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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  • Thom Rainer says on

    Thanks, TC.

  • Thom, I want to point you to a friend of mine: Dr. Mark Warnick. He has a PHD in public safety and teaches a course on preparing for and surviving an active shooter in the church.

    I think you would do well to interview him.
    I am trying to help him get a website online in this urgent time:

  • We started locking our doors after the start of worship about a month ago. There were some who wondered why we would ever do that – a church with locked doors on Sunday morning (although we watch for late-comers). No one is wondering now – and we were told be several that they were now glad we were doing this. Change comes hard – but our world has changed. Because so many church incidents involve family situations, we have asked if the church to inform us if there is someone in their circle of relationships they are concerned about – we would rather help them than have them show up at church with a weapon. It is a careful balance between open arms and appearing like a fortress.

  • Jared Sims says on

    Thank you, Janet. I was appalled at Tom’s comment to Thom. I hope he has the integrity to apologize too.

  • Chris Poirier says on

    Having been a member of a Church Security Ministry and having nearly 15 years experience as a first responder and in emergency management I support all of the findings here.

    More to the point, however, I would make one tweak to this post and recommend that churches should have an emergency operations plan vs JUST a security plan. The security plan ends up being ONE of the many pieces to this document. Churches should have plans for different types of natural disasters (fire, flood, weather, etc.), as well as, man-made (active shooter, bomb threats, kidnapping, etc.) My recommendation is to take what ever wake up call it is and use that moment to be come more prepared across the board rather than piecing together the plan as we react.

    There are a lot of resources out there: and are great places to start. Even the Red Cross and State and Local government emergency management offices may have training/tools/etc. Often these resources are free and readily available.

  • ” 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.” Really Thom? WWJD? I don’t think He would tell small congregations to “close the doors because you cannot afford a security offer.”

    So, small rural churches who are struggling financially already are useless to the Kingdom work because they can’t afford to hire a security person? Do you realize what what you said in your statement?

    The church that averages 30 in Sunday school and 50-60 in worship should close their doors if they do not have the money to hire a security officer. Those people have been saved and baptized through the years are not important? Those eight people who were baptized in the last church reporting year were not important…those 3.34 people saved and baptized per year for the past 19 years are not important? Thom, these people are the ones from the ministry of my church during the past nineteen years that I have been the pastor of this congregation.

    The church I serve is in a very poor area. Our average FAMILY INCOME is less than $25,000.00 a year. The church is an older congregation that loves people, cares for folk’s souls but does not have a lot of ‘worldly wealth’. We support the CP, we are an Acts 1:8 church, yet we have just had a yearly financial review and will be cutting out all student literature for SS and just be purchasing teacher material only to try to “make ends meet”. We also made some other cuts..but not to missions and evangelism priorities.

    I have followed you on the internet, bought some of your books… but I am just totally shocked at this comment of yours. I read it and read it again to make sure what I thought I saw was what you really stated. My heart just ached when I realized what you were saying. I can’t imagine how many people might spend eternity in hell if we followed your advice on this subject. God forbid such a thing happening.

    One Tom to another Thom,

    Pastor Tom from TX

    • Robbie Norman says on

      There are ways to implement security & safety measures without spending a dime. You can appoint a safety team within the church (2-3 people for a small congregation) and local law enforcement will be more than willing to come do training at no cost. That right there is a giant step in making your church safer.

      Security and safety shouldn’t be implemented only for an active shooter situation. It’s for other emergencies also such as medical, making sure nursery & children’s ministries are safe, and if individuals get into heated conflict with others.

      When the church has a plan in place and that plan is made known, it creates a sense of ease within the congregation.

      • Great points, Robbie.

      • Chris Poirier says on

        Absolutely agree with this. It is not a matter of cost. Even in the smallest church you most likely have people with appropriate backgrounds to help bring this ministry up. Most resources to write and staff plans are free and openly available. (Local PD/FD/EMS, Local Emergency Management, Red Cross, and even Federal resources exist.)

        Protecting the flock is absolutely a biblical principle.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Well said,, Chris.

      • doesn’t a church have to have insurance on the people they put out there to protect the congregation. lot of churches just has enough money for their electric bill

    • Janet Parham says on

      Tom (Not Thom) –

      I am an 83-year-old woman. A few years ago we had an active shooter in a church near us. I want you to know the following facts:

      * Our church is a rural church averaging about 25 people. We are smaller than your church.
      *We are a poor church too.
      *After the shooting, I asked our pastor if I could work on a plan for our church. He agreed.
      *I got a deputy sheriff to speak to our folks on security. He also gave us a written plan we adopted for our church. Cost: $0.
      *The same deputy trained three of our men how to be security persons for our church. Cost: $0.
      *We bought new touchpad locks for our building. The cost was a few hundred dollars, but a locksmith in the town near us installed them for free.
      *Thom never said you must hire a security guard or a police officer. He offered it as one suggestion.
      *You have a victim mentality instead of seeing how God can work things out if you use your brain.
      *You owe an apology to Thom. I can’t believe you said his words would cause people to go to Hell. His words will save lives.

      I am sorry, but you really made me mad.

      Janet Parham

      • Janet,

        Thank you for your reply. Thank you for sharing what your church did to help make the place safer. So again, thank you for sharing the info.
        Now, on the some of your other comments I feel you were out of line somewhat because Thom did imply a church should hire a security officer. I will copy and paste his comment for you to read
        “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.”
        My understanding of “spend money”, “retain local police officer” and “investments” mean it it will cost money.
        Concerning apologizing to Thom…if I have offended him or hurt him in some way, I would be more than glad to apologize to him for that. That was not my intention whatsoever. I did not attack him personally, I was just very concerned and also hurt by his comment. Maybe I misunderstood what he was saying or trying to say.
        Now, your attack on me personally, I do not appreciate.
        Again, I will copy and paste your words this time. “*You have a victim mentality…” I do not have a victim mentality. I am proactive more than reactive. We have some folks in our congregation that “are packing and are prepared”. We plan in hopes to not become victims.
        Nevertheless, I do not expect nor need an apology from you for you attack on me. I do not feel you were trying to intentionally hurt me. I am sorry you got mad. But as long as you got mad and did not sin, all is okay. LOL Thanks again for writing to me. God bless,
        Tom from TX

      • John Willingham says on

        Tom –

        I am sure Janet does not need me to respond for her, but I am in total agreement with her sentiments. Thom used the word “may” when he was speaking about possible expenditures. I took that clearly to mean those were possibilities, not imperatives. Second, this sentence of yours crossed every line imaginable:

        ” I can’t imagine how many people might spend eternity in hell if we followed your advice on this subject.”

        More than anything you wrote, that offended me. I showed it to my staff without comment, and they couldn’t believe you said that about Thom. That was an intensely personal attack.

        I hope you will address that specific sentence.

      • John, I will address my statement that you took offense with. As Thom made the statement that churches should not open their doors if they cannot afford to keep members safe and secure…my point was this: if those churches who can’t afford to hire someone closed their doors then there would be less churches (witnesses, evangelistic organizations) and that could mean that some might not hear the gospel and be saved and thus spend eternity in hell.
        Hope that clarifies my statement for you.

      • John Willingham says on

        Tom –

        No. Your clarification does not make sense. Once again, Thom gave different possibilities of how churches “may” (that word again) protect their members.

        You then attacked a man who has given his life to helping churches reach people with the gospel. You clearly said people will go to hell if we listen to him.

        I just don’t see how you can say you never intended to hurt him personally. What could be more hurtful than telling a Christian leader his advice will send people to hell?

      • I am not choosing sides here, at all, but all of you guys are bashing Tom. Agreed, there are many fine ways to be more secure in our churches without spending money, but if you go to item 3 above, and read it well, it was indeed speaking of spending money on security, period.

      • Janet Parham says on

        Tom –

        You are simply avoiding the reality that you attacked Thom viciously with your words that his advice will cause people to go to Hell. Others see it clearly, but you don’t. Any further discussion with you is futile.

  • Pastor's wife says on

    I would add – don’t be afraid.
    Yes, we should be proactive but we must still gather for worship and welcome the unsaved into our fellowship. We cannot allow the evil one to win.

  • Super helful and an important thing for churches to take very seriously. Thanks for the reminder to pray.

  • Ruben Exantus says on

    How about a new inner city church plant who can’t afford a security personnel?

    • Ruben, Keep on ministering and serving. That is what God as called us to do. Fear in this is not from God. Jehovah God is our protector and provider.
      We must be smart and seek wisdom from Him as we are about the Kingdom work.

      Blessing brother!
      Tom in Texas

    • Do you have any volunteers at your church who could be trained as security? When I was in seminary I attended an inner city church that consisted mostly of senior adults. We had a security guard on duty whenever the church met, but I don’t remember if he was paid or not. We had a regular one and a backup. Both were elderly men, but they wore uniforms and carried guns.

      • Les Ferguson says on

        Ken, volunteer security, especially armed volunteer security is probably one of the least advisable options; unless the volunteers are already trained in active security procedures. Volunteers are suitable to control flow and limit access but to be the first line of defense against a potential active shooter probably won’t end well.

        Ruben – the premise of effective security and security planning is to make it difficult for a potential assailant to gain access – passive measures work as well or better than active measures. Things like one-way emergency doors, locking doors, a policy of not propping doors open, visible and identified cameras are all good passive measures. Your goal is to make it difficult to get cornered and to limit access to people you don’t want to have access.

        Most police and sheriff’s offices will provide a site assessment with recommendations to have a more secure facility.

        P. S. – the first 22 years of my working life were spent addressing base security and installation security in the military.

      • I specified *trained* volunteers. 🙂

      • Also, churches can use retired or active law enforcement that are already attending church. Many churches don’t reach out to these valuable individuals. They are a great resource.

    • Jim Young Sr says on

      See the post above from Michael Corp, Jacksonville, FL

  • We are parying for First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Pastors please utilize your memebrs who are trainied in security, our church is blessed to have 3 active LEOs (law enforcement officers) as well as one retired and two career military one active one retired and we use them as our security team. We will ask them for a plan and they respond asap.

  • After an incident in another church, we implemented the process of locking all doors after worship begins. We have ushers at the main entrance to let people into the church when they are late.

    An interesting dilemma is on a Wednesday night at a Bible Study a person with needs walked into the church and into Bible study. That became an awkward time, but also a scary time if he had a gun.

      • Michael Corp, Jacksonville FL says on

        Hey Thom, this my first exposure to your ministry. Thanks for doing what you do. I belong to a church that has a safety team ministry. They started this ministry five years ago with one individual. Today this ministry has twenty five members. We use a company called Ground Operational Development and the Guardians Association for our training and safety protocols. They have developed over twenty mission critical policies specifically for churches. What sets the Guardians apart from other security services is the recovery component for each protocol. Caring for and ministering to people during and after an incident is where the church has usually done well. Preparing for and responding to the incident has not been a strength for some. The Guardians program incorporates both which is unique in the security industry. This program has been great for our team and church. As a team we have looked to scripture for principles and guidance on security for our church. We discovered there are some solid applications for our current times and ministries. During Moses and the Israelites wilderness journey they had the tabernacle. God prescribed a security detail that was in charge of set up, breakdown and transportation of the tabernacle. When the Israelites moved out all of the other tribes would take lead element, rear guard and flanking protection. The tabernacle was positioned in the middle with the priests out front and security team carrying and surrounding the tabernacle. There were various duty posts for these men as gate keepers to watch over the priests, the worshippers and the articles for worship. After all, this wandering community was surrounded by hostile nations. During the United Kingdom period King David instructed his son and successor, King Solomon, to organize and implement the gatekeepers for Temple service with the same mission as their predecessors under Moses. Nehemiah has been a great example for our safety team. Nehemiah was a trained personal bodyguard for kings. He was a godly man who cared deeply for his people. He was concerned for their safety back in Jerusalem. Her walls and gates were damaged and breached and her gates were burned down. This left her exposed and vulnerable to continued attacks. Under his leadership, the walls were rebuilt and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem served as guards and watchmen on the walls. Some of the lessons we drew from Nehemiah are; be intentional with your security, look to God for his wisdom, blessings and protection, develop strong relationships with leadership and your team members, continually monitor for potential gaps and breaches in your “ministry walls and gates”, and ensure you have committed and capable watchmen posted. There are numerous biblical applications from the Old and New Testament for churches to draw from on this topic of safety and security. It has been a great way to get our men into God’s word! For churches who are struggling to get their men involved in ministry, this specific safety ministry has been a great entry point for men and women who were not serving in ministry. In our ministry we have four “gates” or watchmen levels. There is; parking team, greeters, ushers, and safety team. I hope this helps the conversation and decision process for our due diligence to do our part in serving the body of Christ.

  • Thom, Thanks for your suggestions. Unfortunately, many churches are “setting ducks” just waiting for a tragedy to happen. This is especially true for rural churches located out in the middle of nowhere. Again, thanks for your thoughts.

    • Shelli Rehmert says on

      Oh absolutely! I remember when my husband was preaching one Sunday and an angry man appeared at the back of the church and began coming towards the front, shouting at my husband. I quick grabbed one of our leaders in front of me and told him, we have to do something now!

      My husband talked him down, I ran in the church office and called the police and our leader was going to come up behind the guy from the back entrance of the sanctuary.

      Our people were all sitting ducks and didn’t suspect at all that this guy would do anything more than just yell.

      Unfortunately, we have to plan on people doing anything, anywhere. We need to be prepared.

      My heart goes out to this little body of believers. May Christ’s presence carry them in the way that only He can.

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