While church violence has increased over the years, our churches remain a place of peace and worship. The recent shooting in South Carolina has many churches asking if this could happen to them and what they would do if it did. Most churches will never experience a single act of violence but the responsibility for safety is on the church’s leadership. Perhaps a more important question to ask is what steps can we take to prevent it happening to us?. A sound plan to protect your congregation is the first step to keeping them safe.
The following article was written with tips from David Roach, a member of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, and editorial associate for SBC LIFE.
Forming a security ministry team should be a priority at large and small churches. When possible, the team should consist of active and retired law enforcement personnel along with carefully selected and trained laypeople. Their duties should be to assess risks, establish a plan for responding to security threats, and make sure the church has adequate insurance coverage to help victims recover if crime occurs.
Churches should check state and local laws and seek legal counsel when evaluating their security needs. Your local law enforcement team is a good place to gather information and suggestions on developing your program.
Though some people may bristle or be concerned when they hear something about a safety & security ministry or safety & security team in a church, frankly security is visible everywhere we go—whether it is at the ballgame, a theme park or almost any government building. A visible, friendly, ministry-minded team is something that can help make visitors as well as members feel welcome and safe.
Among the security risks that teams should look for are:
- Entry doors without a greeter to monitor them.
- Unsecure children’s areas.
- Doors that remain unlocked during the night where intruders can slip in and hide.
Be welcoming but aware
Prior to church activities, security ministry members should greet each person who enters being sure to make eye contact. Try to engage a brief conversation with visitors you may not know. Ask them where they are from and which church member invited them to attend that day. Offer to seat them close to that member. Watch for suspicious behavior and have a signal to other team members when something does not feel right. Together, kindly escort them to their seat observing their actions. Offer to take their coat when possible. If they have a bag, (other than a ladies purse or diaper bag) offer to store this in a secure closet for them. This may cause them to become nervous or show their intentions. Watch for people leaving at unexpected times, especially if they leave something behind, they entered with. When possible be aware of anyone wandering in the parking lot.
It is important for Teams to establish ways to communicate with each other and with church leaders quickly if an intruder enters, and you should have specific plans for how to evacuate or lock down buildings. Some of these security concerns don’t require a considerable amount of capital outlay. For example, alerting your Sunday School teachers of an intruder could be as simple as sending a group text message to the teachers on their cell phones. Or evacuating worship centers could be facilitated by installing the right kind of door latches. Some churches may need professionals to help design your security plan.
Confronting a shooter
Though having an active shooter in the building is an unlikely scenario for any church, it is important to plan for the possibility. Following protocols rather than improvising a response is one of the best ways to prevent deaths and injuries. Among the steps recommended if a violent intruder enters a church:
- Alert the entire security ministry team and the police.
- Evacuate worshipers when possible and lock doors in areas that can be secured.
- Have trained security personnel approach and incapacitate the intruder.
Additionally, make sure your congregation knows that you have a plan in place to address a violent intruder—as well as what steps you want them to take (including evacuating calmly or seeking shelter). You have to be overly aggressive with a person who becomes a shooter in your congregation. When possible, there should be a group of men sitting strategically who can take immediate action against the intruder. Churches that can afford it should hire off-duty police officers or a security company to provide armed security knowing that an armed response is extremely helpful in the event of an armed intruder.
Security should not be the main focus of your church. But providing adequate security helps create an environment for making disciples—one where people don’t fear violence and where memories of violence don’t hinder them from attending church. Your congregation should know that you are doing all you can to protect them and remember that God opposes those who plot violence.