As the nation is still comprehending how a person could walk into a church and kill over 25 people, The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas is in grief and shock. Another American shooting – the worst in history. In 2015, Dylan Roof walked into a Charleston, SC church and killed nine people. The number of faith-based violence has increased from 22 deaths a year in 1991 to 74 in 2014. As the gun debate heats back up there is another debate stirring in congregations: Do we increase our church security? Do we need to be armed?
At large mega-churches, it is common to have security uniformed and plain clothing teams with radios and training for the worst to happen. Many of these security teams have off-duty police officers. I’ve even seen high profile pastors have a security detail just like a Hollywood celebrity.
On my Facebook feed on Sunday, my friends and fellow pastors agreed for smarter gun laws but most of the conversation revolved around issues of church security. One pastor commented that they always have their cell phone on them at church in case the worst happens. Another pastor asked, “Do we have to lock our doors once the church service has started on Sunday?”
Such a question is a reasonable consideration. Pastors feel the duty and responsibility to protect their people. However, at what point does church security go too far? What if someone’s late to church and the doors are already locked? These are real-life questions that surround the debate on church security.Most churches have updated their child protection policy to include background checks for staff and employees and guidelines to protect children. Now, churches are faced with protecting and overseeing members on church property.
In the Bible, we know that there were Temple guards in the time of Jesus. These guards, who were priests, not only provided watch over the Temple but oversaw administrative duties. The security of the temple was important not only to protect the sanctity of the Temple but also to protect the treasury. In the first century, there were historical clashes between the Jewish people and Roman authorities.
Do our churches need armed guards?
As a pastor, I have witnessed outbursts, medical emergencies, a person who caught on fire, and strange behavior during a worship service. Each time, a plan was followed and the right people responded with the proper action. I pray that I never have to witness a shooting.
Statistically, church shootings are rare, but the emotional impact of such events are calling into question church security.
Churches need to have security plans – not armed guards standing at the door. In most instances, having armed civilians makes the jobs of first responders extremely challenging, confusing and dangerous. Safety does not only involve violence but other emergencies. Security plans involving the protection of children, what to do in case if a fire or other emergency, how ushers and other trained individuals can handle outbursts, what to do in a medical emergency, clearly marked exit doors, and evacuation routes. Over the years companies have sprung up offering church security training and resources to churches.
Churches are vulnerable targets because of the nature of a church’s purpose – a place of care for souls. Church leaders and pastors have to put in reasonable plans for the unthinkable. Check with your denomination, insurance company, or congregational organization because they will have training and information on putting in plans for the worst. Have a serious talk about the overall safety and plans for the unexpected with church leadership. Do not cause panic by stoking fears but communicate to your congregation about reasonable preparation, plans, and what-to-do situations.
The best thing pastors and church leaders can do is begin making a plan and talk to professionals. The professionals will guide you in the safest plans possible.