During the weeks before Christmas it was really difficult to concentrate on work. I would sit down at my computer preparing to work on a blog or emails, contacting people from our Church Security Networking group and all the sudden I get distracted. “Only two more days for free shipping… or today and today only the cheapest prices on all 4K Ultra HD 3D Smart LED big screen TV’s…. or all the articles on the Dallas Cowboys…if all the stars line up just right and every team in the NFC East loses over the next three weeks and the Cowboys win just one more game with Jason Witten as the quarterback, they have a chance making it to the playoffs!” DISTRACTIONS.
This is also how I feel about most of the newspaper articles being written about an active shooter in a house of worship. They are just that; a distraction. Merriam-Webster says a distraction is “something that makes it difficult to think or pay attention.” To me this is exactly what we are doing today in church safety, we are being distracted from the real threats churches face across this country.
The Las Vegas Sun did a distractive article on church safety “Security is focus at churches, mosques amid heightened fears” http://lasvegassun.com/news/2015/dec/19/security-is-focus-at-churches-mosques-amid-heighte/. In this article it states “Religious congregations across the United States are concentrating on safety like never before following a season of violence, from the slaughter unleashed in June by a white shooter at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, to the killings this month in San Bernardino, California.”
This article goes on to stay Christian churches have been refining their security plans ahead of receiving some of their largest crowds of the year for Christmas. On a FEMA webinar last Wednesday on protecting houses of worship, the chief security executive at The Potter's House, the Rev. T.D. Jakes' megachurch in Dallas, gave tips about behavior that should raise concern, such as a congregant arriving in a long coat in hot weather. If needed, church greeters could give a hug and feel for weapons, said the executive, Sean Smith. "I call it the Holy Ghost pat-down," Smith said.”
We train our volunteers about strange behavior, believe me we see plenty of it here in Florida. Our volunteers understand a visitor arriving in a long coat in hot weather raises a red flag. But the Holy Ghost pat-down? If I were a hurting visitor coming to your church looking for answers and because of the way I looked you perform a stop and frisk, a TSA pat down before I even made it to the church, I’d never return to your church. What if this was my last hope? Not good. A few years ago we joked with one of our volunteers who was a hugger. We asked him to do a hug with a pat-down on a new guest we thought was armed while we watched his six. He lost his mind, stating “That is not what this church is about; doing pat-downs on different looking people”. Needless to say the joke did not go over well. If the pat-down was a joke in this article it didn’t come across that way and some churches might implement a plan like this. Training your church members into giving a Holy Ghost pat-down to someone in need and is reaching out for help is a very bad idea. If that person getting the pat-down is armed and has bad intentions, you just put that untrained volunteer in danger. It’s not funny, it’s dangerous and is one more distraction.
Understand every church’s worst nightmare is an active shooter in their house of worship, I know as our church’s security team leader. Churches must have plans, like fire drills, in the event of an active shooter. Having over 35 years in law enforcement, a firearms instructor, one that has studied active shootings, hit/miss ratios and trained for active shooter scenarios, you have to be prepared for the worst case scenario. Most church volunteers do not fully understand the nightmare that will unfold when armed good and evil meet in their house of worship. Do I think arming some of your security team is important? Yes. Not only do they need to be trained, you also have to educate your staff, volunteers and regular attendees on how they should respond to an active shooter in your house of worship. They need to know how to keep the rest of the attendees out of the way and let the security do their job.
The security teams must protect the flock however not let that distract us from the fact that we are a church. Our church doors are open for the sinners and the hurting, the ones that walk with God and the ones that are looking for hope in the message we Christians live by. Church security teams should not only be looking for the evil that is alive and well in this world but also the hurting. This may be the last chance for those that have no hope in the world and we need to make sure they get to the right people to help them out. Christ hung out with sinners and the saints. He had one of His own 12 planning His demise the whole three years He did His ministry but He knew the plan, He knew what had to happen to save the world, He didn’t get distracted.
While plans and training drills for active shooters are critical, just as fire drills, it should not distract church security teams from the majority of real issues facing churches. Does your church know how to handle a disruptive attendee, a mentally ill person, a lost or taken child or domestic issues? In the event of an incident involving a situation where law enforcement is needed, the average response time is a five to seven minutes at best. That can seem like an eternity in the event of an escalating dangerous situation. You must train and have a plan.
One last distraction from this article, a FEMA’s webinar suggested congregants should create confusion by distracting shooters by throwing Bibles at them. Seriously? That is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. We teach congregants to get down, get out of sight, and disappear. I just love how the government is now getting into church security when we have been warning people about this for years.
Several weeks ago a couple who had just recently separated came to church at the same time. The wife had decided to bring her new boyfriend, flaunting him in front of her soon to be ex-husband. It totally devastated the husband and some of his comments concerned members of the security team. They took their concerns to the church leaders who then addressed the situation. The church contacted both the man and woman reaching out in a loving, Christ-like way and set rules and guidelines for both sides. This action protected not only the couple but also the church.
Churches open their doors to help those who believe and those with hurts, habits and hang-ups and we, the church security teams, need to make sure we focus on our purpose; protecting the flock in a Christ like way. For me, Nehemiah 4:16 says it best “From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor.” Nehemiah didn’t get distracted with the threat that was against them while building the wall, God put together a plan and which Nehemiah executed and continued the mission that he was there for. Let’s not get distracted about the mission of the church, “Connecting People to Christ” and let the security team do their ministry and protect the flock.
What’s the difference between Law Enforcement Agencies and current Church Safety Teams? The answer shouldn’t surprise you; Law enforcement agencies actually communicate to keep the public safe.
Recently a suspicious looking man that our safety team had been observing approached one of our pastors to inform him of how he hurt people, was dishonorably discharged from the military and how sometimes you need to be the villain in order to make your point. To make matters worse, it was discovered through the conversation, that this person is a “church hopper” and described in detail local churches in our community. As you can imagine, it made the pastor’s hair on the back of his neck stand up.
Based on how openly and candid this person was, most likely other pastors have had the same conversation. Unfortunately, church safety teams do not communicate. This incident was so disconcerting, that a report was just filed with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
While reaching out to a church that this person had attended, their staff member reminded me of another person that was asked to leave our church a few months back; another “church hopper”. One that preys on single women with children; a convicted child molester. The church staff member stated he had been to their church after being asked to leave ours and began stalking several of the children at their church.
Today, while in my men’s small group, two members of a neighboring church shared a recent story of a lady coming into their church seeking financial assistance. Out of kindness, one of the staff members offered the lady a gift card. Several days later the lady returned asking for additional financial help. The pastor explained that the church policy was to only give financial aid to members of the church and advised her of other local outreaches that could help her. After she left the building her son came to the church and started arguing with the pastor for not helping his mother.
Situations such as the ones described are just the beginning of threats facing our churches today. Most churches are aware of these threats and have created their own safety teams. The problem is the church safety teams do not communicate with neighboring church safety teams.
Law enforcement agencies collaborate across jurisdictions with one another to solve crimes and to protect the people. It’s time the church safety teams’ step up their game; to keep their congregations and other congregations safe by sharing information. We are all God’s people.
We are in the Christmas season, where many churches will see multiple new guests. While we all want to bring people to Christ, we need to be informed to keep the flock safe.
Join us Saturday December 12, 2015 at 8 am for our first church safety/security networking group in Trinity, FL.
To register for this free event, click here or visit our Events page.
Jim has many years of law enforcement experience and has run the safety team at his church for several years. TSA was formed after he realized God's calling when multiple churches reached out and asked him to present at their church.