Church Safety – Do You Have a Plan?

Do you have a church safety plan? Several years ago my daughter was traveling with a small group on vacation. Now, you need to understand that she grew up in the home of the “trip-master.” That’s what my family calls me. It’s not intended as an affectionate term. But when we traveled I had a plan. And I tried to stick to it. Anyway, on this particular trip, no one in the group seemed to have a plan. And as much as Emily had chided me for being the “trip-master,” she wanted the security of knowing someone had a plan. As she said, “I don’t have to know what the plan is. I just need to know someone has a plan.”

A False Alarm

The worship service was winding down. The sermon was over. The worship pastor was leading what would be considered the invitation. As the song was winding down, the church’s alarm system went off. The music continued. No one moved. I looked toward the pastor to see what he was doing. He was the picture of calm, cool and collected. So, I thought, if he’s not visibly concerned, neither am I. The worship pastor concluded the song and very calmly said, “We have people attending to the situation. I suspect it’s a false alarm, but we will await instructions from them.” A few minutes later, he reported that it was a false alarm. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and the worship service continued.

I did not know the plan. I am guessing that most of the approximately 2,000 people in attendance did not know the plan. My adult children did not know the plan. We were all sitting in different sections of the worship center. After church, they each confessed, “All I could think about was how do I get to the preschool area?” The thought crossed my mind, too. Both granddaughters were two levels below where we were seated. We did not know the plan. Someone did, and we trusted they would tell us what to do and when to do it.

Just a side note. Melanie pointed out that every parent in the room had one of two thoughts when the alarm sounded. Parents of younger children were thinking, “How do we get to our kids?” And parents of older children were thinking, “I hope my kid isn’t the one who pulled the alarm!”

Church Safety or Security

Church security is a big topic these days. Rightfully so. Deadly force incidents are on the rise in places of worship. According to Carl Chinn, deadly force incidents have increased nearly 150% since 2009. There were 261 separate incidents in 2017 resulting in 118 deaths. For this reason, most of our churches have developed some type of security plan.

Following the Charleston, SC church shooting in June of 2015, the church I served developed a security plan to lessen our exposure to an active shooter and to respond in the event we encountered an active shooter. We limited access to the building. We equipped our security team with communication devices. We even identified members who were licensed to carry a concealed weapon.

We had a plan, but our plan was not complete. There was much about security that we did not address. Most importantly, we never considered any of the larger church safety issues. Deadly force incidents get a lot of attention, but you are more likely to experience other threats to the safety of your church family.

The Burning Bush

On June 25, 2005 I had a burning bush experience. No, really. Let me explain. I was performing a wedding at the First Baptist Church of Grayson, GA. It was not just any wedding. It was my brother’s wedding. It had been a perfect weekend. A perfect service. Then, as I led Joe and Amanda to exchange their vows, I noticed a bit of a commotion in the back of the worship center. I wasn’t concerned until my brother-in-law, a former Army Special Forces soldier, leaped over a pew and ran to the back. As those in attendance began to look around the room nervously, I continued with the service. A few seconds later, someone announced, “There’s no need to panic, but the church is on fire.”

I honestly don’t remember what happened after that. I know I pronounced them husband and wife. I know they kissed. And I know that a fire truck or two appeared at their wedding. No one was hurt. And the church did not actually catch on fire. Just a bush beside the front door of the worship center. We Baptists are quick to denounce drinking alcoholic beverages, but don’t mess with the deacons smoking cigarettes on the front steps of the church – even when they nearly set the building on fire!

Threats to Include in a Church Safety Plan

As long as there is evil in this world, churches need to address the issue of church security. And as long as there are false alarms, smoking deacons and a host of other “threats,” churches need to include more than just active shooter scenarios in their church safety plan. In addition to active shooter and fire events, here are some common threats to address…

  1. Medical Emergencies – In my last two churches, I was greeted on my first Sunday with medical emergencies. One was during the worship service. One was at the beginning of Sunday School. We did not have a formal plan, but we had medical personnel on hand.
  2. Weather Warnings/Weather Events – When I served the First Baptist Church of Talladega, AL we had a tornado warning one night during our evening worship service. We calmly but quickly made our way to an interior room on the ground floor that was essentially a basement room. Had it been a Sunday morning, I’m not sure what we would have done since the room would not hold the entire congregation.
  3. Child Safety – An architect friend of mine designs all preschool and children’s space with safety in mind. As he says, “We don’t want to lose too many children.” I know of a church that was reluctant to implement a security plan for children. They felt it was too much of an inconvenience for the members. Then one Sunday there was a custody issue. Dad showed up to get his child. Mom was in the worship center. The church implemented a child safety plan soon after.
  4. Internet | Website | Social Media – The Russian Bots are getting a lot of attention these days, but cyber security is important. All it takes is for someone to open the wrong email or click on the wrong website, and a church could find itself  the victim of a cyber attack. One church I served had to replace our main server because of such an attack. We lost tons of data and spent a few hundred dollars to recover.
  5. Mission Trip and Travel Security – We live in a dangerous world. Still, Jesus has told us to go and make disciples. We need to keep going. We also need to be prepared. I am aware of one church group who were on a mission trip to a South American country when a government coup took place. Thankfully, they had prepared by contracting with a security firm. A security team was dispatched to protect the group and to get them out of country as soon as possible.
Where to Go for Assistance

Before writing this article I reached out to Rick Klepper who is the Co-Founder and Managing Member of Counter Threat Group, LLC. Rick is also my cousin. CTG was formed in 2016 in response to the rising incidents of violence against churches and other houses of worship. Since then, they have expanded their focus to include all potential risks to the safety and security of churches and other vulnerable institutions. They conduct expert threat assessments and can assist you in developing a plan.

As long as there is evil in this world, we need a plan. Of course, we also have to be concerned about those preschoolers pulling fire alarms and deacons smoking on the front porch. Do you have a church safety plan?