Church Security Book Review: A Gentle Response

With the title taken from Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire,” the book A Gentle Response: Conflict De-Escalation With A Ministry Mindset is written to guide staff and volunteers of all faiths and houses of worship in proven ways to defuse tense and potentially dangerous situations. Its author, John Riley, is an Army veteran, retired police officer, consultant, trainer, and founder/president of Gentle Response, a consulting company specializing in very dynamic, realistic conflict de-escalation training seminars which are specifically designed to help students develop stress inoculation, muscle memory, self confidence, and confidence in colleagues.

[ Read the SemperVerus article, Gentle Response De-Escalation Training for Church Security Teams ]

The book is filled with practical insight and examples by the author, gleaned from 20 years of road patrol experience, observations, and training as a certified crisis intervention specialist through the National Anger Management Association of what can be said and done by law enforcement officers to more effectively and successfully de-escalate a situation to ensure that everyone goes home safe. While it’s written to church security team members, it’s principles can be equally applied to individuals as part of your personal self-defense toolbox.

[ Read the SemperVerus article, A Prayer for Church Security Team Members ]

The following are highlighted quotes from the 90-page book:

  • De-escalation is the tool that enables us to demonstrate empathy, love, grace, and compassion, emulating the positive attributes of Christ in our community, and effectively demonstrating his love to those in need.
  • Empathy doesn’t mean that you have to agree with someone, because you don’t. It means that you are actively listening and connecting with them, to hear their side of the story and try to help them in the best way possible.
  • Effective and successful conflict de-escalation is, “Lowering the intensity level of an agitated person to minimize a potentially volatile situation from becoming a violent critical incident.”
  • That feeling of “have to do something” is where a vast majority of people will end up doing the wrong thing….You do NOT have to engage with anyone, ESPECIALLY if you detect that you may be dealing with someone who has some mental illness and is already showing signs of violence….Choosing to not do anything IS a viable option, and always will be.
  • First of all, be careful not to “crowd” a person; it will seem threatening to that person and may agitate them that much more.
  • It is against the law in Michigan and in many other states to disturb a religious service, so with an obvious crime in progress, get the police coming!
  • Unless you can articulate that there was imminent danger of great bodily harm or death to someone, avoid going “hand-on,” otherwise you only exponentially add the risk of injury and liability.
  • It will take time for the person you are dealing with to come down from whatever level of stress they are at….You have to be patient and give a person time.

[ Read the SemperVerus article, Church Security Training: Decision Decks Help You Think Through a Crisis Before It Happens ]

  • A successfully de-escalated situation does not mean the other person walks away as your “friend;” they may walk away still upset, but at least you go home safe to your family and hopefully nothing was broken.
  • Dealing with agitated, stressed human beings is a very dynamic, fluid thing, especially if there is any type of alcohol/drug abuse or mental illness.
  • Conflict de-escalation begins before a single word is spoken. It begins upon first visual contact….Oftentimes it will be [your] facial expression that either begins to de-escalate or escalate a situation.
  • Three important concepts will dramatically increase the probability that you will succeed in de-escalating a situation: body language, tone of voice, and active reflective listening.
  • Do NOT point your finger at or in the direction of a person who is already stressed and agitated.
  • EXPECT broken people to come to your church. Be ministry-minded.
  • Take a deep breath to stay calm….When you allow yourself to become frustrated, impatient, or offended, you increase the probability of YOU being the one to say or do something that escalates the situation….Stay in control of yourself.
  • Be aware of your God-given ACE card: Appearance, Communication, Engagement.

[ Read the SemperVerus article, Biblical Lessons to Learn De-Escalating Skills ]

  • The most powerful, most disarming, de-escalating tool you have is your smile! Smile OFTEN!
  • Adopt a non-aggressive-looking body posture: shoulders relaxed, hands in front of you, body slightly at an angle, and distance no closer than a little more than arms length away to give your a reactionary gap.
  • Don’t let your ego, pride, and arrogance put you in a dangerous situation.
  • Maintain a low, calm, tone of voice.
  • Don’t talk to people as if they are a child, stupid, or supposed to be afraid of you.
  • Everyone wants to be treated with respect and the quickest and easiest thing to do is simply be quiet, let them vent by doing most of the talking, and make eye contact.
  • Don’t talk over people. Avoid feeling like you have to “win” the discussion, debate, or argument.
  • Be situationally aware of your surroundings and keenly observant of the person.
  • Knowing when to NOT engage with a person is also critical.

Also see the book, Practical De-Escalation for Patrol: Mastering Basic Concepts, Tips & Techniques by John Riley.

[ Read SemperVerus articles on the topic of Church Security ]

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