BY STEVE DUNN
Security has sadly become a vital issue for churches in America today. Ed Stetzer shares some very solid and helpful counsel on this issue. – Steve
Church Security: How Do We Keep Our Churches Safe in a World Where Evil Is Present?
The shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs continues to shock the nation. As stories of the victims begin to filter out into the news, our heartbreak is compounded by the contrast between their faith and the violence, hate, and cowardice of the act.
In my article for CNN, I called for the body of Christ to persist in prayer and to take seriously our call to humbly seek solutions to this kind of violence. We must reject our inclination to retrench behind the superficial political talking points parroted in these times and ask what we—as the Church of Jesus Christ—can and should do to keep those that bear his image safe from this violence.
In response to the article, I received many questions from churches asking what they can do to protect their people. I can empathize with their situation, as I’ve actually had a security incident at a church that got dangerous. I imagine I’m not the only one.
While there is comfort in knowing that the faithful gathering of believers endures despite this act and will continue this Sunday around the United States, the tragedy in Texas presents a pressing need facing ministry leaders. In light of this past weekend, churches across the country will begin thinking and praying through security for their upcoming service—painfully aware that, on any given Sunday, it could be them facing this situation.
While I have experience in consulting in church security, I have always tried to connect churches with experts in the field of security who can give recommendations out of their weight of experience and training.
So, in trying to help pastors, my team reached out to security professionals both in and out of the church to ask how we can think through questions of security while at the same time remaining welcoming and open to our communities. So as pastors, elder teams, and ministry leaders begin the hard and complex process of refining their security processes, I want to offer a mix of pastoral and practical advice for us all to consider.
First, the time is past for naivety about the need for security.
That First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs was only around 100 members in a town of 1,000 should remind us that no church is immune from potential attack. While we must resist the urge to irrational fear, churches must take seriously the question of security and be proactive in safeguarding their people.
In talking with church and ministry security leaders, each pointed out that churches cannot afford to be naïve about the potential security risks. The data supports this recommendation. The Center for Homicide Research found 137 shootings in Christian churches between 1980 and 2005. Predictably, several churches, such as New Life Church in Colorado Springs and Calvary Chapel Melbourne, have embraced armed security as a preventative measure. Concerned with the threat of violence in or around the church, these teams develop protocol and training for everything from monitoring exits to administering communion.
While I do not think this level of security is normative for all churches, it does reinforce the need for churches to think through issues of security. In a series of interviews with the Washington Post, I was asked to comment on the shooting and the security. I made note of how churches present easy targets for those hoping to inflict harm. Churches are a collection of people, facing forward and away from the exits, who are focused on worshiping and serving their Savior rather than considering their own safety.
All the churches where I regularly preach have security. I did not create that policy and each of the churches has a story to tell for why they have security. However, I also understand all three churches where I regularly preach are megachurches with staff and experienced volunteers dedicated to security.
The challenge is in smaller churches. In these cases, churches need to look at using more than volunteers with little to no experience or training in law enforcement to supply their security. If this is impossible, churches need to challenge these volunteers to undergo some form of training in order to be better equipped for their role.
Second, it is important to develop strong relationships with law enforcement in your community.
In speaking to security officials for churches and Christians with long and distinguished histories in law enforcement, a reoccurring theme was the importance in developing the relationship between churches and police departments/officers. A strong working relationship is critical for a host of reasons.
First, it allows church leaders the freedom to call the police for advice and insight on problems that come up. If someone is causing a disturbance or there are threats for potential violence made against the church, police can provide not only physical support but also wisdom on the proper response. Beyond these immediate situations, police training on issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and online bullying are invaluable, if not necessary, for churches struggling to discern the correct pathway forward.
Second, it allows the police to become familiar with your building in case of emergency. One professional I talked with said that they opened their building to police to host drills and other events because it helped familiarize officers with the doors and flow.
Finally, developing a relationship with the police in your community provides a window to witness and minister. While attacks against churches are comparatively rare, police regularly face harrowing situations where the church can be active in its support.