Church security has become a paramount issue with violence in houses of worship on the uptick worldwide.
But it’s not only preparation for active shooters and outside violence that should have church leaders and pastors on high alert, say experts who counsel regularly on church security issues.
“I don’t think it’s the top issue to concern churches,” said Bowling Green attorney Brian Schuette, who has represented churches throughout the eastern United States. “What I’m trying to help churches do is to use a tool of legal analysis to help them better approach the issue of church security.”
Schuette is one of five experts who will be part of two church security seminars being offered by the Kentucky Baptist Convention the next two Saturdays, May 11 at Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green and May 18 at Central Baptist Church in Winchester.
Registration remains open for both seminars. Last year a large crowd came to Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort.
The aim of the seminars is to give churches a blueprint toward putting together a plan to keep church members and visitors safe from harm.
The ways include not only preparing for the catastrophe of an active shooter situation but also other potential threats.
“Security is something that should be approached broadly,” Schuette said. “From violence that grows out of domestic situations to make sure kids in children’s ministries are safe, making sure the church bus is properly maintained, screen and do background checks on folks working with children.”
Steve Rice, who leads the KBC’s Church Consulting and Revitalization team, said preparing for the unthinkable is what every church leader needs to consider.
“Someone in every Kentucky Baptist church should step up and make security a top priority,” he said.
Michael Webb, a former Kentucky State Trooper who runs a security firm called Triple Counter Measure, said preparation is imperative.
“The overarching message is just to be vigilant,” he said. “We live in a team when church security is paramount.”
He ticked off examples of the recent bombings of Sri Lanka and the two attacks on Jewish synagogues in San Diego last weekend and Pittsburgh six months ago. Of course, there have been violence in rural churches in Texas, South Carolina and Louisiana.
It’s an alarming number and growing. As of last year, more than 600 people having been killed in deadly force incidents since 1999 at faith-based properties, including churches.
“Faith-based institutions are under attack. You can go to a 100-man country church or a megachurch with theater seating, it doesn’t matter,” Webb said. “I don’t want people to think it couldn’t happen here.”
Webb and Schuette agree that intentional preparation needs to be first steps toward securing churches. But it has to go further than talking about a plan, Webb said
“It’s going through some steps with actual plans, putting things down you would do and carrying them out with training,” he said.
Schuette will provide information the best way to identify risks and develop an approach. Churches are incumbent to provide a safe place for members and visitors alike.
“By going through a legal analysis is a good way to identify risks and threats and structure an approach that minimizes those risks,” he said. “It’s not so much a church security issue but helping them think about a negligence analysis.”
Of course, preparing for the possibility of an active shooter needs careful consideration, experts say.
“It’s important to think carefully about the issue of arming people within the church,” Schuette said. “What I typically recommend is neither encourage nor discourage members to be armed.
“If you put together a church security team it’s important to have some good training for those folks. A conceal-carry permit doesn’t make them qualify to deal with the security threat using firearms. A lot of churches exaggerate the risk.”
Webb says churches often feel they have the solution for active shooters by arming members.
“I would respectfully says most churches in Kentucky and the Southern Baptist Convention are your smaller country churches,” he said. “Within those churches the prevailing thought is having a couple of good ‘ol boys with guns saying ‘We’ll take care of this.’ It’s a little shortsighted and naïve.”
Churches need to know how to engage an armed intruder safely, he said.
The seminars will assist leaders in developing a plan, organizing a security team, using the benefits of technology, tactical training, active shooter preparation, building safety, legal considerations, keeping children safe and ways the KBC can help with church security.
“Church security does not have to be an expensive endeavor,” Rice said. “Sometimes simply controlling when doors are locked and unlocked can add a vital layer of safety that is currently missing.”
The church security teams can give current members a place to use their gifts and knowledge and the proper use of technology can be one of the most important and easiest ways to instantly improve security, Rice said.
Webb said people are interested in the topic of church security but it takes time to change culture.
“When you turn a cruiseship or battleship around it doesn’t turn on a dime,” he said. “To have a change in mentality and culture, to have a plan, to be prepared, is big. We used to always operate under the assumption people came to church for good reasons, they were welcomed with open arms and there was very low threat (of violence). Our guards were lowered. We were a soft target. Now people may not come for the right reasons.”