For many, it is difficult to believe that the words active shooter and church would ever need to appear in the same sentence. However, church shootings are quickly becoming a constant in America. Many are concerned while, unfortunately, far too many others are in denial. The result of increased shootings has many people wondering if the church they attend is safe for worship.
The shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs has sparked fear in churchgoers across the nation. Heartbreak for victims is compounded by the contrast between their faith and fear. Places of worship used to insinuate solitude and peace, now it has somehow become a target for senseless shootings.
Active shooters are a harsh reality of church life today and as such, it is important that pastors and other leaders recognize and understand the need for security. Asking if a church is safe for worship is a valid question. Simply being prayerful is not enough; churches must work to be prepared. In addition to law enforcement and a security team, congregants need to understand the importance of watching out for anything unusual.
No longer is it just the security team, but greeters and parking lot attendants need training toward awareness in order to minimize the threat of an active shooter. Discernment, as well as keen eyes, can help deter incidents and save lives. Securing a house of worship involves all volunteers and staff. However, it is important that volunteers are trained effectively in order to balance identifying threats and remaining a healing center for the broken.
More than identifying threats and learning how to respond to violent situations, proper training also helps prevent opportunities for security teams to go overboard out of fear. Information and examples teach staff and volunteers how to discern situations and render the proper actions for potential situations.
In order to ward off potential attacks, places of worship can no longer dismiss the proactive effect of having security that is visible to both the congregation and potential attackers. Rather than only having security hidden or blended into the congregation, this visible deterrence can both protect and reassure worshipers. The obvious presence of security makes violaters think again before they begin. Religious organizations may even consider having security vehicles and/or officers outside in the parking lot to establish a clear presence among the arriving congregants.
This importance of training is not new. Security professionals have repeatedly emphasized the need for it. Security teams should meet regularly to work through a variety of scenarios and revisit processes. These training sessions should periodically incorporate pastoral staff, greeters, and ushers since they are often the first to encounter a threat. These are great opportunities to connect with local law enforcement to provide assistance and/or facilitate training sessions.
Wave Church in Virginia Beach has often taken advantage of the free training offered by their local police department. When speaking with Kim Thumel, the church’s security team leader, about the importance of making the church safe for worship, she said:
Our team’s role is to have a smile on our face but also be very visible to anybody who may have bad intentions. We need to understand that churches have become a soft target. The worst thing that you can do is walk around in that state of mind that it is never going to happen to here.
Thumel, an NRA instructor who teaches a women’s concealed carry class, emphasizes the need for a written plan that includes an exit strategy. This can save lives in the event of an active shooter or other catastrophes. She added:
If you don’t think about it in advance, you can’t make a good decision in that moment. Instead, you just shut down.
Many believe that God will protect his house so there is no need to worry. Some leaders are convinced that a security team will cause congregants to feel threatened unnecessarily when the local police force is sufficient to handle such measures. However, with church incursions on the incline, it is time for religious institutions to be prepared to protect when the need arises. This is not a new concept, throughout the Bible God has utilized his warriors to protect the people even when it includes physical battles.
It is sometimes difficult to convince leaders and congregants on the importance of church security. Times have changed. Leaders now have a responsibility to make the church safe for worship. Prayer is great but preparation is essential. While no one can guarantee an active shooting will not occur at a religious organization, they can begin to institute layers of insulation to minimize the risk.
Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
WAVY News: With church security top of mind, Va. Beach police will meet with religious leaders
VBPD (Press Release): Active Threat Citizens Defense Workshop
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