With church security front-of-mind for pastors and other church leaders in the wake of the tragedy at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, many churches of every size are re-evaluating their security protocols.
The tragedy in a small South Texas town helped shed light on an unfortunate truth: Violence can strike any church in any town.
“The idea of ‘it can’t happen here’ has been shattered with the Sutherland Springs tragedy,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “Churches and ministries need to take precautions that make sense given their profile, location and local needs.”
GuideStone and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company are offering two seminars for Texas churches who are interested in learning about implementing best practices for volunteer church safety and security teams, protecting kids in the ministry environment from predators, improving the volunteer screening process, and understanding active shooters and protecting the congregation. Space is limited; the cost is $15 per person and covers the cost for lunch and a copy of the detailed Church Safety & Security Guidebook, a 240-page guide that will equip your church with action steps, information and checklists to implement a safety and security plan for a variety of scenarios.
The two events are:
- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. November 14 at the First Baptist Church Lubbock, 2201 Broadway, Lubbock, Texas 79401. To register, visit GuideStone.org/CSSCLubbock
- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. November 16 at the Great Hills Baptist Church, 10500 Jollyville Road, Austin, Texas 78759. To register, visit GuideStone.org/CSSCAustin
Additional handouts available at the meetings are available to any church for free by visiting GuideStone.org/Security.
Many church security experts recommend the iceberg approach to their church security: Ten percent of a church’s security should be seen, while 90 percent is below the surface. This helps keep the church from feeling like a fortress designed to keep people out. The visible elements — lighting, security cameras, locks on doors, designated safety patrols, etc. — remind the congregation that measures are in place without being overwhelming. The behind-the-scenes elements help make sure the church can prevent, respond to and recover from a threat quickly.
Additionally, any church that can should have a uniformed police officer patrolling the facilities, Hawkins said.
“This can help provide visible protection while also introducing police as positive role models and encouraging positive interactions with children, youth and the church community,” Hawkins said.
Visible security is key.
“It’s like locking your car doors at the mall or your home at night — it provides an important deterrent and may keep those with malicious intent out,” said Gaelen Cole, senior manager of risk and compliance for GuideStone’s Property and Casualty® area.
Churches are often considered soft targets. This means that they appear vulnerable to attack, with few hard defenses to keep aggressors out. Visible security is an important way to harden the perception of the church’s vulnerability to those who would cause harm.
In addition to uniformed police, visible security measures include:
Greeters. Greeters are the first line of defense. During services or activities, post greeters at all unlocked entrances. They not only welcome everyone but also they serve as important eyes and ears when it comes to threats. Train greeters in threat recognition and response; local law enforcement or security experts can help.
Safety and security patrol. In addition to greeters, it’s wise to have a trained team patrol your property and parking lot during active hours. Sixty-four percent of violence at churches is outside — in parking lots or on church grounds. Having a designated, trained, visible patrol can help deter opportunistic offenders.
In fact, the same day as the Sutherland Springs mass shooting, national media reported a woman and her friend were shot and killed in her car in the parking lot of a Catholic church in Fresno, California, allegedly by her estranged husband. Sadly, Cole notes, domestic violence can spill over to churches easily.
Cameras. Ideally, your cameras are connected to a system that records activity in all key areas of your church. However, even if your ministry can’t afford a full surveillance system, visible cameras, even if inoperable, are better than nothing. This deters behavior that would otherwise take place in secret: theft, assault, abuse, vandalism, etc.
Lighting. Like cameras, lighting — both interior and exterior — eliminates opportunities for secret activities. This measure is a relatively inexpensive way to make your ministry less of a target for assaults, theft and the like. Make sure exterior lighting is on a timer or motion sensor so that it’s sure to be on after dark.
Trimmed hedges. Again, this is a measure against concealment. Thieves will use hedges to conceal their attempts to break in.
Cole noted that behind-the-scenes work includes preparation, training and planning that complements or undergirds the visible elements.
Developing an effective plan includes:
Assessing threats. Work with local law enforcement and church security and risk management experts to assess the threats to the church or ministry. These will not only consider criminal threats but also weather-related, political and environmental threats as well. This will help address all the areas of need as a plan is developed.
Planning the work. Put together a team to craft the overall plan. This team should include the church’s leadership, qualified and skilled volunteers, and any security or law enforcement experts that the church can work with. Decide who is responsible for doing what, and divvy up the work so it’s not too much of a burden on one person. Set deadlines and goals to help keep things moving along.
Working the plan. An unrehearsed, unused plan is virtually worthless. Fully implement all the elements of the plan, and make sure that key players are trained and put through drills regularly. Make sure the congregation knows their parts, too. Otherwise, panic can take over in crisis situations.
Reviewing annually. Make sure that you keep your plan updated to address new or changing threats. Don’t let it get stale.