10 Things Nobody Told You About Church Safety – Introduction

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Sheepdog-Iconography---Safety-TeamAbout four years ago, as I write this article, there was a horrific mass murder at a Colorado-based youth missions training center, and the church that funded that center. On that fateful Sunday morning at Youth With a Mission and New Life Church, a man with a grudge set out to kill as many people as possible. He succeeded in killing two youths, and then proceeded to drive a little over an hour to attack the church that ran the facility.

Because of the earlier attack on the youth training facility, several people approached the pastor of New Life Church and asked if he wanted them to stick around, in case this murderer attacked the church. Fortunately, Colorado law allowed some of those worshippers who had a concealed carry permit to carry a firearm in the church. When the gunman showed up at New Life Church, he was spotted in the parking lot carrying a rifle and handgun towards the entrance.

The gunman opened fire in the parking lot, killing two and wounding others. At least one of the “security” volunteers returned fire, hitting the gunman at least once. Wounded, the coward decided to end his rampage by ending his own life. Because she was armed, that security person was able to defend the church, and stop a mass murderer. If she and her companions weren’t there, the body count would likely have been higher in this 10,000+ member mega-church.

A couple months after that incident, I approached my pastor with a simple question: Did our church have any plans or team in place to deal with a violent incident like this? When he told me that the church did not have any plans for response, I simply asked if he would mind if I put together some plans. I also asked if he would mind if I began carrying my sidearm concealed to church on Sundays, starting the very next Sunday. He said I would be welcome to do so.

During the next month, I worked on plans to set up a small team to handle all the “safety” aspects of a church with a 100,000 square foot facility and 800-900+ regular attendance on Sundays. I also had to plan for the special events we hold where we may have as many as 2,500 people in our facility or parking lot at one time. This started as a small task, and quickly grew into a more daunting plan as I got dragged further into the planning stages. It seemed every time I stopped planning, it felt like God “whacked” me upside the head and simply said, “Not enough.” By the time I leaned back and “felt” a nod that the plan was “enough”, this “small task” had grown into a full-blown ministry team.

When I approached the pastor with the end “safety team” plan, he nodded, smiled, and then said, “Let’s take it to the LT (Church Board).”After I presented the plan to the church board, including plans for recruiting, funding, and even armed team members, I received overwhelming approval. As happens most often in the volunteer-driven church, I was then told, “Go for it.” The only way to get it started would be for me to take on the responsibility of implementing the plan. I would become the volunteer leader of this new ministry team. As I felt this was placed on my heart by God, I began working on building this team into a ministry.

As I began working, I quickly realized a couple things. First, most churches do not have any type of planning or team in place for safety emergencies. Whether it is a cardiac arrest in the middle of Sunday worship, a broken arm at a youth event, or a violent attack on the church, most churches simply assume “someone will help”.

Those few churches that do have plans, are typically the larger churches, and often keep the existence of any team buried, as if ashamed of thinking and planning about the worst. From hidden first aid kits and AED devices, to a strict “no talking about the team” approach to the team itself, churches seem to want to keep any thought of “danger” out of their parishioners’ minds. Even when I contacted the few churches that I knew had teams in place, they were uncooperative in the least, and even hostile for mentioning it at the worst. So I began to plan and work largely on my own.

There are some resources out there that offer direct tactical or strategic planning for churches, with topics like landscaping, video cameras, and even how to respond to a violent incident. Don’t get me wrong, all of this material is a great resource for someone who has never looked at physical security and planning. Unfortunately, there are a lot of considerations that nobody mentions when you are starting this type of ministry. I spent the last three and a half years struggling with everything from a hostile staff member, to theft, to firing personnel, and even a question of whether taking water to someone was a worthwhile endeavor (that story is a doozy).

So why would I write this series? After having spent those last three and a half years working in and on this Safety Team ministry, after countless hours of training, and after numerous incidents of “Oh, I never even thought of that”, I thought I’d write a series of articles for those who may just be starting out, or may be early in their ministry and haven’t seen some of these issues crop up yet. It is my hope that anyone can use this series, learn from my mistakes, laugh alongside my stories, and avoid the same traps and pitfalls.

Strap on your seatbelt, make sure your seat back and tray table is in the upright and locked position, and let’s takeoff.

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