Many churches across the country are considering safety measures they’d not thought about just months ago, after a deadly shooting at a small Texas church last month shook both that local community and the nation.
Pastors and church leaders are thinking about safety, no matter the size of the church.
One group, the American Pastors Network (APN) — the largest national network dedicated to equipping pastors to be “a voice for truth in the public square,” as the group states — has been focusing on beefed-up security measures by offering guidance to pastors in the wake of the Sutherland Springs tragedy in Texas.
“Over the past several weeks, leaders of the American Pastors Network have had many conversations with pastors who want to make safety a priority in their churches, but don’t know where to start,” said Sam Rohrer, president of the Pennsylvania-based group, in a statement.
“We live in a time where we now must acknowledge the harsh reality that the church sanctuary does not shield us from the evils of this world,” he added. “Especially knowing that more people will visit American churches this month perhaps than at any other time of year, the American Pastors Network wants to help church leaders as they make plans that will keep churchgoers safe — and so that many visitors will feel welcomed and want to return in the new year.”
As the group also noted in a statement, “Much like the stable and the manger kept the Christ Child protected and as the shepherds guarded their flocks in the fields by night — churches, in the wake of tragic shootings, must work to keep their congregations safe.”
LifeWay Research found that six in 10 Americans typically attend church during the Christmas season, as Christianity Today has reported. Historically, the Christmas period does attract more visitors than perhaps any other time — and among those who don’t attend services at Christmas, a majority of people (57 percent) say they’d likely attend if someone they knew invited them.
Leaders at APN have developed these recommendations for churches to consider when it comes to the issue of security in their houses of worship (they’ve also addressed the topic on “Stand in the Gap Today,” the group’s daily radio ministry):
1.) Understand the biblical and moral responsibility of safety. It is the duty of pastors and church leadership to do all they can to protect the lives of those in the congregation.
2.) Develop and train a security team. Dedicate certain individuals, whether staff or volunteers, to undertake the important issue of security. Train these personnel how to identify potential threats and how to de-escalate potential threat situations. During services or functions, outfit the team in plain clothes.
3.) Perform a risk assessment. Where is the church vulnerable in its facility and grounds? Consider a community threat assessment as well.
4.) Implement security protocols. Consider these suggestions: Lock doors after services begin; post security team members at entrances; and conduct a regular, annual reassessment of the security plan.
“Be sure the security team knows how to best evacuate churchgoers of all ages and mobility ranges, and consider creating another key team to assist.”
5.) Install security cameras. Consider video surveillance to document and record potential threats or incidents.
6.) Establish a medical response team. Mobilize medical personnel already within the congregation, who can take action if injuries ever occur.
7.) Evaluate the legal parameters for security measures. Research insurance requirements and conduct a liability assessment. Identify state civil laws regarding security measures, which can vary from state to state.
8.) Create an evacuation plan. Be sure the security team knows how to best evacuate churchgoers of all ages and mobility ranges, and consider creating another key team to assist. Practice the plan through drills.
9.) Involve local law enforcement in the security plan. Tell local police departments and other emergency responders about the security plan, perhaps through an evening meeting. They may be able to offer additional suggestions or protocols.
10.) Communicate the new or existing security measures with the congregation. Members will appreciate knowing the church has a plan to keep them safe.