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  • by Jim Willis

Thoughts on church security: “If you ain’t making waves, then you ain’t moving.”

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

You can’t have forward movement without making waves, so stop worrying about disturbing things, you will, but it's part of the process.

From any angle that you look at it, churches today are facing difficult times. To add to the other concerns, churches must now focus on the growing threat of physical violence and security. Recent events both at churches and elsewhere have shown that the level of hostility toward Christians and Christianity are on the rise, and with an increase in hostility, comes an inevitable increase in violence.

But when it comes to church security, many congregations appear to have on blinders to the dangers that consistently lurk near, and often within, their church doors. Ironically those that steadfastly refuse to acknowledge this reality are the same ones that are astounded by the church’s lack of preparation and planning when violence occurs.

The cases of two recent incidents of hostile and potentially violent disruptions in churches near my home offer clear examples of this. One of the churches had a security program in place, the other did not; but in both, the congregations’ blinders were ripped away and the stark reality that the potential for violence is real and it can occur in their church was brought into harsh focus.

In the first situation, the church with a security program, but the congregation had limited the team’s ability to function and hampered their effectiveness by not providing funding for the program, and the team had no procedures and little authority. The effects of these limitations became clear when a member of the congregation, with prior issues with a guest speaker, became belligerent and stormed the pulpit. The security team, which had dwindled to just two men, and others rushed to intercede and finally removed the person after a lengthy and boisterous confrontation that disrupted the service. The congregation was left shocked, frightened, and confused and with some vowing never to return.

In the second situation, the church considered security a non-issue. In fact, many in the congregation had pronounced church security was unbiblical when the subject had been brought up in a business meeting. However, this all changed when a visitor to the church began to pace back and forth in the back of the sanctuary yelling out obscenities, cursing God, and ranting incoherently. The startled congregation responded with confusion and fear. Some got up and left while others cowered under pews. Later, they wanted to discuss how to start a security team.

In both cases, church members were left feeling emotionally violated (these type of incidents in a church can have the same emotional impact as a home invasion), confused, angry, and fearful of reoccurrences. The same was phrases were heard over and over: “I never believed that this could happen in OUR church”, “we’re just a small community church, how did this ever happen”, and simply “why”. The answer is simple; putting on blinders doesn’t alter reality.

The reality is that the unexpected occurs at churches just like secular buildings. Medical emergencies, fires, natural disasters, and violence make unplanned visits on congregations with alarming regularity. It is imperative that church leaders have an effective response plan in place before the next emergency.

So, go ahead, start the conversation on security in your church; no matter how unpopular or how much resistance you face. It is an important and may require perseverance on you part, but a shepherd is both a guide and a protector. I had the privilege of watching shepherds at work in many parts of the world, they will usually work in teams. The church must do the same; first follow the lead of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, and the guidance of the lead shepherd the pastor, supported by journeyman shepherds such as ushers and the security teams that help guide and assist the congregation, and support the church ministry.

When discussing how to best respond to church security, it’s important to remember that all points of view are valid and important to the conversation. Trying to “win” the argument shouldn’t be the primary goal of the discussion, coming to agreement on the approach that the church will take should be the ultimate goal. Often, it’s after the church leadership has approved setting up an emergency response program, you will have vocal opposition from members of the congregation to the idea of starting a security team.

First, do not discount their views or concerns. They have a right to their views and, left unresolved, their opposition can hamper your efforts. However, the opposition is more often than not based on fears that the team will be highly visible and/or intimidating, or they will have a detrimental impact on the church’s atmosphere and openness.

One approach to elevating these fears and gaining “buy-in” for your emergency response efforts is to set up a medical response team first.

Most of the emergencies your church will face are medically related. And most people will readily accept the idea of having a medical response team. Once established and it becomes evident that establishing emergency response teams will not adversely impact the church, then those with opposing views can often more easily accept the idea of a security team.

One of the most effective means of accomplishing the task of church security is to engage the services of a security consultant, and then discuss your program with local law enforcement and first responders.

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