The old way of thinking is that nothing could happen to a church because it is the Lord’s House, but Proverbs 22:3 teaches that a prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. | By Ronald Roszak, Senior Safety Advisor, Institute for Childhood Preparedness
How can a church grow if people attending worry about their safety, or the safety of their children? Since the building of the first church buildings in about 300 AD, Houses of Worship have been considered safe havens for worshipers who enter through their doors. For decades or perhaps centuries, many churches never locked their doors. Some churches do not even have a lock on the door. In our lifetime, however, societal changes now threaten the safety and security that people seek for inside a church.
Churches Are Under Attack
Churches are witnessing a dramatic rise in thefts, burglaries, vandalism, and even mass shooting events. These violent acts cause a dilemma for church leaders. How do you remain open and inviting, but still maintain safety and security?
Recently, attacks have spiked. A surge in vandalism and arson has targeted churches. Activists and groups working to advance a Marxist ideology have no place for God. Some activists are calling for “white Jesus” statues to be torn down. They allege that Jesus and the Virgin Mary are forms of white supremacy and racist propaganda.
Across the country, numerous churches have experienced violent incidents. In July 2020, a man driving a minivan deliberately crashed through a Florida church’s doors with congregants inside. He then spread gasoline around the lobby and lit it on fire. In July 2020, the 215-year-old San Gabriel Mission Church in California was set on fire by an arsonist. In September 2020, a man entered an El Paso, Texas church, went behind the altar and toppled a 90-year-old statue of Jesus, decapitating it. On September 18, 2020, a criminal was caught on video hurling items at a glass pane on one of the Incarnation Catholic Church’s entry doors in Hillsborough County, Florida, then poured liquid on three pews and lit the church on fire.
These violent, criminal events have been underreported by the national news media. The attacks are on all religions, in all states, and regardless of the congregation’s size.
Here are three simple tactics to become a more challenging target for those wishing to harm your buildings or your congregation.
1. Secure Your Doors
A review of FBI Data shows that while 29% of assailants enter through the main door, 71% used a side door or window to enter. Let’s think about how often we have left side or rear doors propped open or unlocked. Criminals will take advantage of this lapse in security. The door should always remain secured during events. The majority of criminal activity occurs immediately before, during, or immediately after a formal event.
2. Position Cameras
A monitored camera system has become a crucial part of building security and safety. More than half of the attacks on churches have occurred outside the building. A camera monitoring the parking lot and entryways can be a lifesaver for unsuspecting worshippers inside the building. Remember, congregants are facing away from entrances and have no quick escape routes.
In June 2015, cameras led to the shooter’s capture at the tragic event at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, as police were able to obtain his vehicle and license plate information from the church video. In December 2019, at the West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas, church safety team members noticed an unknown individual acting strange while sitting in the back of the church. They used a camera to monitor his movements and stationed armed safety team members behind him. As the individual rose to begin firing at the congregation, he was confronted within 6 seconds.
The cost of an effective camera system has dropped considerably and worth the investment. For many, the investment is not money but research time, because churches are eligible for Non-Profit Security Grants through FEMA.
3. Train for Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is being aware of your surroundings and simply knowing what looks right and what doesn’t look right. Ask yourself:
- Do your members or safety team know how to detect someone concealing a weapon?
- Is someone wearing bulky clothing on a warm day?
- How do people arrive? Is it unusual to see someone walking in the parking lot rather than driving?
- Is someone displaying odd behavior?
- Has a car been parked in the parking lot for an unusually long period?
Your ushers and greeters need to be trained to become keenly aware of their surroundings. The whole congregation should know that any strange or out of the ordinary behavior they notice should be reported immediately.
The old way of thinking is to assume nothing can happen in our church because it is the Lord’s House. In light of recent events, we can see that even the Lord’s House is not safe from violence and damage. In Proverbs 22:3, we read that a prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.
The Lord has given you tools to use for your safety and the safety of your worshippers. Don’t be hesitant to use them.
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