I don’t need to write about the risks that churches face in our crazy world. On the other hand, I’ve seen far too many churches not making preparations for the possibility of trouble. They know they need to do something, but they keep putting it off. Here are some reasons EVERY church needs a Safety and Security Team:
- A congregational gathering is a vulnerable place. We’ve seen evidence of that truth within the past few years. The nature of our work says that the church is open to anyone. It’s easy to get into an unprotected church building with an unprepared congregation.
- We need to be better prepared for emergencies. A church ought to be as prepared as possible for everything from an injured church member to a heart attack victim to a weather threat to an armed intruder.
- Our churches often have qualified people who can serve in these roles. Often, police officers, firefighters, physicians, nurses, and EMT’s are sitting in our congregation. Putting them to work gives them purpose in the church and improves the church’s safety.
- These teams increase security in our preschool and children’s areas. Laypersons do a great job here, but trained personnel don’t hurt, either. We cannot go too far to protect the next generation.
- Church parking lots are especially vulnerable to theft. Left unwatched and unprotected, an empty car during a worship service is an invitation to theft—especially if expensive items are left on the seat.
- In most cases, a Safety and Security Team will ease the pastor’s mind. Pastors deal with a lot of stuff on a Sunday. Knowing this team is in place helps ease at least one burden for church leaders.
- Should something tragic happen, a Safety and Security Team can guide through the chaos. Nothing is guaranteed if a tragedy happens, but this team should help the church respond immediately and wisely.
What other reasons would you add to this list? Does your church have this kind of team?
I would add a couple of caveats. Every church needs a CAREFULLY SCREENED and WELL-TRAINED safety and security team. Otherwise, the safety and security team may creates more problems that it solves. The team needs to be familiar with the various methods of de-esculating potential dangerous situations, how the local police will respond to reports of a shooter or a similar report, what they should do when the police arrive (put away or drop any guns and raise their hands, etc.), any restrictions in the church’s insurance policies related to carrying of firearms concealed or openly in the church., and what they can expect if they shoot and wound or kill an attacker. In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, they will be arrested, handcuffed, booked, and released on bond pending a grand jury hearing. They may face possible criminal charges. Their gun will be confiscated and held as evidence. The team also should be equipped with a trauma bag including hemostatic bandages and should know how to administer first aid when a single or multiple gun shoot wounds or knife stabbing wounds are involved. Despite what happened in Texas church shootings are so uncommon that they do not rate a category of their own in the Department of Homeland Secuity’s listing of places where shootings are most likely to occur.Church shootings are listed under “Other” and are at the bottom of the list. Shootings are more likely to occur at places of business, schools, and outdoors, in that order, than they are to occur at churches.
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Here’s are some pointers that may be helpful.
I. Limit access to the church building to the main entrance. Set up security checkpoints at the main entrance and the entrance to the children’s ministry area. The check point at the main entrance should be unobtrusive. You don’t want to frighten away guests. The checkpoint at the entrance to the children’s ministry area may be more obtrusive. Parents are likely to find a strong security presence here reassuring.
2. Discourage the use of secondary entrances to the church building except in the case of a real emergency. If these entrances are locked, a member of the church security and safety team should be stationed close to the door with a master key in case of such an emergency.
3. Station members of the church security and safety team not only at the main entrance to the church building but also in the parking lot. It is better to deal with a potential attacker in the parking lot before they gain access to the building than it is in the building once they have gained access. If an attacker or attackers show up, the team’s responsibility is to alert the police and to block the attacker or attackers from entering the building.
4. Equip members of the church safety and security team with walkie-talkies. They are quicker to use in an emergency than a cellphone to communicate with team members. Each team member should also have a cellphone with the phone number of the local police dispatcher at the top of their contact list. Each team member should make sure that their cell phone is fully charged and operational.
5. Assign some team members to roam the building in case an attacker breaks a window and enters the building that way or gains entrance to the building the day or night before and hides in a stairwell or storage room. Team members should regularly check in with each other.
6. Maintain a map of the church building showing all points of access, rooms, corridors, stairwells, storage rooms, etc. Show on the map what rooms are normally kept locked or those which are not. Make sure all team members are familiar with the building and use the same names for the various parts of the building. Keep it simple and easy-to-understand. Make copies of map available to the local police.
7. Consult with the police and security professionals for further tips on how to protect church members. Provide basic training to church members on what to do should an attacker enter the building.
8. An attacker may single out your church for a variety of reasons. They are suffering from a form of mental illness and are hearing voices urging them to harm others or themselves. They are suicidal and have decided to provoke the police into killing them. They are seeking to make a political statement. They are experiencing domestic problems and blame a pastor, staff member, or church member for these problems. The church’s pastors, staff, church members, and church safety and security team members need to be aware of what is going on in the congregation and the community. This is easier in smaller churches and communities and larger ones. An attack in one community may result in copycat attacks in other communities. These may days or months apart.
9. Several factors may be contributing to the seeming increasing frequency of attacks in the last few years. They include relatively easy access to firearms and ammunition, the popularity of violent internet video games, intense media attention to acts of violence, growing social isolation of young people, violent forms of pornography that encourage acts of violence toward women and children, the erosion of civility on the internet, online groups promoting violence, mental health issues originating from childhood neglect and abuse, statements by politicians which directly or indirectly condone violence, growing instances of domestic abuse and child physical and sexual abuse,, and so on – what may be described as a widening culture of violence. Churches not only need to protect themselves from attackers but also take an active role in addressing these issues locally and nationwide.
I also think that it is worth mentioning is just because churches are presently low on the list of places where attacks are likely occur, churches should not conclude that there is no urgency for them to take action to protect themselves and to deal with the growing problem of violence in the United States. As some institutions – places of business and schools, for example – become better at protecting themselves, perpetrators of violence like the shooter at the high school here in Kentucky and the one at the high school in Florida are likely to turn their attentions to more vulnerable targets – churches that have not taken steps to protect themselves.
All great comments. Thank you for your vigilance. At 3 churches I have served, I have not been successful in impressing the necessity for being aware what is going on in the buildings for security reasons, especially on Sunday. Small church leadership always smiled and said, “Oh that can’t happen in our town.” But it has in churches large and small. I attended two state trooper presentations and could get no one to attend with me. Try as I might, I could not get the usher/greeters to stay at the door of the church at the back of the sanctuary during the entire service with an eye to the sanctuary and parking lot – as well as to other doors. They wanted to sit with their families once the collection was dealt with.
One warm summer Sunday as I was preaching out of the pulpit and down in the center aisle, I saw a squirrel poking around the front door left open by the ushers. As I carried on, hoping the squirrel had no interest in my sermon, he eventually started in the door. I was young to ministry and didn’t think to call for the ushers help, instead I headed down the aisle, robes flapping, yelling “Get on out of here!” That squirrel took me seriously and left post haste. I am told it was a rather comic scene. But amazingly no one batted an eye or rose to my call as I ran.
I’ve tried to make the point that I am the only one with an eye on the door during service along with maybe a choir member or two. Your point is well made that we shouldn’t have to worry about building security, about the very lives of our members during a service or meeting.
A year later my security danger level rose when two young men unknown to me entered near the end of the service with bags. They sat silently in the last pew in the rear. I got to them as quickly with a welcome as the service would allow. I was given no reply and they immediately left. Still the leadership call was, “You’re just over-reacting. It can’t happen around here. You probably scared away some new youth members!” Maybe.
Sadly church violence has happened. Members of the body of Christ, and not forgetting our children, deserve a safety and security team. It’s a ministry different than that of ushers and greeters.
Thank you, Chuck, for making a great beginning list. Police local, county, and state are often happy to teach and advise on a team security plan.
I experienced the opposite reaction at the church that I pastor. The church members wanted to lock the front door to the church building and bring hand guns to church. I attended a church safety team sponsored by the county sheriff’s department but none of the church members attended the meeting. For several weeks anyone who arrived late found the front door locked. We finally worked out a system where church members sitting next to the windows alerted a church member who was sitting in the back of the church when a car or truck draws into the parking lot. This church member then lets the late-arriving guest or church member into the building. I suggested the installation of a door bell but so far that suggestion has not been acted upon. The county sheriff’s department advised the churches to check their insurance policies to see if they permitted church members to bring hand-guns to church. .We discovered that our policy did not.
Within 60 days after the church safety meeting a tragic shooting would occur in the county, at the high school at which the church safety meeting was held. Two students were killed and several injured.
As I pointed out in my previous post, as businesses and schools become more successful at frustrating the attempts of would-be shooters, there is an increased likelihood that they will turn to more vulnerable targets. As for the notion that “it can’t happen here,” shootings can happen anywhere. An estranged husband may try to visit his kids on a Sunday morning and may be prevented from seeing them. As he stews over what happens, he grows angrier and angrier. He drives past a church and sees cars in a parking lot. He remembers that his mother-in-law whom he blames for the split with his wife, not his own abusive behavior, is a churchgoer. He does not remember what church she goes to but at this point is anger is at all churchgoers and not just his mother-in-law. He pulls into the parking lot, takes down his rifle from behind the seat of his truck, and goes on a killing spree, taking out his anger on the members of the church. For many years I worked as a social worker and I have a good idea how folks with anger problems think. They can reach a point where they cannot rein in their anger. Some are accustomed to expressing themselves in violent outbursts. They have little or no impulse controls. They may regret what did later but then the damage has already been done.