Earlier public occurrences, such as Paducah, Kentucky’s Heath High School shooting in 1997, or the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 forced security precautions to be instituted in places like schools, malls, theaters and other public arenas.
Now, incidents such as the First Baptist Church of Maryville, Ill., and Colorado Springs New Life Church shooting in 2008 and similar tragedies have caused officials to step up security measures in churches and other religious institutions.
In today’s culture, church leaders need to be armed against the potential dangers of a stranger or intruder. They also need be aware and protect themselves against possible threats and accusations, as well as insure the church is a safe place for everyone, according to Rick Anderson, co-founder/owner, Church Security Solutions, LLC.
Anderson said there are several things churches can do to lessen the likelihood of an attack. He suggests following several steps, including assessing your church’s areas of security vulnerability, developing a volunteer safety and security team, and providing your key staff and volunteers of the knowledge of what to look for in a threat.
Anderson, a former mega-church pastor of administration of 18 years and his partner, Raul Ramirez founded the Salem, Oregon-based Church Security Solutions, LLC. in 2007. The company helps churches across the country become proactive with their security by offering services through their private consulting firm that is dedicated to protecting the church. One of their clients is Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., whose media arm has produced the Christian blockbusters "Facing the Giants" and "Fireproof."
"As a pastor, and as someone who has been through seminary, I know you don’t get classes on 'Security 101,'" Anderson said. "We felt a burden to come alongside of pastors and to assist them, unfortunately, against what we think is probably going to increase as time goes on, and that is these acts of violence against the church. As society becomes more secular, and moves away from a Christian worldview, it is going to increasingly become uncomfortable with this icon of righteousness, and that would be the church. And, it will lash out at this benchmark of morality and strike at it."
He said churches need to take a proactive approach, and that they have a responsibility to insure congregants are safe.
As a result of his own experiences, Ron Aguiar, mega-church director of security at the 18,000-member Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., has recently released a book on church safety called "Keeping Your Church Safe." The book serves as a blueprint for implementing security protocols and processes in churches of all sizes across the nation.
"In a world when a gunman can enter a church and go on a shooting rampage or a person can walk in and steal a child from the church nursery without any obstacles, we need to be sure that protecting our houses of worship is one of our top priorities," said Ron Aguiar. "Keeping Your Church Safe" suggests ways to protect every corner of a church building, its members, its employees and its volunteers. Topics covered in the book include risk management, how to implement a medical program, how to protect the children of the church, protecting the church’s money, and dealing with protests and terrorism.
Aguiar has over 20 years of experience with a combined background in personal security, public law enforcement and church security. He offers readers advice as well as real-life experiences and lessons learned throughout the course of his career.
"During the last ten years, I’ve had many requests from churches that call and ask for help in specific areas related to safety and security, or risk management in general," Aguiar said. "I finally said, 'I need to put this into a book, it would be easier, and if someone requests information, I can tell them to pick it up and it covers A to Z.'"
Dennis Richards, lead director of connections; Joe Mauldin, director of facilities; and Robyn Holmes, director of operations for kid’s kinistry, of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton, TX, agreed that safety in the church is vital. They work together on a regular basis to make sure their 5,000 member church is safe, and said safety is an issue that all churches, large or small, need to consider.
"Church safety is very important. Our goal is to have our people trained and have a set of guidelines in place that we can go into action mode if anything happened," they said. "Churches need guidelines which keeps the environment as safe as possible."
In regard to that security, Bent Tree Bible Fellowship has a team in place that spans the Operations and Facilities team, Connections Team (guest services and communications) and Missions, with an alliance from their Public Relations Agency.
One of the particular security measures taken at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship is the presence of police officers.
"We have eight police on site every Sunday. Their main role is traffic control as we are flanked by two other large churches, so Sunday morning traffic is an issue. When those officers are not directing traffic they are posted around our campus. We keep them low profile, but their presence is definitely there," the staff said. "Two years ago we did a topical series on issues that had political ties. We brought in for the first time a plain-clothes officer into our services. From that learning we decided to continue that practice. One of the awesome results of that is after a recent service the officer approached our Senior Pastor and said ‘I need to get right with Jesus right now.’ He prayed and now is a brother is Christ. No amount of planning or guidelines can account for that fruit."
Security experts offer many tips to keep your church safe. Here are just a few:Take a pro-active approach to safety and security. Refrain from the notion "This will not happen to us." Work with local authorities—Police/law enforcement and fire departments, insurance companies, FBI etc. on safety and security assessment and training. Have a third party evaluation/security audit done of your building/facilities—Either from police, fire department or a consultant. Run criminal/background checks on all volunteers. (It’s also best if they are church members for at least six months.) Identify church members or leaders who are doctors, nurses, EMT’s, and those who know CPR in case of medical emergencies. Have first aid supplies on hand, and know when to call 911.
"Pastors need to take this seriously," Anderson said. "They are going to be identified as a target, because they are that personification of this gold standard of morality."