How Your Church Should Prepare for an Active Shooter


I hate the title of this article.

I hate that I even feel compelled to write about the topic. But many of you contacted me after the tragic murders at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Here are some basic issues:

  1. Don’t be in denial. Church shootings are increasing every year in America. And while the percentage of churches with shootings is relatively small, this issue is one where we must be prepared. The downside is just too great.
  2. Have a church security plan. This plan should include all issues of security, from active shooters to child abuse. Local law enforcement is almost always very willing to work with churches and make recommendations.
  3. Remember that church security is a ministry more than an expense. I have little patience with church leaders and members who say they can’t afford church security. The church doors should not be open if it can’t afford to keep members safe and secure. The church or leaders may have to spend money to go to a training seminar, or to retain a local police officer every weekend. Those are investments in security, not expenses.
  4. Keep church security as a matter of prayer in your church. While we should work as hard as possible to make our churches as secure as possible, let’s never forget that we should seek God’s power, strength, and protection.
  5. Organize a church security ministry team. You need leaders who are passionate about this issue. And it is especially helpful if those leaders have a background or experience in security, safety, or law enforcement.
  6. Keep your facilities secure. Too many churches have too many members with keys and access to the church buildings. It is not unusual for doors to be left open and security to be lax because of the nearly unlimited access. I know one church where a former member had a key and decided to have a meeting at the church without asking anyone. Your church needs clearly controlled hours of operation and clear guidelines on access. If the locks have not been changed in a while, it’s probably time to do so. Ideally your church can move to digital access that can be changed at anytime.
  7. Strive for total member awareness. Remind your members from time to time that they should watch for anything unusual at the church. Greeters at different places in the church facility, from the parking lots to the worship center, should be trained toward awareness as well. Those with keen eyes and discernment can save lives.

We continue to pray for First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Please see my post from November 6, and feel free to add your name as one who is praying for the church. And as we pray for them, we pray for wisdom and protection for all other churches.

Active shooters are a harsh reality of church life today.

We can be prayerful.

And we can be prepared.

Posted on November 8, 2017

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Thank you for advising churches to have a security plan in place in the case of an active shooter or child abuse. This will also help people who attend the meetings feel better and safer. Churches are filled with tons of people so I think that a lot of safety measures should be in place at all times.

  • Brett Cody says on

    This is good, but do you have a link to an example of a security plan? That would be more helpful.

    • I think both you and Matt above have similar requests. I spend a lot of time as LEO & security in and out of church. So I offer this input about plans but it is just my one person’s experience. First, they are all different (of course) but there are some common thoughts. Active shooter (AS) is only one concern. That AS plan can be formulated quicker than a general contingency plan. But both plans should always be evolving. A contingency plan or committee discusses, “What would we do if…” (hurricane, pastor goes missing, active shooter, fire, theft of receipts, etc…) and reviews and refines it as better info becomes available, situations change, or a new threat is recognized.

      1. Does your organization’s attorney recommend a written plan or does that open up liabilities if something is not done ‘per plan’ and an unfortunate event occurs. If it will be in writing, what do you call the committee and activities they do?
      2. Active shooter can be a part of contingency planing/committee and can include a review of the building layout. Where would you direct patrons if the bad guy came in the east door, what about attacks from the east and west doors? Is there a room near the pulpit to secure the pastor? Is the kid’s wing secure from unauthorized entry? Is there a paper blueprint of the building we can give to LEO’s in an emergency? Do they want a copy of it for their files now?
      3. Where is the First Aid Kit(s) (FAK), does it have tourniquets, clotting agents, Israeli bandages, etc..? Fire extinguishers, AED?
      4. Who on staff or in the congregation has medical training? Do they know where the FAK & other emergency stuff is kept? Where is the nearest hospital or clinic if you have to drive someone?
      5. Who can serve as a Threat Assessment Team (TAT) to decide when a disgruntled or hostile person or situation should be reported to the SAFE, or greeter ministry, or law enforcement? Who can the staff bring these situations up with? Who will be tasked to talk to ‘that visitor guy’ who seems very concerning and then decide if he is okay or warrants more scrutiny?
      6. Who can address the congregation and ask for servants in the SAFE ministry? Who can reach out to local law enforcement and get their recommendations and assistance?
      7. Who are military trained, retired or current LEO and EMS in our congregation? Where do we keep their contact info for special events or trips?
      8. What steps can we take to make it evident to a visitor that we take safety seriously? To assure them (or to dissuade them if they are the bad guy). (Just like unlocked homes are most frequently burglarized because they are less effort, any gathering that shows a security presence is less likely to be the target of an attack. Don’t post “Gun Free Zone” signage.)
      9. Can you present the FBI’s Run, Hide, Fight video to the congregation? Can someone address the congregation about, “See something, say something”? Do any of the concealed carry folks want to get together unofficially (not a church sponsored or promoted function) for some shooting and tactics practice with perhaps a local LEO friend of the church?
      10. Do you have doors that could be secured (locked) during gatherings, while still allowing egress (exit)? Who will secure them and when would they be unsecured? Where would you have people meet after exiting to be sure everyone is accounted for? Don’t stay too close but don’t go too far.
      11. Does the pastor/staff keep a calendar or notify someone when they are having a private meeting or counselling with someone, especially divorce counseling, especially off site? Do they check in afterward?
      12. Do we have 2-way radios or some other discrete form of communications for SAFE & greeter ministry use? Is there a discrete signal to use for, “I need assistance over here, now!”? Does the SAFE or greeter ministry work as a team, do you incorporate third party security services (private or LEO)?

  • What are churches doing to develop a plan for security? Instead of reinventing the wheel, I’d like to see what others are doing and how and the successes & missteps of their plans. Is there somewhere to go to get this information?

  • Dan Kovach says on

    Thank you for your insight on this topic; it begins to take small steps in the area of “what can we do?” It also reinforces your principles that the church is for those who are lost; getting out of our holy huddles and keeping an eye out for guests, and trusting in the Lord to highlight those who may be controlled by the enemy.

  • Now from the Bible: “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us”. Romans 8:36-37

  • I agree with Ann, above, on not advocating for concealed carry in a church. Frankly, there are several basic steps churches can take to improve security without weapons. Just having people posted at entrances/exits at all times, checking hallways, etc. — things many small churches don’t do — will serve as adequate deterrent in most situations.

    One area that is being ignored in all of this is the importance of taking body life seriously. The man in Texas was troubled, was having issues with his in-laws, and had a history. As important as it is to secure the churches with locks, vigilance, etc., it’s just as important to be aware of potential issues. We need as much or more focus on how to spot trouble ahead of time, intervene with appropriate help, and hopefully short-circuit any outbreak of violence.

  • Jonny Grant says on

    Am I missing something here…’Is it take up your your gun and follow me’ or ‘Take up your cross and follow me?’

    • AMEN! Matthew 26:52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.

  • Kevin D. Williford says on


    FYI. I had a little tech issue when I went to print a copy of this to share with my Advisory Board. The copy that generated with the print button was in such a small font that I could not read it with my reading glasses and the aid of a magnifying glass! Printed onto about one-fourth of an 8 1/2 X 11 page.

    I saved and printed the PDF copy, and it was very readable. Printed full page. Just thought you and/or your tech guys might want to know…

    BTW, Thanks for the info. I’m sure it will be helpful to my board.

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