An Excerpt From Chapter 7

Keys for Coffee? — Keeping Track of Access to Buildings

I still have a key to a church I used to do work for. I owned a company that provided technology services to churches and this particular church was my largest client. I did so much work for them, they just gave me a key and an alarm code. They were so big and busy, it worked best for us both that my team and I would come in at night to work so we were not a bother to church functions. I haven’t done work for them in over eight years, but I still have a key to the facility. Nobody called me to get it back.

Recently, I attended a funeral at this church and my curiosity was peaked. Would my key still work, or did they change the locks? It still worked. I have unfettered access to a church I do not attend, nor work for anymore.

Seem scary? How many keys to your church are out there that you don’t know about? Who has access to your facility that is no longer associated with your church?

When you leave a job in the corporate world, what is the first thing your boss asks for? The keys to the building. The Church is the only organization I know of that gives keys to volunteers, and they rarely keep track.

While meeting with our insurance agent for the church I was working for, he asked me if we kept track of all the keys and alarm codes of our building. I was forced to answer no and thought of the key I had in my pocket of the previous church that I was no longer a vendor for. His point was well taken. Theft and unrestricted access from people within the church is often the cause for many insurance claims. Our agent suggested we redo all the locks and keys, distribute keys only as necessary, and then keep track of them. If we could do this, our insurance rate would drop substantially. The savings on insurance after two years would equal the cost of rekeying the entire complex. It was a deal!

What I learned through this process was staggering. First, I learned our agent was right. We had no idea who had a key, nor how many people that really was. After we changed the locks, we started giving new keys to those who obviously needed them, like staff, then a few key volunteers. Within a few weeks, I received numerous communications from church members who couldn’t gain access to the church buildings. One by one, the staff questioned whether these volunteers needed a key or simply needed to schedule with someone else to let them in. Each circumstance was different because some volunteers and volunteer positions warranted a key. Others did not.

This led to the second thing I learned: People have keys to church buildings for stupid reasons. After we changed the locks, a long-term member walked into my office to ask for a new key. He explained that every Tuesday morning for 18 years he came to make coffee for the ladies’ Bible study and he needed a key to enter the building. I explained that during the time he came each week, there was a custodian on duty as well as several other staff members who could open the door for him. There was no other volunteer work he did and simply entering the building to make coffee for 13 people did not seem to warrant unregulated access to the entire facility.

I can say he was displeased with my position, and immediately went over my head to the senior pastor to appeal my denial. When the senior pastor came to the same conclusion, the man stormed out, mumbling something about being a member of the church.

Here’s the thing: Just because someone is a member of the church and gives a tithe does not mean they should get 24-hour access to the building. I’m a member of Costco and I pay them money every week, but nobody there gives me a key!

The third thing I learned through this process was that many people who no longer attend the church have keys. I remember walking to our church kitchen and running into Janet, an elderly lady whom I had not seen in several years. She was standing outside the kitchen door and trying to use a key to open it. When she saw me, her frustration showed she said, “Something is wrong with this key.” She and her husband had been long-time members and her husband had served on the church board in the past. After he died, Janet began attending another church with her children where she felt she got more support, which is why I had not seen her for a while. She was hoping to borrow a large platter she knew we had for a personal event she had planned in her home. I explained we had changed all the locks several months prior.

It turns out that the key she had was from her late husband when he served on the board. After a bit more prying, I came to learn he had not served on the board for eleven years and he died three years before my encounter with Janet! That’s fourteen years of access by people who we had no idea had access. I wondered to myself just how many times Janet had come to borrow the platter.

Now multiply this issue by . . . there’s the problem! The older your facility, the greater the chance there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of people who have keys to your buildings and you have no idea that they do. Every pastor knows of church members who used to be highly involved, probably had a key, but then moved on to another church. Do they still have a key?

My recommendation is this: Spend the money to change the locks. All of them! Depending on the size of your facility, you may need to incorporate a tiered system or series of different keys so that you can allocate access only to certain portions for certain people. Be creative but do not make it too complex. Get help from a qualified locksmith to determine how it should be laid out. Staff members who do need keys don’t want to carry around 20 extra keys because you made every building different.

Next, make sure each key is numbered on one side and marked “Do Not Duplicate” on the other. This doesn’t fully prevent ill-intentioned people from making duplicates, but it is a deterrent and makes it more difficult.

As you pass out keys, keep a log of it. Whether in a notepad or computer file, keep track of each key number and who it was assigned to and the reason it was given. When that person leaves the church or staff, ask for the key back! If you cannot retrieve the key, at least you can make a note of it in your log. When someone loses their keys, make a note of it in the log when you give them a new set.

As a pastor or church leader, you are responsible for keeping your facility safe and secure. The people who should get keys are those who need them, not those who want them. Being a church member and/or regular tither to the church should not be equated with getting a key. It seems both trivial and prideful. Give keys freely to those who need them, but do not just give them to people who attend the church because they’re members or used to be involved.

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