A OneNewsNow.com survey of 4000 churches in 2008 found that 75% of them had no security plans!
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Acts 20:28
“More guns are not the simple answer,” says Terry Mattingly at GetReligion.org.
After the November Texas shooting, many small churches reacted by seeking a qualified Carry Concealed Weapons holder. A reaction is not a church safety and security plan.
Assessing your church’s vulnerabilities is the foundational step in understanding what your risks are and how to prepare.
Become Proactive Instead of Reactive in the Process
A thoughtfully written, communicated, and exercised plan of action for church safety and security is a much better and safer solution and it begins with a facilitated discussion with your congregation.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) advises identifying threats, developing goals, and planning courses of action. Then implement, review and consistently maintain your plan.
Take into account your geographic region. Are you subject to natural disasters like the New Madrid Fault in Western Kentucky or hurricanes at Tybee Island, Georgia? Perhaps you worship at a church in tornado alley, or you are subject to fires or floods.
Active shooters, disgruntled congregants, angry church members, sexual predators and hate groups are always possible threats.
Churches are “Soft Targets”
The American Crime Prevention Institute notes that criminals see houses of worship as “soft targets” for theft, robbery, embezzlement, vandalism, arson, and violence from hate crimes. They are “soft targets” because many don’t have security systems, are meagerly staffed, leave their doors unlocked, and never think of robbery when taking up an offering.
Jimmy Meeks, who retired after 35 years in law enforcement and has been a minister for 44 years, is a consultant with Sheepdog Seminars for Churches, a training firm focused on teaching church security measures. He notes that sexual abuse can and does occur in the church, citing 23 sexual crimes reported at Protestant Churches every day.
Sadly, the recent Texas church shooting points out the vulnerability of congregations when it comes to active shooters seeking revenge and the importance of being prepared even in a small country congregation.
Three Initial Planning Phases
Regardless of the size of your church, now is the time to implement a six-step emergency planning process starting with three general phases.
The first phase is to form a collaborative planning “ministry safety and security” team. Collaborative teams are made up of congregant volunteers who are willing to “co-labor” and get the job done. Choose this team wisely. We will discuss criteria for such teams in a future column.
This team should consist of your pastor, deacons, principal leadership, local law enforcement and emergency response personnel, an attorney, and your insurance agent. Others to consider are people with private security, teaching, counseling, and crisis communications experience.
Whenever possible, your team should have a right mix of genders and ages on this team because people in their 60s will see issues differently than those in their 20s.
In the second phase, facilitate your planning dialogue and risk assessment using the Collaborative, Informed Consent model. This model starts with the premise that the team “agrees” to provide their consent to the plan because they collaborate to design it and become well informed about its use.
Kay Armstrong, a senior consultant at L. Darryl ARMSTRONG and Associates, explains, “This engagement model uses a structured facilitation process that allows for a candid discussion about the pros and cons of having a plan for church safety and security. Participants can freely talk about their fears, current issues, and the perceived risks. This process helps them realize the possible emergency scenarios that could face the church; how to prioritize them; and how to develop options to handle them.”
Once the numerous situations are listed, discussed, vetted and prioritized, the committee can develop well-defined goals and objectives, which is the third phase.
These columns share the expertise gleaned from our four decades of experience in crisis planning and management and from experts in church safety and security nationwide. We challenge you to explore what has become a vital role in today’s houses of worship – safety and security – and to realize that just carrying a weapon in a house of prayer is not enough.
Find additional information including an introductory video on church safety and security, podcasts, and downloadable materials at www.ldarrylarmstrong.com. anyone interested in participating in a pilot webinar can register at our website for future presentation dates.