How Your Church Should Prepare for an Active Shooter

November 8, 2017

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.

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75 Comments

  • Ann Wasson says on

    I am grateful that Thom does not mention members bringing weapons to church; although I suppose some security officers might be armed. And in certain places, that might be the most appropriate thing.
    I also agree that this is a rare occurrence which is why it gets so much press; I would hate us to take on a bunker mentality for a rare happening. I am concerned that some reactions are to be armed to the teeth at all public events, even the worship of God.
    Perhaps if we are simply alert to disruptions and ready to call for help- in my church nearly everyone has a cell phone with them- that came in handy when someone had a stroke in midst of worship. I would hate to see a troubled soul, who appears threatening, accidently shot in the sanctuary by a vigilant, but untrained church member.

  • I am grateful that Thom does not mention members bringing weapons to church; although I suppose some security officers might be armed. And in certain places, that might be the most appropriate thing.
    I also agree that this is a rare occurrence which is why it gets so much press; I would hate us to take on a bunker mentality for a rare happening. I am concerned that some reactions are to be armed to the teeth at all public events, even the worship of God.
    Perhaps if we are simply alert to disruptions and ready to call for help- in my church nearly everyone has a cell phone with them- that came in handy when someone had a stroke in midst of worship. I would hate to see a troubled soul, who appears threatening, accidently shot in the sanctuary by a vigilant, but untrained church member.

    • Be aware though, when seconds count the police are only minutes away. FBI finds average response time to active shooter event is three minutes with approximately 35% of these events being over within two minutes. These happen fast and police response is not fast enough unless the LEO (on duty, off duty or retired) or a trained Concealed Carry civilian is in the building beforehand. Please don’t think because you have a phone you will be safe.

  • Dougboffl says on

    Our congregation currently runs 600+ most Sundays, but only a few years back was as many as 2,200. I’m full time LEO & security for a state agency. As one of my ministries, I am in church providing the same there every week. Not boasting, but saying this is who I am and what I am about almost 24/7/365. So I get lots of exposure to the current mindsets of how best to plan & prepare, trying to prevent emergency situations and then dealing with them when they do happen. I am learning all the time.

    Failing to plan is planing to fail. Every organization everywhere needs to plan for the almost unthinkable. Not having a plan is also not scriptural IMHO. Our Lord Jesus Christ made plans, (ref Mathew 21:2 & Luke 22:36). While His plans will always supersede ours, we should be diligent in doing what we can until He points us in some other direction.

    Small & big churches: reach out to your local law enforcement agencies and ask for help. If the city police department can’t for some crazy reason, step up to the county sheriff’s office. If they can’t assist, seek out state law enforcement (Highway Patrol, State Police, Wildlife Conservation). If they can’t respond, contact Federal agencies (FBI/DHS). Trust me, it will never get to this level before you have help. There is also a wealth of resources in retired & former First Responder folks (LEO, EMS) who are willing to help churches. Perhaps there is a small local security company that would like to give your church a discounted price in return for being able to say they are the ‘provider of choice’ for your congregation?

    Let me just drop this here: https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources

    There see, your first free resource just for reading my long winded post!

    And all this “security stuff” is so much more than just plans for active shooter scenarios. Does your church have a First Aid Kit (FAK) and AED? Who knows CPR/BLS/First Aid? Do local hospitals have your staff’s contact info? Has your facility been evaluated for storm worthiness and could it be designated an official “shelter”? What company does the background checks on your children’s ministry volunteers, who sets the threshold for what is ‘good enough’? Got a generator, is it working? Who checks the expiration dates on food left in the kitchen to be sure no kid gets sick. If the building went missing tomorrow, how could the church address this? Who plans the security for mission trips down the street or to other side of the globe? Policies – how does your organization handle someone who is loudly begging at the church door on Sunday morning and stinks of alcohol & urine – what if they want to sit inside? Is the offering always in the custody of at least two persons whenever not secured in a safe? Where do you keep (on actual paper) the phone numbers, e-mail and home addresses of the church staff & the membership for emergency contact? Where are the important documents kept, like bank statements, deeds, insurance policies, articles of incorporation & church bylaws.

    The list of potential considerations for contingency planning goes on and on forever, but don’t be overwhelmed. Just like eating an elephant, take it one bite at a time. Start with a small amount of ‘attorney input’ on how best to officially organize in your local. In some realms a “Safety Committee” is lots different than a “Security Team”. There can be legal implications to having a Security Team/Committee if none of the members are LEO or state licensed security professionals. Should your plans and policies be in writing or is that a liability? Once your SAFE Committee (or whatever you are told you should name it) is formed, they can begin addressing the whole host of topics one bite at a time. Can you have an attorney, EMS/doctor, LEO and a Pastor on the committee – what great start!

    The big idea here is to have people thinking about your exposures and planing responses. Of course no one can figure out all the possibilities, but when folks start focusing on this stuff frequently, the entire mindset changes and the organization responds better when faced with challenges, even challenges nobody thought about.

    I won’t take medical advise from someone just because they stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. Likewise, I don’t pretend to be a counselor giving marital advice. If you are a person without experience in security, law enforcement, and/or preparedness don’t play the role of the expert. Let those who spend lots of time and have lots of exposure on the topic guide your organization and take their advice under the strongest consideration. If your church is on some lost island where nobody has security or planing experience pick the smartest guy in the hut. Do whatever you can with whatever He has been provided.

    Stay safe!

  • I’ve got to offer a pretty strong but respectful disagreement with this post. Church shootings have occurred, but they are insanely rare. The only reason it looks like this ever happens is because when it does happen, it automatically becomes a national news story. The simple fact is that you are more likely to be shot by an overzealous police officer than you are by a church shooter, and the idea that churches need to be hiring more outside security does more to put the congregation in danger than it does to help. We’ve also got problems like the “Free Freeman” issue in Georgia – where a political activist was jailed for disagreeing with his pastor because the pastor claimed that disagreements scared him.

    When church shootings happen, they almost never come from members, and are almost always caused by an outsider who brings a domestic dispute into the church, like (as in this case) a jilted husband shoots the family of his “ex-wife”. Mass shootings that target more people have only ever happened a handful of times, and were motivated by things like racism (see Dylan Roof). So, really, the best thing a person can do to keep his church safe is to resolve domestic disputes before they get out of hand, by doing things like, you know, not supporting divorce so that there are no ex-husbands with a chip on their shoulder.

    Or you can just do what I do and go to an online church. No shootings going on around there.

  • I think it’s telling that the first reaction of many is, “what can we do to protect ourselves?” Fear and horror has an interesting way of turning us inward.

    Let’s not forget that in parts of the world, no security team is going to protect you from legalized persecution by authorities with more numbers and more firepower.

    Also lest we forget that this man who committed this horror was known to his community… I’m far from victim blaming, and I don’t know their stories, but it’s worth mentioning… how often do we turn a blind eye to early warnings? This is where security and ministry meet. Know your people well, press into darkness whereever it exists. You might save lives before you have to worry about engaging an active shooter.

    Finally, can your people in your church be trusted not to push people away from Jesus because they look dangerous?

  • How can I get in contact with the Ph.d college professor.

  • Jinni Watson says on

    Just saying, but perhaps supporting political candidates that are not taking money from the NRA and who support universal background checks.

  • Thom,

    There are some who feel I owe you an apology for my reply to your ‘article’. Please know that it was not my intention to hurt you or attack you personally in any way. Therefore, if I did offend you or hurt you in any way I am truly sorry and ask your forgiveness.

    The third point in your article really offended me, not personally, but rather from a ministerial standpoint. Maybe I took it wrong, if so, please let me know what you were trying to say.

    Again, please accept my apology Thom.

    Tom from TX

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Tom –

      First, I make many mistakes. I have much to learn.

      Second, I think others on the forum have explained my position well.

      Third, your words were harsh, but I am a public figure with a public forum. If I can’t receive criticism, I need to stop writing.

      God’s best to you and your church in Texas.

      • Thom,

        I too make mistakes and my interpretation of your statement was obviously one such mistake.

        I was hoping you would explain it to me instead of others explaining it for you.

        Thanks for all the writing you do. It has helped many, many people through the years including myself and my church.

        I have learned some valuable lessons from this. Again, I apologize and ask your forgiveness. I have asked God’s forgiveness for any harm and hurt I have caused.

        Sincerely,

        Tom

      • Absolutely.

        Blessings to you, my friend.

  • Thanks Thom. We began these discussions in our church more than a year ago. It’s more than practical – it’s also good theology.
    http://blclifton.com/doesnt-god-protect/

  • My prayer, used in many situations is from Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” I pray this for this church, this community, and this nation.

  • It’s sad that our nation has come to this, but it’s a reality. Not even rural churches are safe anymore. Thanks for the advice.

  • Two recommended resources: your local police force will be glad to come through and do an Active Shooter assessment and its usually free. Also, contact your church insurance company. Many of them have free training available.

    As the old song “Leaning on Jesus” goes; “safe and secure from all alarms”