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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48 Comments

  • I have had the “Just trust God” discussion with some pastors. I asked them if their church has insurance. I asked them if their church locks they doors at night. When they answered, “yes”, I simply asked them why they didn’t trust God.

  • Doug Milelr says on

    I’d like to go back to Nancy’s question. I know that 2 years ago we discussed the situation there in Charleston and prayed for those in the church, their families, even the perpetrator. It was a night that had many of us asking questions. It was about that same time that our trustees began to take steps toward a more secure place of worship, constantly asking if the next step would make us more secure or block people from coming to worship. Each step has been incremental and well measured. Recently we have been attending more and more security seminars. It has been a good process. We have learned a thing or two at each of the seminars we’ve attended. We’ve also been very confirmed that we not only are we on the right track, but that we are ahead of the game in many cases. Now we are at the point that we are hosting training that is being done by our State Police for the churches in our association. Still we are leading the pack in our area, yet we know full well that there are holes that we need to plug. We continue to pray, asking God to show us not only what we are to do, but to protect us as we come to worship and serve Him in this place.

  • I am sorry to say that our local police department (upper-middle class suburb of Chicago) wouldn’t even return my phone calls when I called to invite a representative to meet with us on this issue. We’re on our own.

    • Doug Milelr says on

      Mark, you might try contacting your State Police post. Ours has been most helpful, especially when we said we would make this regional.

    • Mark, I live in NC but you can call me and I will help if I can. I am retired LEO and current Pastor. Been teaching this topic for 20+ years.
      Reed
      404-886-6898

  • Dr. Rainer,

    One person responded by asking why the tragedy at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church didn’t become the tipping point, and if that in some way indicates inherent racism in our views and responses. I would say that the tragedy at Sutherland tipped the scales, or turned a corner, because it wasn’t a racially-motivated hate crime. Most churches were broken and tearful to learn what that young man did at Emmanuel, but they sadly understood that those dear people were targeted for their ethnicity. Sutherland was a wanton act of violence that truly could be repeated anywhere and at any time. In our worship services we have people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds on any given Sunday… so I never thought we were vulnerable to becoming a victim of a hate crime. But a deranged, violent person who just wants a group of people to kill is now, unfortunately, a reality we have to prepare for.

  • …”the measures are an overreaction, or that it goes counter to the biblical truth of trust in God.” While I understand their concern (and more that their personality type is probably one of Peace and Harmony, 35% of the population), does that mean God wasn’t watching over First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs? Nothing happens apart from God’s knowledge. Nehemiah built a wall with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other. They trusted God to protect them. Indeed we are set up as sheep unto slaughter—and God calls us to protect our families. There’s a time for martyrdom and there’s a time to resist evil. May we have the wisdom and grace to discern between the two.

  • Walt Cooper says on

    As with most of these issues, we are back at the metaphor of eating the elephant one bite at a time. We saw this as a problem several years ago and began talking to leaders and the church. Little by little we saw attitudes turn. When the Texas event took place, our leaders and church were prepared to take a few more steps. Our lay leaders found when consulting with law enforcement that we were much further along than most other churches in our area. We still have steps to take but “turning the Old Ship Of Zion” is a slow but possible effort.

    • Another factor may be that the Charleston shooting was at a midweek prayer meeting with a handful of adults, while the Sutherland Springs shooting was at a Sunday morning worship service, with many more people, including children. Many people could imagine what it would be like to have someone come in the back of their church and start shooting as everyone was facing forward.

  • In the pushback I received in announcing a safety and security task force to engage in formulating a plan for our congregation I couched it not in the language of fear but in the language of stewardship. This is our job as those ordained or appointed to lead God’s people… we are called to care for all of those given over into our hands. It is not good stewardship nor is it wise leadership to pretend that the walls of the church can block out anger, mental illness or random acts of violence.

  • Nancy Meehan Yao says on

    How is it that the tipping point came in Nov 2017, rather than 2 years ago, when people were killed at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC? How much of our response, and how much of our issues about guns, is intertwined with our church’s racism?

    • Good question, Nancy.

      • jana hawkins says on

        The Charleston shooting also came to my mind, but I presumed that the very small town, very small church in rural America seems more profound, because it was so much more unlikely than a church shooting even in a city the size of Charleston. I do not think the race was as much an issue as the size of the town and the number killed. At least that is my deep hope.

    • Marvin Hill says on

      Racism!
      Our church is predominately white and in the deep South. We made changes in our security as a result of the Charleston, SC shooting and even more changes after the Sutherland Springs, Texas shooting. As Christians we are scripturally obligated to “let us do good to all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith – Gal 6:10.” We want the number of Christian people of all races to increase in America and we want to promote the safety of all. No racism that I have seen.

    • Not everything is about racism!

    • Or maybe the Charleston shooting was seen as an aberration, while the shooting in Texas confirmed a pattern? Some of us really getting tired of being labeled “racist” at every pretext.

    • Why must people always play the race card.it has nothing to do with that!

  • Dr. Rainer, I’m curious as to why you say “this reality is here to stay” rather than “this reality is here today.” Is it not possible for our society to return to a safer time?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Possibly. But the trajectory of security for child and sex abuse would indicate the security issues for church shootings are here to stay.

  • I have had discussions with some that state that we are to “trust God” and there is no Biblical basis for armed self defense of members in churches. They arrive at that point by ignoring all of the Old Testament, comments by Christ Himself, and the passages relating to centurion soldiers who are saved in the N.T. Scripture commands us to love our enemies. However both the O.T. and the N.T. command us to protect the defenseless among us. Our church has off duty police, as well as a large number of members who conceal carry. We also have a security team that are trained how to handle these situations.

      • I confess, I find the idea of a small church (35) or a mega church supporting members coming to church with concealed carry horrifying. Trained Law Enforcement Officers are prepared for sudden violence. Civilians are not. Obviously Jesus did not teach violent self-defense. Violence was used to threaten the early church and they did not turn to violence to defend themselves.

        There are many avenues available for church security without giving an endorsement to those who choose fear.

  • Timely post, Thom. Thank you!

    A group of pastors in the Tacoma, WA area is meeting on Tuesday for lunch to discuss this very topic. I forwarded your article to the point man.

  • The increase in violence is prevalent throughout society and growing worse by the day. Certainly we are living in the last days, as is evidenced by Christ’ warning that duing the last days the love of many would grow cold. Violence is the offspring of a cold heart.

    In light of your post, I’m reminded of this scripture: ‘But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” – 1 TIMOTHY 5:8

    Provision goes far beyond financial responsibility. It also includes protection. We need to be responsible for those entrusted to us by God. Even David, when confronted with a lion and a bear seeking to kill his flock, protected those entrusted to him by his earthly father. Of how much more value are we to God, than a flock of sheep?

    Yes! Bring on the security teams and let good men/women do their job in protecting God’s ”flock.”

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