On Them Lay the Duty of Watching

Behind the scenes with Faith's Safety Team

Posted by Lynn Yount on March 8, 2024
On Them Lay the Duty of Watching
Gray Safety Team hats make the team easier to spot in a crowd. Photography by Seth Weber.
"The four chief gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted to be over the chambers and the treasures of the house of God. And they lodged around the house of God, for on them lay the duty of watching, and they had charge of opening it every morning."
1 Chronicles 9:26-27

The deacon teams at Faith Bible Church offer leadership and structure for many of the “one anothers” in the body of Christ. Under the guidance of deacons and deaconesses, the Hospitality Team welcomes. The Helps Team serves. The Women’s Ministry teams teach and encourage. The Care Fund Team helps provide for needs. You get the idea: All present their gifts for the common good of the body.

The Safety Team fulfills a number of biblical “one anothers” as they serve: greet, care for, bear burdens of, and be devoted to one another, just to name a few. And while the words “protect one another” aren’t in the Bible, the idea is certainly there: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

The Safety Team intentionally takes the front line against potential dangers and watches out for the wellbeing of everyone who comes into the church.

Safety Team Deacon Zack Barrett looks out into the parking lot in the quiet moments after the morning rush for first service.

Preparation and de-escalation

Promoting safety at the church takes many forms: For deacon Pat Lang, it means writing and enacting good safety procedures to prevent accidents and respond to medical emergencies. For deacon Zack Barrett, it means showing up early on Sundays to find and deal with any unsafe or unpleasant surprises before the congregation arrives for worship.

Pat and Zack both got involved in church safety in 2021 following the unexpected death of John Supp, who was a devoted safety volunteer. Before them, Mitch Williams spearheaded the team for years. Now, Pat and Zack lead a team of about seven regular volunteers.

Pat has a background working on safety for the state of Washington at Eastern State Hospital, so his view of safety comes with a bit of paperwork. He sees medical events, slips, trips, and falls as the most common risks during events at the church, and he wants to make sure the church is doing its due diligence to avoid accidents and any liability associated with them. Pat helped create an Accident Prevention Program that the church needs for insurance purposes, but he also sees it as a chance to constantly evaluate and improve practices.

“Every time there’s an incident, we change what we do in response,” he says.

Safety Team deacon Pat Lang greets Faith member Dan Hilliard (right) on a Sunday morning in February.

Case in point: Remember “Church in the Dark” on October 29? As ministry leaders discussed whether to proceed as normally as possible during a second-service power outage, the Safety Team was part of the calculation. Among other things, Pat says, team members walking through the building doing periodic “fire checks” made up for the lack of power to the fire alarm system. And Pat has been working on updating the safety plan with specific factors to address if a power outage happens again during an event.

The Safety Team communicates with two-way radios.

When it comes to people who might turn into a threat, Pat emphasizes the importance of defusing tension. Zack refers to Pat as the “de-escalation master,” recognizing his gift for friendly engagement with people who are behaving erratically, sometimes due to mental illness or substance abuse. When they spot someone like that coming into the church, the team calls Pat on the radio. Often, he or another team member can calm someone down or help them just by having a conversation.

Pat is particularly gifted that way, but everyone on the team is on the lookout to be a friendly first contact with people who are new or acting strangely. And while the Safety Team is currently all male, they would love to have some female volunteers who are willing to engage with strangers with wisdom and the love of Christ.

Discernment and people skills are critical for those conversations. For example, if Pat is dealing with someone who wants to come make a scene and push people around, he tries to move the conversation away from the crowd. “The reason a bully does what a bully does is that they like the audience,” he says. 

Be sober, be vigilant

When it comes to early intervention and spotting people who might intend harm, nobody is more vigilant than Zack. While he knows the chances of a major incident are low, he is always considering worst-case scenarios, and he wants to be prepared.

When I contacted him with the idea of writing about the Safety Team, Zack invited me to shadow him on a Sunday and watch how he and the rest of the volunteers serve at the weekly gathering. Starting at 7:00 am, Zack showed me what he does to check that the building, interior and exterior, is safe for the crowd that will soon arrive.

Zack is usually there early enough to “greet the greeters” and gives a two-way radio to the Hospitality Team that welcomes people at the door. He also gives a radio to the security service that patrols the parking lot on Sundays, so the Safety Team can be summoned quickly if needed.

He checks spots outside that might be good places for an intruder to hide or where someone might leave dangerous waste such as needles. He checks that the correct doors and windows are locked. Like airport security, he watches for any unusual items sitting around.

Most of the time, everything he checks is right as rain. But Zack doesn’t want to leave any opening for anyone who might intend harm, especially to children. The entrance to the Children’s Wing is where you will always see a Safety Team member keeping watch. If there are enough volunteers, you’ll see them in other key places. You can recognize them by their gray hats, which also help them spot each other in a crowded foyer.

Safety Team member Tucker Peterson keeps watch near the Reception Room.

Safety Team deacon Zack Barrett keeps a vigilant eye on the Children's Wing entrance.

On any ministry team, part of the joy of serving comes from being with teammates. Zack says, “One of my favorite things on the Safety Team is the 10-15 minutes after we’ve secured the building and the guys just chill here by the table (in the foyer). And it’s kind of the cool time to just catch up, have some laughs, enjoy fellowship.”

The Sunday I shadowed him, the most unusual thing Zack responded to was an oddly parked truck in the parking lot. Even though we never learned the whole story of why it was over the line and sticking out into the driving lane, he likes to be aware of those kinds of things in case they are connected with anything else that happens during the morning.

Safety Team deacons Pat Lang (left) and Zack Barrett discuss plans for upcoming Safety Team training meetings.

Only a few times have Zack or the other members felt the need to stick close to a person because his demeanor raises red flags. Zack and the team keep in touch on the radios and position themselves to be the first to respond if that person did cause a problem during a service. They stay vigilant so that even people who seem a bit strange or even hostile can still come into church and hear the gospel, which is what we all need most.

Zack says, “In most cases, the guy’s fine; he’s just … carrying a bag and walking weird. He just needs some love, and he came to Jesus for it. So, amen. Now we’re actually accomplishing our goal: bringing people to Jesus.”

Pat and Zack both would like to increase training and preparation opportunities for the team, and even add more volunteers. With a few more people, they might even be able to schedule shifts; for now, God has provided a handful of good people who show up when they can. Zack says he’d love to talk to anyone interested in serving, but he’s focusing on being thankful for those who do serve. He knows each person in the church has different gifts and roles to play in the mission to make disciples of Jesus.

“We are bringing people to Jesus, whether that means picking up the trash outside or helping to get the money for the coffee cart or greeting the greeters. Whatever it is we’re doing, we’re still on mission for the church.”
Lynn Yount

Lynn and her husband, Doug, lead a Growth Group. Lynn serves as a writer and editor for Living Faith magazine and other church communications.

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