Safety First : Trauma Informed Ministry


Does safety in ministry matter? If so, why? What does it look like? Safety is the foundation for taking a Trauma-Informed approach to ministry.

Everyone who was around at the time can remember where they were on 9/11. It was a tragic day that will live with us for the rest of our lives. It changed so many things about our world and the lasting impacts are impossible to count.

Immediately after that tragedy fears about flying skyrocketed. The airlines knew they had to find a way to get people back on the planes, not only for their own bottom line but also for the impact limited travel would have on the rest of the economy. New security measures were put in place and the government stepped in with the TSA to increase safety. More and more people slowly began to fly again once they saw security measures put in place. The fact was people needed to feel safe before they would fly.

Safe Learning

Think about Maslow’s hierarchy. Physiological needs are the first things that have to be met. Those are the things that keep us alive. Next are safety needs. We have to believe we are secure and safe. Only after safety do you find the ability to feel a sense of belonging, the ability to love, and the building of friendships.

Billy Graham once said,

I have an intense interest in those who are working in the inner-city churches. It is probably the most frustrating ministry of today—to face teeming areas of people of different ethnic groups, living in substandard housing, many of them unemployed. Religious ideas have little meaning for most of them. Their lives are disorganized. The inner-city pastor faces all their frustrations and tries with compassion to enter into their problems.

Graham knew it’s difficult, if not impossible, for people facing trauma and tragedy to focus on spiritual things. As he put it, “Religious ideas have little meaning for most of them.”

Without basic physiological needs, being met, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. Safety works the exact same way. For those who live in total insecurity, it’s hard to address anything in their lives. when we don’t feel safe on a basic human level we can’t learn or grow very easily.

Safe Church

People who live in uncertainty or insecurity need to know they’re safe before taking action and moving forward. Our churches should be places of safety for those who feel unsafe.

Our churches should be places of safety for those who feel unsafe. Click To Tweet

Someone being abused at home needs to know that we are actively working to keep them safe. We need to consider physical, mental, and emotional safety.

Safety doesn’t mean secret. There are some things that we keep private but we shouldn’t be known as the place that keeps secrets. Especially when safety is in jeopardy.

We not only have to be a safe place, but we also have to make it known we are a safe place. People who walk into our churches need to know we take safety seriously. Otherwise, they have no reason to feel safe. We should make known the safety measures and policies we have in place.

Practical Steps

Make sure you have safety procedures and policies in place. Form a committee to review current policies and create new ones if needed. If you’re not sure where to start have a local emergency management agency, or police and fire dept tour your facility to give you recommendations. Talk with other local churches and even schools to see what policies are in place. Maybe something they’re already doing will work in your context. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.

It should be well known that all volunteers and staff have to go through background checks and training. My denomination requires Ministry Safe training. There are also great training resources through services like Ministry Grid or TrainedUp. Training like CPR and First Aid might be important. Even doing some FEMA online courses could be beneficial. It might seem like overkill, but it’s not. If you have the means and resources, there’s no reason to take advantage of them to create a safer space for those you’re called to serve. We need to love our people and this is one way to actively show that love.