What to Do When Someone Goes Off

pastor-preaching-churchIt was the middle of a Sunday service. The music was done, and I got up to pray.

Suddenly, from my right a woman rushed at the pulpit, ran up the stairs, screamed something, threw a book at me and started back down the aisle. I paused for a moment in mid-prayer, taking in the situation.

Almost every church faces it from time to time. How do you handle those individuals that aren’t quite right?

It might be:

  • The homeless lady who gets confused and starts wandering around in service.
  • A mentally disabled young person who dances and shouts during a normally quiet worship.
  • A stranger off the street that shouts during the service.
  • The schizophrenic who thinks he is Jesus.
  • A stalker who thinks she’s in love with you.
  • One of your regular congregants who has a sudden onset bipolar episode.
  • An angry domestic partner with a gun.

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Satan works in many ways to disrupt our services. However, in these instances, he uses real people, with real problems. They can be very distracting, and some are potentially dangerous.

How can you protect your church while dealing with the distraction? Here are a few things that will help:

Be Prepared

Train your ushers and greeters.

  • Teach your ushers how to approach people who need help during a service. Have a plan. They need to know how to identify the need and meet the person at their appropriate level. Some need to find a seat; some need to exit the room and be listened to; some need to be isolated and removed.
  • Make sure that every person on your hospitality team has a cellphone and knows when to call 911.
  • Teach your staff how to look for warning signs. A person who goes off their meds usually escalates before a sudden explosion.
  • Empower your staff, board and ushers to take care of a situation.

Train yourself and your team.

  • Get critical situation training.
  • Learn how to look for warning signs.
  • Know your crisis line number and take the time to find out what happens when people call the number.
  • Know your local police and talk about what to do in a crisis situation.

Be Cool and Respectful

You can’t control anyone, but in the middle of a critical situation, you can minimize the impact.

  • Meet each incident with the appropriate level of response. A law of physics says that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When dealing in critical situations, the law changes a bit “for every action, there is an equal or greater reaction.”
  • Keep your body and voice calm.
  • Find the quickest resolution. Your goal is to keep the congregation focused on the service. If you just need to help someone find a seat, do it. If they need to leave the room, help them. Maybe they just need someone to ask them to be quiet.
  • Make sure you know when to call 911. If someone is issuing threats, or has a weapon of any kind, call 911. If your team isn’t able to calm the person, call 911.

Follow Through

Once you have the person contained or redirected, get back to the service. You don’t need to spend a lot of time on the situation. If there was a major disruption, have the congregation pray. If it was a little disruption, move the service along. In all situations, keep an attitude of respect and God’s love.

The reason I paused for a moment before continuing the service when Pam threw the book at me was to make sure that my ushers had it under control. As soon as it was obvious that she was leaving the room, I finished the prayer and moved on with the service. Later, I discovered that her disruption had less impact than I realized. Half the congregation was completely unaware that anything had happened. They thought someone was being touched by the Spirit.

What distractions have you had to deal with?

How did you handle it?

What training do you have for your staff and volunteers?

Kim Martinez is the founder of Deep Imprints, which she created to help church leaders, pastors and Christian professionals. Click here to visit the blog.

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