Churches are reviewing their security plans after a month in which 10 people died in a shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York; another died the next day in a California church; and 21 died, including 19 children and two teachers, in a shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas.
While variables may exist from church to church in establishing or modifying safety plans, the concerns and preparation are largely consistent, an expert said.
“It’s about scope, scale,” said Mike Everett, director of security services at Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis. “With churches, it’s the same. We all face the same issues, whether it’s budget or the size of the congregation or the number of people you need to serve in your security ministry.
Everett worked with a company that performed a security assessment in Bellevue before the church approached him with a job offer which he accepted in September 2021. Prior to that, he had served 23 years in the application of the law in southern Illinois as a patrolman and three-term sheriff.
Bellevue already had an established security team before Everett arrived. In 2016, this team took action to subdue a heavily armed man who entered the sanctuary during the church’s Easter service at 11 a.m. An alert host had noticed a gun sticking out of the man’s jacket. After being questioned by Andy Willis, then Bellevue’s director of security, a reserve officer with the Memphis Police Department, an automatic rifle and “plenty of ammunition” were found in the man’s backpack.
Everett and Ben O’Neal, who conduct church safety and security seminars and training through the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, point to the 2017 shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. , marked a turning point in the awareness of the discussion.
“It taught us some things about diaper safety,” O’Neal said of the shooting that left 26 people dead, including an unborn child. It’s important, he said, to have security in the parking lot as well as at the gate to provide as many eyes as possible.
“You have to identify potential threats as they cross different levels,” said O’Neal, who had 23 years of active duty in the military before retiring with the rank of major. Degrees in criminal justice and security management have helped him in security training for more than 600 Baptist churches in Georgia. It is also addressed to more than 200 groups per year within the framework of regional seminars.
Layering is only part of starting a security plan. Two of those killed in Southerland Springs were outside the building, but most died when the shooter entered the building. Therefore, it’s important to limit the number of accessible doors entering the building, O’Neal said.
The concept applies to churches of all sizes. A small church might have a few volunteers in the parking lot and two more at the main entrance. Many churches have started locking these front doors once the service has started. But that doesn’t mean they have to be unwelcoming.
“Always have someone at the door ready to open it for those who are late,” O’Neal said.
Not cold, just cautious
Such measures do not make a church cold, just cautious. And that protects the ministry in the long run.
“If someone gets inside and causes a crisis, it’s going to hurt your ministry and your outreach,” he said.
A trespass does not have to involve a firearm. Recently, pro-abortion protesters halted services at a Catholic church in Colorado over the leaked Supreme Court opinion pointing to Roe’s possible overthrow against Wade.
“Your circumstances will dictate your tactics [in that situation]”, Everett said. “Be careful that any group or individual does not try to create the “video moment” that can be shared on social media. Reports will be based on your reaction, not the action that led to it.
O’Neal suggests a level of opportunity, however.
“React immediately and get them out of the sanctuary. Get things back to normal as soon as possible,” he said. “You have the right to physically evict protesters.”
When it comes to firearms, both recommend checking with the church’s insurance company and applicable laws. “It’s an administrative decision that needs to be made through prayer,” Everett said. “Whatever your governing body is, it needs to decide with the proper information.”
Training is at the heart of any security department or team, they agreed.
“It protects your growth and gives you credibility,” O’Neal said. “It indicates that when you bring your family to this church, they will be safe. You have someone watching over you so you can freely worship and learn.
Having “the heart of a servant and the mindset of a warrior” is not a good security plan, Everett said.
“Just having a concealed carry permit doesn’t prepare you for what you have to do in a congregation. It’s about the type and quality of training, not just the number of hours.
Diligence is wise when researching church security companies, they said. On May 16, the Arkansas Baptist News reprinted a February 2021 article about things to consider when building a church security team. The Department of Homeland Security also provides guides and resources for faith-based events and places of worship.
“We have to get the training,” Everett said. “You want to be able to say that you did your best to prepare.”
Reprinted from Baptist Hurry (www.baptistpress.com), Southern Information Service Baptist Agreement.