot and just had to go on through a lot of growth processes as a team, but it’s been fun. And I love serving with those people now.
Alright, so, I want to know more specifically about the security team, the police officers you approached at the beginning. You said you’ve learned a lot and it’s been fun. What have you learned? What has been fun about it? Who is this team?
Yeah, so what I did first of all was I found two or three police officers in the church, and we started meeting every other week for almost three months, just saying, “What do we need to start thinking about and doing?” And they brought up so many things that I, as a pastor never even thought about. And so, one of our big things was we brought in our town and said, “You guys look through our building,” from the fire department to the police department. And the town offered a ton of suggestions of adding more cameras, securing doors, numbering doors, just things like that. I had never even thought about. And so, that was our big thing was just getting our town involved, building a relationship with them, and helping them to understand we were passionate about this and they offered a lot. And at the same time, as I was meeting with these police officers, we came up with an emergency action plan. And so, these different scenarios, if they were to happen, how would we respond as a church? And so, we worked on that and that was hard. And it was a lot of meetings of, “Okay, exactly how do we do this as a church with volunteers, with you guys can’t really use your law enforcement, you’re not on duty. How do we do these things when you guys aren’t on duty? How do we handle people on the security team who aren’t law enforcement, who carried a gun?” So, all those things we had to work through and they were long, but they were really important for us to be on the same team. And after that, then we started recruiting just generally from within our church and through some emails to our whole church just saying, “Hey, if you have a passion for this, just contact me.” And I was the vetting process at the beginning of, there were a couple that I said, “Hey, this isn’t the place for you.” And then others I was excited for them to join. And really, we wanted it to have people on the team that were passionate about safety, not passionate about reacting to bad situation. There’s a different mindset there. And you can get someone within five minutes you can know if someone’s passionate about safety, de-escalating a situation, or if they wanna be the hero that comes in. And so, we let a couple of people say, “Hey, this isn’t your place.” Those were hard, but we got the right team of eight or nine people at the beginning that were trained. And then I think the next thing after we train that whole team and emergency action was we then took our whole staff through it and that’s herding cats, man. That was a process there of trying to get them to understand their role within this. Again, you get about, I would say, half our staff was very passionate, the others half just didn’t understand it. And I don’t know if they still understand it to this point, but we continue to train them on what they’re supposed to do within each scenario that we’ve kinda gone through. And then I would say the last thing is is that we’ve really learned, as a team, how we communicate. And so, on Fridays one of my team members, and for me, what’s been great is I’ve totally stepped back. These guys now lead this whole team, so I just see what’s happening but they run the whole team now. So, they’ll email out who’s going to what services, who’s sitting in what positions around our worship center, who’s kind of roaming around the building making sure everything’s safe on a Sunday. And then on Sunday mornings, then we actually use an app where we communicate together and that we’re all just talking throughout the service and things like that. And we’ve had a number of smaller issues that have come up that we’ve been able to de-escalate without even people even knowing.
Yeah, if you could give some examples. Because I think some people might be listening and only picturing these really dramatic scenarios. So, if you could give some examples of some of the smaller things that you’ve been able to counteract with this team.
Yeah, perfect example, a couple of weeks ago, our worship centers seat950 and it’s kind of circular, so you can see. So, we set different strategic positions, and we had a person who was standing up in our balcony area who was just standing at his feet during the sermon. He stood up during the sermon, and for me, it’s concerning. You’re going, “Why is the guy standing? Is he gonna yell something out?” So, my security team starts using this chat on this app and two of them just go and they get up from their seat, walk out and around, and they go up and just sit right next to the guy. The guy never even knew who they were, what they were doing, but they wanted to be right next to him. If he were to yell out, they could address the situation right away. And again, no one in my congregation knew who they were, what they were doing. They just… I knew, the rest of my team knew, “Hey, we’re gonna go sit up there.” And it just… for me, it was such a feeling, my wife sitting next to me and she seen me on this chat. She’s going, “I noticed him too, and what a relief to know that our team could just respond in that way.” About a year ago, we had a woman who came up on our stage and started to say some things. Now, she was not a part of the worship service, and one of the things we learned later on was, one thing is we have to sit strategically. So, for me, I was sitting in the upper area in the middle, and so, I know this woman’s not supposed to be on stage, and I’m going, “I am like 30 seconds from where I can get to the stage.” I’m going, “I have to sit much more strategically.” So, as a team we learn from that, that we have to be really strategic around where we sit. But also my team didn’t know, at that time, the order of service, they didn’t know who was supposed to be on stage. And so, they thought it was part of the worship service. I knew immediately it wasn’t. And luckily, one of our pastors knew. So, as soon as she started into her political rant, he was able to address her and my security team, as soon as they saw this pastor go up, they knew. So, they helped escort her out and we got the police involved and had to escort her out and get her some psychiatric help and things like that. So, again, it’s just the team knowing, “Hey, what are we supposed to do? How are we we supposed to respond? How do we get the police involved and other things like that?” It’s just been two little issues. I’d say the third one is is that we’re just realizing more and more as a church, that we have people who are just mentally not where they should be. And so, I have a list. We have a Google Doc that we share, our security team, of five people, that if they were to enter our church that we would ask them, at this point, not to come back because of something they’ve said or done. And so, we just know how to address that. And so, a couple of weeks ago, we had one of those people return after the elders had asked them not to come back because some of the things they’ve said. So, my security team was aware of that, we were able to communicate that morning, “!This person was here.” Four of us were able to confront that person, as well as bring in, we have a police officer who directs traffic. So, we give him a radio, we have to call him. He was within the church within 20 seconds and helped us escort this person out. So, again, not like the guy was carrying a gun or anything, but it was more of just someone that the church leadership had asked not to come back, that we were able to address it and make sure that there wasn’t anything further or disruption to our service.
That’s incredible. I’ve got a couple of questions. One is, what is this app that you guys are using on Sunday mornings? Is this just a regular messaging app? What is it?
Yeah. One of things we learned as soon as our team, because at the beginning we were just complicated through text message, but when our team got over 10 people, all the cellular service companies limit how many people can be on a group text. And so, we ran into this issue and one of my police chief said, “Hey, we use this app called Warnable within our town. Our schools use it. The police use it, the fire department uses it. We should bring them in.” And so, they hadn’t worked with the church before this company Warnable, but they were eager to help us out. And so, what this app does is it allows us a couple things, is that we have different scenarios if something were to happen that I can select, and then I can select different groups that I can send this message out to. And so, our security team, are staff, we have a Sunday team, our parking team, our ushers, or greeters, staff, security, can all get a message about what’s happening. And then when you select your different scenario, it actually gives you, “Hey, here’s the six things that I’m supposed to do now that this is the scenario.” So, if there’s a fire, here’s what I’m supposed to do. If there’s an active shooter, here’s what I’m suppose to do. If we have a disruptive person, here’s what I’m supposed to do. A medical emergency, here’s what I’m supposed to do. Because I forget, I forget what, “Okay, what am I supposed to do in case of fire?” So, now we can post that on this app. Everyone gets the… it’s either if your sounds on, you get this Warnable sound, or you just get this vibration of a text message coming and then everybody knows. And so, our whole staff and everybody can get these alerts, and we can just mass message everyone that we’ve selected in that. I also now have a medical team. So, we had a medical issue a couple of weeks ago. I used Warnable for that. The guy was in the parking lot about to leave. He ran right back in. I was able to respond to that medical situation because of the app. The other thing it allows us to do is to chat, and so within whichever groups. So, my Sunday morning security team, we start a chat at 7 am, and whenever we enter the building we’re saying where we’re at, where we’re sitting, and any issues that come up we can communicate back and forth and know that our whole team is getting that, or we can add another one to say, “Hey, we need to interact with our staff to let them know.” So, it’s really been beneficial for communication, but then also just to be able to send out these timely alerts to situations or medical response, things like that, both on Sunday and even throughout the week.
And I also like that you spoke about how it touches on just empowering those who are volunteering by reminding them of, “Here’s what I’m supposed to do in this scenario. And here’s what you’re supposed to do in this scenario.”
Yeah, ’cause I go, “Your volunteers, you can train them as much as you want, but when the situation arises, you don’t remember, and you’re going, ‘What was I supposed to do? I remember through that training, but now it’s like up here on my phone, I can see my six steps of what I’m supposed to do and how I’m supposed to respond as a volunteer to it.’” And it’s been hugely beneficial in a couple of situations where we’ve used that, that people just get what they’re supposed to do as a kids volunteer or an usher, or whatever.
That’s a testimony to the application itself that you’re the first church to use it and you’ve been so pleased with it.
Yeah, I’m a big proponent of this and they’re great at helping to figure out how the church and use this… they’ve been big with schools and police departments, and this has been just huge for us and I would not not have this technology ’cause it’s been so beneficial for us. And we’ve used it on a couple of occasions in a great way that it’s well worth for us the money, ’cause of other limitations we ran into when you’re just trying to text the group and things like that.
Aside from the actual security that is offered to the members of your church, something I really love that keeps coming up as a thread in everything you’re saying is the connection you have with the community through reaching out to police department, the fire department, the school system uses this application. And so, often our churches are pretty isolated from the community, really, other than some non-profits they might work with here and there. Day to day interaction with the community is a little bit limited. And I love that finding out these solutions for yourself has required getting out in your community and getting advice and interacting like that.
We’ve built a great relationship with our community through just the security team, and it’s been a great thing for us just to have them coming in and see what we do and understand it better. Because again, being in New England, there’s a big misperception of the Evangelical church. And so, that’s been great to build that trust with them. And also, they’re a resource that I think most of the time we don’t think that they’re a resource or we don’t ask, and they have been great with just helping us to be better at understanding what we’re supposed to do as a church and how we can just work together and keep our kids and our adults safe throughout just these different things that we’ve kinda talked through and just being on the same page. And so, I just highly recommend that we all build that relationship. It takes time and they’re gonna suggest something to just say, “Hey, we can’t do.” But in the same way that they understand that there’s limitations to… you could have the most protected church ever and still have some areas that you can grow in. And so, it’s been a great process for us to know our community, law enforcement, and just to know that we’re all working together to keep us safe.
Eventually, I wanna end just kind of getting your perspective now that you’ve been in this XP chair for the last few months, but before I do that, I have another follow up from something you had said, which is, this is something that, unlike most things that the church introduces, usually the staff buys into it, but you have to convince members, where this seems like something that might be easier to convince members of, and you have to convince staff, which you alluded to a little bit. And so, would you… I guess just give some overview of how that process was, or maybe how it’s still going and maybe some advice you’d give to other ministers on introducing this to staff.
That’s a great question. I definitely ran into that here, was that my staff was all in favor of me doing it but then when it came to them leading, training, and working through this, and then spending money on an app and other improvements, it’s like, “Oh, we don’t know if we wanna do that.” And I think that the best thing that I had was that I had my team leaders who were high level police officers, at one time I had an FBI agent working here with us, that they were the ones that really helped me to voice, “Hey, we need to do this and we need to spend this money.” And so, one or two times where we ran into no stickiness with the church leadership, I just kinda said to them, “Hey, can you guys come in and talk to the key players within the church about why we need to do this and why you think it’s beneficial?” And they were great and I think they had the leverage and the expertise that I didn’t have to say, “Hey, these are very important and we highly recommend this, and here’s how it’ll really protect us or help us to communicate, or by adding these security cameras this will really help us as a team to be able to monitor the building more and things like that.” And so, just highly recommend getting those experts within your church to be your champions when you do run into your roadblocks within our staff.
That’s great. So it’s kind of fun to have someone on for the second time, and I’d like to take advantage of that and ask you a follow up question. Last time we talked to you, you were just about to begin in your role as an XP. So, now that you’ve kind of settled into your role, which you may or may not say you’ve settled in, but what are some of your reflections now sitting in this XP chair.
I think my biggest one is that my role before communication was serving. I had a weekly to do list of things that I had to get done that I could kinda check off. Monday I’d do this. Tuesday I’d do this. In this new role it is much bigger kind of things that take a lot of time and energy to wrap your mind around it, to get consensus. And so, it’s almost a different way to think and to prioritize my time. And so, it’s been a very interesting learning curve with that and just going, “Okay, I have four hours. What’s the big thing I’m gonna tackle today because I have this time?” I think the next thing would be is a lot more managing meetings with individuals. And so, I use a lot of note taking on what I talked about with that person and what I’m gonna follow up in two weeks with them. And so, just learning how to manage people has been something that I thought I knew how to do, and I’ve learned that I definitely have to have a structure around that ’cause I meet with about 15 people every other week. And so, just a lot of individual, 15, 20 minute meetings that I’ve learned from. And then lastly, I would say, if God has something in store for you, even when you don’t know it, and for me, I thought a year or two down the road that we would be doing our next capital campaign. And God introduced that last week that we’re doing this. And my senior pastor has me going full steam. And so, it’s like, “Oh man, I’m overwhelmed with… I gotta raise 11 million dollars and think about putting on a second floor on our building and things like that.
No big deal.
Exactly. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh. I thought I was gonna have time to prepare and think through this.” And it’s like, “No, we’re doing this now, now’s the time.” And again, just trusting God has a plan in this and realizing that He’s gonna teach and throw me in it and just be willing to learn. I had a meeting today with somebody, just I asked him a ton of questions ’cause he was on the last building campaign and just going, “I don’t know it all.” I don’t act like I know it all at at all right now, but I’m just going, “I wanna learn as much as I can to surround myself with great people that I can just tap.” And I learned that from a security team and just go, “They know it. Let me just quip them and set them in a place where they can run with it.” And I know even with this next capital campaign, I gotta surround myself with a lot of people that know a lot more who have done it even before. And I’m just gonna learn and just do whatever I can to bring this solution for our growth about. And it’s fun.
That’s fantastic. Jeremy, I’ve really enjoyed having you on today and especially getting to be able to dive deeper into this church security issue. And I think a lot of listeners are gonna really appreciate it, as well.
Thanks for having me.