Do a search for “church security” and you’ll find lots of results that emphasize words like tactical, armor, strategy and intruder. 

Why? I assume it’s because most people believe that church security should primarily address the threat of an active shooter events. There’s no doubt that churches can be (and have been) victims of active shooter attacks, but it’s not the most likely security event to occur.

According to the Department of Justice, houses of worship were the target of 13 attacks from 2000- 2018. With over 350,000 Protestant churches alone in the United States (not counting Catholic churches, synagogues, mosques or temples), the data shows us that the likelihood of an active shooter attack at your church is very low. Does this mean we shouldn’t receive training or have guns in churches? Absolutely not! I’m an advocate for armed security programs when they are necessary.

However, church security programs should give consideration to one objective: Prevention.

Prevention includes gathering and processing information about our environment, as well as deterrence. This is security speak for knowing what to look for (the bad guy) and trying to convince the bad guy that you will probably detect what he’s planning to do before he does it. Guns have little to do with this strategy.

The following security design concepts can be used to assist in implementing effective prevention strategies for your church.

Layered Defense

This can include fences, gates, video surveillance systems and armored cars, but probably not at your church, unless you folks are doing really well with bake sales, pushing poinsettias at Christmas, and have no tithing issues! Instead, I suggest using bodies.

Few things are as effective as placing trained volunteers throughout the property to look for suspicious activity. They can report it, and (if necessary) engage with a person once an issue is detected. This method requires the bad guy to avoid several persons and security features in sequence.

This method helps with lots of situations, for instance, when an 8-year-old special needs child runs from the playground, your team is the first to detect and respond to the event; when the 76-year-old organ player trips over the side walk, your team is the first to respond; when the mass of people are arriving in the parking lot to attend the 9:00 a.m. service, your team members are the first persons to greet the body of Christ with smiling faces. The runaway child, the slipping organist, and the large crowd are much more likely to occur than the active shooter.

Use Security To Help Your Mission

Your security plan should never conflict with the mission of your organization. Call me crazy, but open carry, access control systems, metal detectors, searching backpacks and bags, and not smiling at the good church folk in the parking lot probably doesn’t mix well with most church gameplans. And if this is your team’s strategy, you probably won’t have to worry about next year’s budget…because you may not have a team to spend it on. 

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Forcing a visitor to empty her diaper bag while she’s trying to check her 2-year-old into the children’s ministry isn’t ideal. Your staff probably shouldn’t be worrying about the threat of a briefcase bomb. Use your security plan to help your mission of making disciples, not hurt it.

Adversaries need knowledge of the target and the element of surprise (among other things) to conduct a successful attack. But if you will train your staff (volunteer and paid) to recognize threats and work together, it will be much better than forcing guests through a metal detector. 

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