Defending Your Church Congregation Against an Active Threat

Law enforcement officials works at the scene of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

After the mass murder of over two dozen members of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, many churches are asking hard questions about how well prepared they are to face an active shooter. In this country, at least, people have not typically considered church as a place where their physical safety can be threatened. As people are reconsidering (or considering for the first time) the potential for violence to encroach on their church’s worship service, many are unsure of where to go for resources. Two companies are working together to help churches prepare to ensure the safety of their members and visitors.

Writing for the Christian Post, Thom Rainer offers seven tips for churches to prepare for an active shooter. Tip #2 is “Have a Church Security Plan.” Rainer encourages, “This plan should include all issues of security, from active shooters to child abuse. Local law enforcement is almost always very willing to work with churches and make recommendations.”

Stepping into the gap to help churches develop a security plan, GuideStone Financial Resources and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company have put together a website with helpful resources as well as security seminars for churches.

In a video posted on the front page of the website, Jeff Laster, an associate pastor of Wedgewood Baptist Church recounts the day a shooter walked into the Wednesday evening service on September 15, 1999. Laster admits to “total unpreparedness. No escape plan. [Nothing] in place, as far as how to react to it. Who should do what? Who should take the lead role?”

After providing some brief insight into how to protect a congregation while also fostering a spirit of welcome for all, Laster asks, “What is the value of safety?” He answers, “From Wedgewood’s perspective, you can’t put a price on that.”

The GuideStone website offers a series of downloads to help churches prepare. To be clear, the free resources, while useful in and of themselves, are ads for a book and a seminar. As the Bible makes clear, a workman is worthy of his hire, and GuideStone is offering a needed resource. It’s up to individual pastors and churches to decide if this particular company’s resources are worth paying for.

Even if churches choose not to pay GuideStone for further resources, the website provides helpful tips and tools for churches to begin thinking through the issue of church safety. Opening up “Create a Plan,” GuideStone offers this advice –

Securing and protecting your church should be treated like one of your ministries. It should have clear goals, dedicated resources and the support of your leadership. Brotherhood Mutual’s The Church Safety & Security Guidebook offers step-by-step instructions on creating a church safety and security team and plan with a ministry focus. According to the guidebook, ministries should perform a thorough safety and security assessment, looking at property, people, programs, procedures and prevention (crime). Results from your assessment should then guide a comprehensive plan that can help your ministry prevent, prepare, respond and recover in the face of emergencies, threats or disasters.

The free download has a series of questions designed to help church leadership determine how prepared their church is to ensure the safety of those in attendance. A sample of the questions include: “Have we considered a wide range of threats to our ministry?” “Do we regularly communicate with law enforcement, first responders, and medical professionals about our plan?” and “Do we communicate regularly with the congregation regarding our plan, so they are prepared to respond appropriately in a variety of situations?”

Different churches are going to come to different conclusions about how best to provide physical safety while not undermining their main mission to praise and worship God. GuideStone’s resources are an option that is worth considering as pastors pray and think through how best to care for and protect the flock God has entrusted them with.