Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. (Luke 22:36)
No doubt we all sat up and took notice on Sunday afternoon or whenever it was that we heard about the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Over the past decade, we have seen a dramatic increase in this sort of thing – I saw a statistic that says violent assaults at churches have increased 2,000% since 2007 – and no, that isn’t a typo. I hope that by now we have all adjusted to the idea that church is not necessarily a “safe space” any more.
My thinking on these things has changed dramatically over these past few years. For many years, I made it clear that we are in God’s hands and not in the hands of any invader, that He is protecting us, and that if anything were to happen, we as men would throw ourselves in the path of the bullets. Sounds spiritual, but not really Scriptural or wise.
Jesus taught us to beware of men.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
When He first sent out the 70, He sent them without purse, scrip, and shoes. But when they returned he told them to sell their garment and buy a sword. This was not metaphorical. They would have to face the reality that they were as vulnerable to assault from thieves and robbers as anyone else. We live in a fallen world, and Christians have a duty to protect themselves and their families as much as anyone else.
Over 20 years of ministry now, I have my share of experiences. I once sought to disciple an alcoholic who eventually became very angry with me. He would stand across the street from our church screaming at me when I came out the door at the end of the Sunday morning service. He would leave beer cans arranged on the church doorsteps and around our property. He would walk across town to stand glaring in front of my house. He left a ten-page letter on the door of the church detailing what he wanted to do to my wife. He finally set up a tombstone for me behind the church.
Another man attended our church off-and-on for a short period of time. One Sunday after a long absence, he visited again, angry about something. He kept moving seats from one side of the aisle to the other, closer and closer to the front, until he wound up directly in front of me. He then proceeded to stare me down.
A couple of years ago, a set of Academy parents became extremely unstable. We tried to help them for a time, until the dad wigged out at the front desk, becoming very aggressive towards our Academy secretary. It was her husband who came to me and insisted that we needed to put a security plan in place. I agreed.
I hope no pastor who reads this article will ever need to defend themselves against an invader. But it would be foolish for us to ignore the rising threat against our ministries. We must take seriously our duty to protect the sheep against wolves.
With that in mind, I would like to recommend a few immediate steps that ought to be taken with the goal of developing a security plan for your church. Some of these we have done, some we are in the process of doing. By the way, our church is small – around 30 families. A church need not be large in order to do what is listed here.
First, lock your doors during services
Leave the doors unlocked prior to the start of the service, but once the service begins, lock the door or else station an usher at that door. When the usher leaves the door, that door should be locked.
Secondly, designate men to carry a firearm
When I sat down with officers from our local police department, they said this was the most important defense against intruders. Those who carry should be competent with the use and handling of a firearm. Some training is ideal. Our church probably has a disproportionate number of gun enthusiasts, so we have had to set some good sense rules for those who carry on our campus. Rule number one: if you carry a firearm, it must be in your immediate control at all times. If a lady carries a handgun in her purse (several of our ladies do), her purse must be in her immediate control at all times. Nobody wants to hear of a baby in the nursery finding the handgun.
Thirdly, equip your ushers with Mace
This is a simple step, and makes good sense. Mace gives an usher the best chance of neutralizing a threat.
Fourthly, control the keys to your building
You shouldn’t give keys to everyone, and you should know who has keys to your buildings. When someone moves or leaves the church, have them return their keys. It might be necessary to change the locks on the church periodically (which is fairly inexpensive) in order to re-establish key control.
Fifthly, assign a man to roam the property during the service
Obviously, this should not be the same man every service, as the roamer will not be a part of the service. I was surprised to learn that the majority of violent incidents at the church start outside and move inside. From what I have read, this was the case at the church in Sutherland Springs as well. Another surprise to me, and one that we should know, is that a large number of church attacks are not directly related to the ministry of the church itself. A surprising number of assaults are the result of a domestic dispute or custody battle. Having a person patrolling the facility and grounds gives a great way to be alert and vigilant.
Sixthly, train your teachers and workers how to do a lockdown
For our academy, we installed door locks, flip latches, and barracuda door lock systems. You can get one of these for outward swinging doors and another for inward swinging doors. Your Sunday School teachers should be trained – not just told – what to do in the event of an emergency, especially if an intruder presents a threat.
Finally, the men of the church must be vigilant
It is a good idea to ask the men to station themselves on the aisles and to spread themselves throughout the church. This should be done every service.
Of course, these are immediate steps. Much more can be said on this, and it would be wise to look into some sort of security training for your ushers and the men of your church. Let me recommend Strategos International for more in-depth and expert advice and training for your church’s security concerns. These folks do a great job helping a church develop a security plan.
Of course, in urging these steps, we are not ignoring our need for the protection of God. We must trust the Lord and preach the gospel. But we must acknowledge that we live in perilous times.
The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.