By Kevin Creighton
Our churches and holy places are special places that are devoted to spiritual improvement. They’re supposed to be a place of refuge from the worries of the world, where people of every tribe and tongue can find the peace they need.
Too often, however, that quest for peace is shattered by violence that can affect everyone inside the church. A church security plan can help prevent this sort of thing from happening, or at the very least, de-escalate and mitigate the effects of violence in a house of worship.
Let’s look at some of the numbers and have them drive our church security plan. According to the Faith-Based Security Network, there were 1,772 deadly force incidents in or near a church in America from January 1999 to March 2018.
Estimates for the number of churches in America are hard to pin down, but 380,000 seems to be a good estimate. Those numbers mean that there is a half-percent chance your church will suffer a violent encounter in a 20-year period.
A CHURCH SECURITY PLAN SHOULD BE GROUNDED IN REALITY
This seems well and good, until you also consider two things: The first is that violent crime is up (way up) since 2018. The second thing is that, in the words of noted firearms trainer Tom Givens, the odds of a violent encounter might be low, but the stakes are quite literally mortal.
All of a sudden, having a church security plan makes a lot more sense.
The question then becomes, why should a church have a security plan at all? Aren’t places of worship supposed to trust in a higher power for their needs?
The answer to that question will depend on your faith background, but let me offer up two examples from the Old Testament, a source that is shared with everyone from a Judeo-Christian background.
The first is from the Book Of Proverbs, chapter 27, verse 12 (NASB): “A prudent person sees evil and hides himself; But the naive proceed, and pay the penalty.”
The second comes from the book of Nehemiah, where the nation of Israel is rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. In chapter 4, verse 16 says that, “And from that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them kept hold of the spears, the shields, the bows, and the coats of mail,” (NASB).
Given these two verses, (and a host of others), we can assume that preparing for a violent attack isn’t completely out of the question for a pious churchgoer.
PEACE OR STRENGTH IS A FALSE CHOICE
However, that doesn’t mean we should turn our churches into fortresses. A good church security plan balances the need for people to worship in a relaxed and open manner with the need to keep worshippers safe from harm.
A security plan should never interfere with the church’s goal of fostering spiritual growth. As a result, the more that things can stay in the background and work seamlessly, the more buy-in you’ll have from churchgoers.
One of the big takeaways from my home defense class was the need to create a layered defense around your home.
The first layer, like cameras and security personnel, should detect a potential problem. The second layer should deter that problem from getting into your home or place of worship. The third layer should defend the sanctuary and stop and attack with an appropriate amount of force.
How this applies to your church will vary. Each church is unique. The neighborhood surrounding a church can dramatically affect the security needs of a church.
In addition to this, how the church itself is located on the property can affect how easy it is to access. Churches with older parishioners may have different first aid needs than a church with a lot of children.
Each church, then, should come up with a security plan that works for their own needs.
Based on what I learned in a recent church security class I took from Strategos International, there are some general guidelines you can follow:
BASICS OF A CHURCH SECURITY PLAN
Work from the outside in. Most incidents start in the parking lot and move towards the church. As a result, your parking lot guides and greeters are your first line of defense.
Work in pairs. Not only does this give you accountability for your actions, it lets one person handle the problem while the other person communicates what’s going on.
Speaking of that, communication is key. Two-way radios are ideal for keeping everyone in the loop in an emergency. There should also be a way to broadcast an emergency alert to all the rooms on a church campus.
Plan for something more than active shooters. Active shooters in the church do happen, and you need a plan for them.
However, you’re far more likely to have to deal with a medical emergency or a domestic dispute in your church than you are an armed gunman.
Protect the most vulnerable. Make sure you keep the children at your church well-protected and away from harm. Have trained medical staff who can deal with caring for elderly worshippers.
In addition to this, the head of your church is the “face” of your church, and they are quite vulnerable during each service. Have a plan to keep them safe if someone rushes towards them during a service.
Have a plan to deal with non-violent protestors who want to disrupt your service. The majority of Americans no longer attend a worship service. This means that cultural norms that were once normal can now be viewed as extreme, and that can provoke an extreme response. Know your state laws regarding trespassing and interrupting a church service, and plan accordingly.
BUILDING A WELL-BALANCED CHURCH SECURITY PLAN
In addition to this, understand that there are legal or insurance issues involved with securing your church from potential harm.
While I am not a lawyer, and this shouldn’t be considered legal advice, it stands to reason that you’d want to protect your house of worship from a nasty court battle in the same way you would to avoid a vicious fist fight.
Above all, don’t let the need to create a church security plan shake your faith in a higher power. Scripture may document some amazing miracles, but it also documents how brave people who are inspired by faith can step up and do the right thing when danger reared its ugly head. Trust in the Almighty, but keep one eye open as you pray.
Kevin Creighton is the editor of AmmoMan’s School of Guns, www.ammoman.com.