An Answer for Activists
With the some of the recent Supreme Court of the United States decisions, the rhetoric and politics have been very heavy throughout the country. Regardless of where your pastor and church falls on a myriad of hot-button issues, you need to have an understanding of what potential incidents that may arise, and you need to have a plan to handle those incidents before they occur.
Risk of Protests
If your church takes a stand for, or against, any of the current social hot-button issues, there is a very real chance you will have a group of people protest and picket outside, or inside, your church. In todays social climate, this protest could be very small, or, if the media gets involved, could be fairly large. The intention of this kind of protest is to draw media attention. While some of the crowd will strongly believe in the issue they are protesting, a relatively sizable number will simply be along for the opportunity to be seen in media.
I mentioned that a protest might even happen inside your church. It is possible that a few protesters might attend your service. At some point during the service, usually when the pastor is speaking, they might stand up and begin shouting their protest. They will typically be very loud, very vocal, and relatively non-violent. While the loud protester may turn violent if they feel that they are being cornered or threatened, the inside protester is like most of the outside protesters, they want attention to their cause. They especially want media attention, and the worse that they get treated, the more attention they will receive.
Risk of Violence
While most protests will be loud and annoying, The will be non-violent in nature. Unfortunately, society has lately been escalating the rhetoric and coarseness in what should be discussions and discourse. In today’s American society, even minor protests can erupt into anger and violence with the right instigators in the crowd.
When violence due to protest does erupt, it is often sudden, and usually more focused on property destruction. Usually the violence begins suddenly, and escalates into a rampage that is used to destroy property and threaten the surrounding area. This violence usually stops only with law enforcement or other security response. In other words, once violence erupts, it usually takes some kind of force to stop it. Unfortunately, until they stop, they can cause great physical damage to to your facility and can cause even greater damage to the health and peace of your congregation.
Minister to them
So what is our response to these incidents? You need to have a clear plan for your team to respond if one of these incidents come up. That plan needs to incorporate an escalating level of response, from a small protest inside or outside all the way up to violence during a church service. It should be set in stages, and each response be absolutely appropriate to the level of the incident, with the end goal of ministering to those who would protest the church.
The response for the protesters? Your first rule should be to never try to outshout or out protest them. You will not be able to sway them in an argument on the streets. By trying to out-shout them, the voices and anger simply rises. No one listens during a shouting match, it only creates a large scene for the media. You will not look good in the media if you try to shut it down or try to shout it down. Do you want to give the local media any additional fodder? Or do you want to represent Christ with a peaceful response? The choice is yours.
Depending on the level of protest, your response, and your church’s response should ultimately be an attempt to minister to them. For a protest outside the church, your direct response should vary depending on the size of the group. If it is a relatively small group, you might consider taking some coffee out to them. Begin building relationships. Jesus was famous for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Model his work by offering coffee and/or doughnuts. Do not argue. Do not yell. Most of all, do NOT try to persuade any of the protesters to see it from your side. Simply love and offer food.
This effort will require your pastoral staff and welcome team/greeters to be fully on board. By reaching out to the protesters, you are showing the caring nature of a God that desires to reach everyone – even those who disagree with His church. Any outreach should be free of condemnation. Your goal of outreach to the protesters should simply be to treat them as human. Offer coffee and water. Offer doughnuts or cookies if you have them. Turn the protest on its head by inviting them to attend the church. As the saying goes, “Kill them with KINDNESS.”
What happens if the protests are inside the sanctuary during services? This has to be handled differently, yet just as delicately. If the protester is standing up and disrupting services, your should calmly, and carefully talk to the person. Try to persuade them to leave the service to discuss the matter outside of the service.
If the person is willing to calmly leave, then escort them outside. If they are not willing to leave, your pastor and staff should be calmly leaving the stage. They should not engage the person in a discussion or shouting match. One member of your safety team should be in contact with the local authorities to have them come remove the protester. At the same time, your safety team and the greeters/ushers should be calmly escorting people away from the protester, isolating them and protecting the congregation. Until law enforcement arrives, your team’s job is to maintain their calm and protect the congregation.
What about violence?
If an outside protest erupts in violence, or if the inside protester begins acting violent, your job is to stop the violence as your team is trained to. You should already have in place specific policies and procedures authorizing if and when the use of force is authorized, including the employment of firearms. Your team needs to respond as they have been trained, and as policy stipulates. If violence erupts, your job is to minimize or stop the violence until law enforcement can arrive.
If violence occurs, you will need to have very specific plans in place to cope with the aftermath. From the moment the cameras show up, until the last vestiges of mourning pass on, your church will need to have emergency plans in place. You will need to have plans in place for your church to have a spokesperson for the media. It should not be you, nor any member of your team. Instead, it should be a member of the pastoral staff. You will also need to have plans in place for grief counseling for those who were present. This may be a protracted process, but it will be necessary for your church to begin healing.
So what can you take from this article? First, if your church is active enough to get a protest, you will want to respond to those protests with love and kindness. While your church maintains its message, you should also be ministering to those who protest your church. If those protests turn to violence, you and your team need to be prepared to handle the violence swiftly, and with plans to deal with the aftermath.