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Implementing Church Safeguards

In the past, it wasn’t customary to be concerned about security issues within churches. Many of us think of our churches as some of the safest places there are. Maybe it’s because throughout history, churches have been safe havens during wartimes; or maybe it’s because we think God “lives” at church, so nothing bad can happen there. Well, times have changed and so have churches. Gone are the days when we can simply rely on “good faith” to preserve the security of every aspect of church life.

Over the years, technology has been introduced to churches to manage membership, financial data, volunteers, and pretty much every other aspect of church business. Now, with security becoming an increasing concern in our society today, software solutions are being created for churches that handle the security of people, information, communication and much more.

Because churches typically utilize volunteers for most church staff functions, it is imperative for churches to do background checks, have a systematic way of tracking children, provide secure methods of online communication and backup all data so that in the event of an emergency, all is not lost. By taking steps to protect your church, its people and its programs, security problems can be avoided and your church can focus on ministering to people and spreading the gospel, which is, after all, the main goal.

Protect the Children
“Just one problem can destroy a church-it only takes one snafu. These days, churches can be sued and found negligent for not supervising as they should have,” notes Dean Stone, pastor of children for Cross Pointe Church in Norman, Oklahoma. “It all starts with valuing children. This is what Jesus stood for and is the basis of our ministry.”

You’ve worked hard to set up your children’s ministry programs. You’ve taken time to set up the nursery, hire teachers for the Sunday school and develop curriculum that will teach all children about God’s love for them; now don’t forget to spend some time thinking about how to keep the children physically safe as well. In order to prevent mishaps in this day and age, it is becoming critical to implement some type of security system to check babies, toddlers and school-aged children in and out of all church programs, whether it be the nursery, children’s church, Sunday school or youth functions.

Many software providers are now creating products that work with a church’s management software to accurately check children in and out of church programs. By using software through either manned or unmanned stations, parents can be sure that children will be secure no matter where they are in the church building. With many programs, security badges can be customized and printed with unique identifying information such as the child’s name, date, session details, parent and/or pager number and even allergy information. By requiring check in for every child, churches also have a way of posting attendance more easily and providing real-time reports showing who has checked in or out by class or activity. With detailed security badges for each child and parent, parents can rest assured that their children will not be released to anyone but the parent that checked them in.

Maintain Volunteer Records
You’ve spent countless hours meeting with volunteers, interviewing them and finding out what their spiritual gifts are so that you can put them to work in the best places. Now, you want to make sure that their data is kept safe, and that appropriate background information is reviewed and stored in the event that any problems arise. It’s important to maintain accurate records of who is doing what within your church. By implementing a volunteer management program, your church can enjoy a more organized database of volunteers to choose from for specific programs and projects, and can also make sure up-to-date background checks are on file for volunteers who work with children. Many software programs offer special custom fields to keep fingerprints stored on file along with photo and background information for each record. Also, some programs offer additional security enhancements, including limited printing abilities so that personal information about volunteers cannot be printed. Another important security feature is to only allow information to be viewed when a user is in the volunteer management program. This means the user would have to login to the program in order to view detailed personal information on volunteers. Volunteer management software can be a great way to match people with their passions, skills and talents and to help grow your organization and keep it secure.

Secure Online Communications
“For several years, members have asked for the ability to access personal information through the church website. They wanted us to give them access to the database. We’re responding to this desire. Now at least half of our congregation has the ability and desire to access member information online,” said Mark Wingfield, associate pastor and communications director at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.

You’ve worked hard to communicate with your members from the pulpit. You’ve encouraged them to listen, communicate with one another and even help them communicate more effectively by utilizing the web as a secure communications tool. This is the new wave in church management software: to give church members, lay leaders and staff members access to the church database through the church website. The idea here is that church members might have access to update their personal contact information, thereby saving church staff time; lay leaders might have access to their class rosters and have the ability to email people in their small groups; and church staff would have even more access to church database information in order to do work from home and increase efficiencies. In working with a company to provide this type of online access, churches would want to look for a company that provided different levels authorization within the program to make sure that information was secure and only being viewed and altered by approved parties. Each member should have their own password and login and all connections should be encrypted with 128-bit SSL to transmit information between churches, their members and the software program. Effective programs will also have a way to detect intrusions by people that don’t have proper access. Also, servers should be located in a state-of-the-art data center facility located on the internet backbone and backups of all data should be done periodically and stored offsite.

Store Financial Data
You’ve preached about tithing, talked about the church’s financial needs, now it’s time to make sure that contributions data is kept secure within the church. It is important for churches to store financial and contribution data securely to avoid identity theft and keep members’ financial information safe. A common practice of churches is to make copies of contribution checks each Sunday and put them in a hard copy file for a minimum of one year. This is problematic in our day and age of identity theft because having checking account information sitting around in a file can pose security risks. A new feature of some contribution management programs is to provide a way to scan checks and store an “image” of these checks in the contributions database. By storing an image of the check, the need to print out a copy and store it in a hard copy file is no longer needed. Moreover, the contributions program should make it possible to view the check image and financial data only through that program, providing increased security of the digital image and corresponding data.

Back Up Data
Last but not least, you’ve worked hard in every area of your church to gather and maintain church data, now it is imperative to back up ALL church data as frequently as changes are made. If changes are made daily, then a backup should occur daily. Also, when bad weather is threatening, backups should be done more frequently. A good question to ask is, “What is the resource cost to re-key the data if it is lost and a backup hasn’t been made?” Some churches backup to their own servers on site, but what would happen if your church office experienced a fire, tornado or other natural disaster that destroyed all files? Tragedy can be avoided by using an online backup service to automatically back up all data through a secure online connection to an offsite data storage location. Your church can have peace of mind knowing that your membership, contribution and tax-related files are stored securely in a remote location. Many programs offer the ability to set up scheduled automated back-ups so that you don’t have to worry about when you did your last manual backup. In the event of power outages, computer viruses or any other unfortunate event, backed up data can be easily retrieved and restored to church office computers. Some programs even offer the ability to store other types of information, such as Word files and image files, so all data on church computers can be stored efficiently and effectively.

As for security of these files, look for an online backup service that stores files with unique identifiers and has a system in place to thwart hackers; require people to have access to both the file and the database in order to access data files. Also, when transmitting data, a secure FTP site should be locked by username and password so the accessibility is controlled. Lastly, data should be stored on a non-internet addressable storage server.

Security is a big issue for churches and all organizations in our rapidly changing world. By taking some simple steps and utilizing software programs that use secure technology, churches can avoid disaster, keep data safe, keep people safe and enjoy continued focus on what you really want to focus on: spreading the Gospel.

ACS Technologies provides secure software management solutions to handle every aspect of church business. Its core software product is ACS and other products that can enhance security measures include: Volunteer Manager, Access ACS, Check Imaging and LiveStor. The company currently serves over 22,000 churches, schools and other faith-based organizations with its award winning software solutions.

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