The service has ended, we say goodbye to our friends, wait for everyone to leave then lock up the church. The drive home takes only a few minutes and when we arrive my wife and I take off and secure our weapons and conduct a debrief on any problems we encountered during the service. Not exactly the Norman Rockwell version of a day in church. I realize that the fact that someone would carry a weapon in church is appalling to many people. However, before you begin stereotyping Christians as right-wing radicals, ask yourself a few questions. When you were growing up, how many people did you know who were the victims of some type of crime? In the last year, how many people do you know that have been the victim of some type of crime? If you are at least forty years old, you can easily quote the numbers, and the increase is significant. Whereas crimes against property, institutions, and people have increased dramatically ( regardless of what the local media tells you), unfortunately the church has been given no exemption.
My journey into the world of church security took the proverbial long and winding road, but I will condense it down to the basics. A chance encounter a couple of years before had introduced us to a couple who were like-minded, great people. We kept in touch and became close friends. As the situation in the country continued to deteriorate we, like many “preppers”, recognized that going it alone in hard times was not a good option. Clearly, our new friends were the ones we wanted watching our backs so we relocated to a city in the southeast to join forces with our friends to form a safe haven for “old geezers”. After all, we had four senior citizens and a .22 rifle, what could possibly go wrong? Soon after settling in, we began a search for a church. After several unsuccessful visits to area churches we found a small country church and sat down to listen. One sermon and we were pretty sure this was the right place. The pastor minced no words when delivering the message. Obviously this guy was not going to win any awards for political correctness. Plain and simple this man spoke the truth. We began regular attendance and I noticed that each time the pastor did the announcements that he would warn about some act which had occurred at the church, i.e. acts of vandalism, panhandler’s accosting elderly women as they walked to the church door, and other problems. God began speaking to me and said you know what you need to do. As usual, I procrastinated. One day I timidly sought out the pastor to inquire further about the incidents, but he was corralled by other members and I could not talk to him. The very next week, another incident occurred and as I sat in the pew God was very direct with me, get off your butt and do it. After we returned home I spoke to my wife and told her my plan, she was in total agreement. That day I wrote the pastor an e-mail simply stating that I have a number of years of experience in the security field and that if there was anything I could do to help let me know. The Pastor’s reply was quick and direct; I want you to set up a security team to protect the church. Well, I guess I’m in it now! Right on schedule the devil put the doubts into my head. I am brand new at this church I don’t know anybody, nobody knows me, why would a team follow someone they don’t know, etc.
Again, cutting to the chase, the team was formed. The program launched and we continue to improve. What I would like to do is offer some of the lessons learned from our startup to folks who are recognizing the need to protect their church.
Clearly state and understand your mission – When I tell people about our program the first thing they say is why does a church need a security program? My first response is Proverbs 22.3 A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. A quick internet search will produce an astounding number of crimes directed at churches. Most people remember the church shootings in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Knoxville, Tennessee, but harbor the same delusion that it could never happen at their church. When you decide to start a security program, clearly define what it will and will not cover and get buy-in from the governing body of your church. Nothing says that you cannot expand your program at a later date, and you probably should. More on that later.
Do your home work- Before you start worrying about whether your team should carry .44 magnums or 9mms you need to understand what most police officers already know, most of the job is paper work. Ah man, that’s no fun! Sorry people, but it’s the truth. You will be dealing with vulnerability assessments, threat assessments, job descriptions, operating procedures, architectural drawings, and on and on and on. Don’t panic if your knowledge in these areas is limited, there is help out there. Tina Lewis Rowe Training has some really excellent material on building a program and this fine lady allows you to use the material free of charge, just respect her copyright and follow her agreement.
Pick your team (carefully) – When I started our program my team was chosen for me, and it could not have worked out better. I got men of the church who were well known by the congregation, mature and level-headed. Most were veterans ranging from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. Later, two ladies joined the team and if there were any doubts as to their abilities (which I doubt there were) they were quickly dispelled during a team trip to the range. All of these team members were clearly a blessing, but the chances of you being handed a team of this quality are rare. Choose your members using established criteria, look for mature folks who have good decision-making skills, avoid those who volunteer because of the “cool” factor. Also, recruit younger members who you can train and have ready to replace people as they leave, and don’t get your feeling hurt because people will leave. Establish a clear chain-of-command and impress on your volunteers how important the job is.
To carry or not to carry – This is one of the most controversial decisions you will have to make. The church I attended before my move was partially governed by a group of elders. Although we had no formal security team, a few of us stepped up when a threat was made against our pastor. To our surprise some of the elders simply would not stand for anyone having a gun in church regardless of the fact that these men were police officers and concealed-carry holders. The solution to this problem was obvious, smile, drop the subject, and do a better job of concealing your weapon. After a lot of research and prayer, the firearms policy at my present church was formed and we tried to keep it simple. Those who had valid carry permits were allowed to carry while performing their assigned security duties. It is our belief that you must be as well equipped as those who seek to harm you if you are to have a viable defense. However, each team member is made well aware of the legal and moral and financial hazards should they be forced to use a firearm. If you have a church attorney, consult with them. If you do not have an attorney, I recommend you read two books before deciding: Evil Invades Sanctuary by Carl Chin and God, the Gunman & Me by Jeanne Assam.
Build a comprehensive program- Please understand you must have a program that covers more than security. If you protect the pastor from a mugger but the church burns down because you did not do routine fire extinguisher inspections, then your program has failed. Your program must have many aspects including but not limited to security, fire protection, emergency evacuation, executive protection, and weather emergencies. One of the first things we did was to install locks on numerous storage and maintenance areas, you do not need a kid playing with electrical cable. Do not alienate the congregation, once you start implementing rules no matter how correct and necessary they are, people will be offended. Ask for input when practical, gradually implement new procedures. When we first fielded our team, some church members were uneasy with these “security people“ hanging out at different locations. After a few weeks of these “security people” holding umbrellas for people getting out of their cars and escorting the ladies to their cars when they parked in a dark area of the lot, sentiment changed. Write well thought out and researched procedures, practice those procedures, and drill on those procedures.
In conclusion I would like to add if you hear the call that your church needs your talents, step up. I was standing in the parking lot one cold rainy night and I realized that my years as a fire fighter, SWAT team leader, and emergency manager were all preparation for this most important job and that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.