The New Normal for Church Security

January 8, 2018

We recently experienced a new tipping point for church security.

A tipping point is the critical juncture in evolving developments that leads to a new and, often, irreversible state. We call that new state “the new normal.”

In church security we have witnessed two major tipping points. Though child sex abuse in churches was not new, it reached a new level of awareness and response when Pope John Paul II called an emergency meeting with the U. S. cardinals in 2002. We knew then the issue was serious and pervasive.

We reached a second major tipping point in November 2017 with the church shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Among the 26 people killed were nine members of one family. Church leaders and members across the nation began to realize that if it can happen in Sutherland Springs, it can happen anywhere.

I recently conducted a social media survey to ask church leaders and members to share what their churches were doing for church security. I then went to the Church Answers community (ChurchAnswers.com) for more in-depth responses. Here are some realities of the new normal as articulated by these respondents:

  • Church security measures have shifted dramatically. We learned that while church security measures are not new, there has been a noticeable change since the November 2017 shootings. Many churches instituted church security measures for the first time. Even more implemented additional security measures after the 2017 shootings.
  • There is a resistance to church security measures by a vocal minority. This perspective holds that the measures are an overreaction, or that it goes counter to the biblical truth of trust in God. There was a similar reaction in the early 2000s when churches started requiring background checks for those who worked with children. The latter protest is almost non-existent today. The resistance to implementing church security for shooters will likely dissipate as well.
  • One of the most common responses by churches is partnerships with local law enforcement. Many churches have hired off-duty police officers to be vigilant and visible when the church is gathered. Others have sought the law enforcement community to educate and train their members about this issue.
  • Many churches are using their members to assist in church security. Churches are commonly offering security training sessions to their members. Others are using members to patrol the grounds or to become volunteer security guards. I admittedly was surprised at the number of congregations who have many members carrying concealed weapons.
  • Churches are using technology to enhance their security. For example, even some of the smaller churches are using advanced video security systems, especially now that the technology has become more affordable.
  • More guests are asking questions about church security. When the sex abuse scandals become pervasively known, many church guests would not visit a church unless this issue was clearly addressed. The same is now true for the security toward church shootings. If churches do not provide clear and visible protection for those gathered, many guests will not come.
  • There is a general sadness among churchgoers that we have come to this point. Church members as a whole would like their churches to be wide open and welcoming. They don’t like locked doors, security cameras, and gun-carrying members. But they realize this reality is here to stay. For that reason, they are sadly resigned and accepting.

It is a new normal.

We may not like it, but it is here to stay.

May we who are part of the body of Christ demonstrate love and grace to all during these changing and, often, distressing times.

P. S. I will be doing a FREE Facebook Live event next week on another new normal in churches: “The New Normal for Church Guests.” Sign up below for more information about the free masterclass.

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47 Comments

  • David Harrison says on

    Our church has talked about starting a security team. My question is, I read on one website that you should not call it ‘Security’ team, rather ‘Safety’ team due to legal reasons. Has anyone else ran into this or was that more of the individual authors opinion? Thanks

    • AJ Chitwood says on

      Check your State requirements. In Oregon most people operating under the title Security must be certified by the state department of safety standards and training. What we found was that because our team in uncompensated we are able to use the term Security.

      Our Church has implemented a Safety and Security Team, Why? you ask. It’s simple has your church ever experienced a member having a medical emergency during service? Our congregation is aging (in 2019 we have had 15 pass away) Our Security team is there to monitor the entrances and children’s church areas and our safety team is there to respond to medical emergencies (EMS could be 10-15 minutes before arrival)

  • Thom,

    Excellent article. Your points were spot on and very much needed in this community. We at Forever Vigilant have taken the issue of security within houses of worship extremely seriously. We have a true passion for protecting God’s house and all of his flock. Thank you for helping spread the word with the reality and the need for security within the church. Protecting the flock is everyone’s concern and should be a top priority for all in church.

  • Andrew Estocin says on

    Thom, where in the New Testament and the Tradition of the Church does it make clear that arming ones self and taking a life is preferable to giving ones life? Did the early Christians arm themselves during ancient times under the Roman empire? The movement towards more and more guns in Church and members carrying weapons in Church is not based on on example Jesus Christ provides us. There is no comparison to common sense background checks the the Church arming itself. Dr. Martin Luther King said it best: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.Through violence you may murder the hater,
    but you do not murder hate.In fact, violence merely increases hate.
    So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness:only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

    • One comment, one scripture and there are more, Jesus speaking: Luke 22:36 I will not write what is said because there are numerous bibles in use, look it up yourself

    • Mike Meyer says on

      The words of Dr. King, are food for thought, but not Scripture. His absolutes of “violence merely increases hate” and “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars” are not always true. Violence is used to rid us of evil. Violence is often the means to put an end to violence. WWII’s victory over Nazi Germany is one example. The war against terrorism is another. When your only option is kill the killer or be killed, you are not increasing hate nor adding deeper darkness to anything. Otherwise the book of Esther promotes darkness when the Jews arm themselves and defeat those intent upon killing them. Violence is often the means of a God-approved victory.

    • ESV: Luke 22:36

      He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.

      So…Make provision for you and yours. Stand ready to protect yourself. To do less is to commit suicide, which is a sin. You are not a martyr if you get yourself killed in willful disobedience. Shoulder your responsibilities.

  • I feel the need to weigh in. I started my calling as a Pastor, I am now in Private Security, and have spoken with a number of Pastors and church members on these issues. Our “denomination” has always had tinges of Pacifism so for some of our older members this is a difficult subject. We should always bring people along gently when we address these concerns. We have to process this Biblically first, Emotionally we often need to grieve second, and usually third and fourth need to be a combination of Practical and Tactical. We should offer a secure environment for Discipleship and Evangelism out of love for anyone who wants to be included. This means we have to manage fear in our life and in the lives our Security ministry. We also need to be thorough and professional on those Ministry teams. They need to have a solid Biblical understanding of their role just like any other Ministry Team. We need to be practical in how much of our resources we devote to this effort. It isn’t more important than Evangelism, but it is important enough that we should train well and devote appropriate funding and time to these teams. There are great resources for Church Security and ministry minded organizations who really want to help. There is also a wonderful unintended benefit to having members on these teams that I have found, and that is this: Men, specifically, who have had a difficult time relating to the Church and are passionate about protecting people they love now have a ministry they have a surprising amount of energy for and it can be a great way to begin a Community group made up of these people in the Church. Thom thank you for addressing this topic along with all the others, I hope we as the Church can continue to take what is a negative reality and use it for good.

  • Tim Hancock says on

    Small point, but our County Sheriff recommended the term “Safety Team” rather than “Security Team”. There may be legal issues with the “Security Team” label.
    We have seen an increase in the question: What are you doing about security?
    It is sad, but it is the world in which we live.

  • I wonder what we are protecting ourselves FROM. A born-again Christian who is brutally murdered ends up in the presence of his Lord. Do we really need to be protected from that?

    Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were put into the fiery furnace. And, they told the king, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand”. They faced a certain attack. And, we are seeking protection from an uncommon attack.

    Jesus did not protect Himself from death on the cross. He certainly did not protect most of His disciples from violent deaths.

    All of these people have one thing in common. They were saved. The security plan that churches need to write is the plan for getting outside of the walls of the church and preaching the gospel to the lost and dying world. We need to stop hiding behind the walls from the community and go out into that community to spread the good news. If you want to lock the doors, feel free. But, do it AFTER you have left.

    But, if you insist on running scared of your neighbors, remember that the new normal will come with some old price tags. For instance, you will find that your greeters may be a lot more reluctant to be the sacrificial lambs that you are setting them up to be. It might be a little more difficult to get people to drive your church bus. And, when it comes to outreach, you might find it difficult to motivate your congregation to leave the safety of the church building to engage the community that they fear.

    VBS attendance will probably drop when the games are things that you can do inside a locked building. After all, if the adults need to be locked in, the children need it even more so.

    We can live in fear, or we can live (and possibly die) for God. I believe that we are to take up our cross daily, not hide behind it. However, churches are following the same level of overreaction and false security that our schools did. And, that is a lot of wasted money.

    And, of course, it is a great way to show the world just how much we love our enemies. But, then, that part of the Bible isn’t really important, is it?

    • The Bible also tells us that “…He has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, love and a SOUND MIND…”, the sound mind part includes using wisdom. While I agree ending up in heaven is our ultimate goal for eternity, I would also say I don’t want anyone expediting my eternity for me.

    • Samantha says on

      Hi Jim,

      I agree:) although I think we are in the minority. I don’t disagree entirely with some safety protocall, but I don’t agree with locking the world out so to speak. Then, placing cameras up to decide who is good enough to enter. Sure, have a greeter in the lobby during service to offer help, directions, etc; possibly lock doors that are rarely used and have a camera system if you want, but don’t use it to screen those who are allowed in and certainly don’t lock ALL the doors once the service is underway. We should be more concerned about the lost souls around us

    • Virtue signaling.

      http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12239-police-laws

      Temple security by the Levites is a ancient duty and responsibility. If you denigrate this function, and an atrocity happens, would you yourself bare the costs because of your position?

  • Your church insurance company is another good source or information.

  • Robin G. Jordan says on

    Our county sheriff’s department hosted church safety training for the churches in the county. The sheriff department has a sergeant whose principal responsibility is to help churches develop appropriate church safety measures. He presented an overview of the measures that a church might take to protect itself from an active shooter. These measures included formation of a church safety team, the assembling of a church medical trauma bag with hemostatic gauze to stop bleeding from bullet or knife wounds, specialized church safety training for greeters, ushers, children’s ministry workers, and others who formed what might described as the church’s early warning syystem, general church safety for the congregation -what they should do in the event of an active shooter enters the church, building security – locking secondary points of entry to the building and assigning members of the church security team to the main entrance, monitoring of the parking lot and all arrivals in the parking lot with a view to identify a would-be shooter before he enters the building and preventing him from gaining entrance. It is better to deal with a potential dangerous situation in the parking lot than in the building. This may require giving church security team members. greeters, ushers, and others who are likely to be the first to come into contact with a potential shooter in how to defuse a difficult situation and not through their response escalate it. The sergeant also advised that the pastor and staff, the church security team, the various ministry volunteers, and church members should be trained to identify potential shooters. Statistics show that most shooters are members of the congregation, former members of the congregation, or otherwise have a connection to the congregation. A spouse or in-law or a relative or a significant other may be a member of the congregation. Separation or divorce is often a precipitating factor. While no one should should be singled out and ostracized because they are experiencing relationship problems, the pastor and staff, and the church security team should be aware of what is going on not only in the lives of the congregants but the lives of those who are in someway connected to the congregants. Pastoral intervention may in some cases, prevent a shooting. On the other hand, it may make a pastor or staff member the focus of a potential shooter’s anger and resentment. Pastors and staff may need training in assessing the state of mind of those whom they counsel and how and when to make the appropriate referrals to mental health professionals, law enforcement, and other appropriate resources.

    A second deputy gave a presentation on what a church should expect when the sheriff’s department’s rapid response team arrived at the church in response to the report of an active shooter. Church members should raise their hands to show that they are unarmed and identify themselves. Church members who are hiding in a closet or a locked room should identify themselves. The rapid response team would tag the closet or room. If the team came across any wounded, they would not give them first aid but would alert the emergency medical team. The rapid response team’s primary objective is to deal with the active shooter. Any member of the church safety team who is armed should immediately holster his gun or put it down and raise his hands and identify himself. Otherwise, the rapid response team might mistake him for the shooter.

    The deputy went on to explain what would happen to a pastor, staff member, church safety team member, or church member who shoots and wounds or kills a shooter. He would be arrested, and handcuffed. He would likely be incarcerated pending a preliminary hearing on the shooting. His gun would be confiscated for a period of at least six months. An investigation would be conducted into the shooting and he would be required to appear before a grand jury which would decide whether charges would be filed against him. The laws of your state may be different from that of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and churches should familiarize themselves with their own state laws

    The deputy also pointed out that despite the attention church shootings have received in the media, they are infrequent, so infrequent that the Department of Homeland Security does not even have a separate category. for church shootings. It lists them under the category of “Other.” The most frequent shootings occur in businesses, schools, and outdoors, in that order.

    I certainly believe that every church should develop a workable safety plan to protect churchgoers against premeditated and unpremeditated acts of violence. At the same time I must point out that some churches are over-reacting to the Texas shooting and are locking down the church building on Sundays, including the main entrance. Church members and guests arriving a little late are finding themselves locked out of the church. This certainly does not give the right message to guests. We are seeing a longstanding decline in evangelism in many churches and if we are to reverse this decline, we must help our churches become more outward-looking. Unfortunately the Texas shooting has made churches that are already inward-looking, even more so. They do not see the world outside their doors as God’s vineyard in which he has called them to labor. Rather they see it as a frightening, hostile place which they must shut out.

    The sergeant who gave the first presentation is a Christian and an active member of his church. He stressed that churches need to balance their safety concerns against their evangelistic mission. They need to take the necessary steps to safeguard themselves but not at the expense of their mission to a fallen, sinful world.

    • Robin G. Jordan says on

      The county sheriff’s department subsequently sent a letter to the churches in the county advising them to examine their church insurance policies to determine whether their policy permitted guns in the church buildings. Some policies do; some don’t. Churches may have to pay higher insurance rates if they permit guns in their buildings.

      • Greg Hennecke says on

        To add to this comment, some insurance companies will ask if the firearms are “optional” or mandatory? Ours says if it is optional, there is no surcharge.

        But more importantly, why would any church allow an insurance company to dictate how the church protects its flock? Think about it for a second, I encourage churches to shop their insurance and find a carrier that will work with them VS against them.

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