KANSAS CITY – Few topics are as hot and fresh on the minds of church goers as church security. What was already an oft debated topic was thrust into the national spotlight in November when a killer charged into the morning worship services at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas and murdered 26 while injuring 20 others.
Responses from churches large and small are varied. Some seek to formalize, review and refine their security and contingency plans. Others rely solely on local law enforcement while others informally trust a handful of concealed carriers to be able to save the day (as an NRA pistol instructor who qualifies students for their Missouri Concealed Carry permit, let me be the first to call this policy when taken alone to be shortsighted and far less than ideal).
Companies like Kansas City-based Strategos Int. offer clinics and consulting specifically aimed at keeping churches secure while not sacrificing their mission to warmly spread the Gospel. In a timely move, Strategos has just released The Church Security Handbook: A Practical, Biblical Guide for Protecting Your Congregation in Uncertain Times.
A short and very readable book, the Handbook does not take the place of formal training. You will not be starting a crack Bible-thumping, body armor-wearing, shotgun-toting SWAT team nor will you turn your worship center into Fort Knox. The book does, however, offer a useful jumping off point as a church considers other training options and consultation. It helps a church understand what they’re getting into before diving in headfirst into seminars and workshops, and at a fraction of the cost ($10 + shipping, available at www.intruderresponse.com/product-category/books/).
Vaughn Baker (president of Strategos and a 20-year law enforcement veteran) lays out the biblical framework for keeping the congregation safe from those who would do it harm while still trusting in God’s providence. While Baker notes that he is not a theologian, scriptures such as Proverbs 22:3’s admonition that “a prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions” suggest that he has a point. He likens preparing for a church shooter (I refuse to use the term “active shooter,” which has been abused so much that it’s meaningless) to wearing a seat belt or locking your doors at night. Neither action shows a lack of faith. “We’re called to faith and trust,” Baker writes,
“[b]ut we’re also called to action. We are not called to vigilantism or reaction, but to calm, reflective and sensible measures to safeguard our congregation.”
When it comes to the specifics of a church security team, Baker and the Handbook leave a lot of room for customization and each church’s policies and biblical interpretation. This is one case where one size doesn’t fit all. The book addresses armed church security, unarmed, and several options in beweteen.
Some Christians earnestly believe firearms have no place in God’s house, while others see 24/7 concealed carry as a matter of personal freedom and protecting the flock, perfectly in keeping with Old and New Testament teaching. Bible-believing Christians can and do disagree on this point. I happen to agree with the Handbook, which acknowledges that an armed church goer can be a very useful tool, but such teams are best used with coordination and proper training.
Specific training is the key to both effectiveness and safety when it comes armed church security. I like to think I offer a very comprehensive and prudent 8-hour concealed carry course, but you’re fooling yourself if you think that alone can prepare an effective and responsible armed church security response. It’s a first step, and a baby one at that. Second Amendment absolutists (of which I am one) are correct that we have a right to keep and bear arms, but Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:23 that just because a law-abiding citizen can, doesn’t mean it’s always going to be the best plan. “It’s better not to have weapons than to put them in the hands of people who are unequipped to use them in a public setting,” the book reminds us. “The only way to create this kind of competency is through repeated professional training, and I’m not talking about merely spending time at the shooting range.” Funnily enough, Strategos happens to offer 17 (17!) courses, ranging from two hours to 4 days.
Mass shootings like Sutherland Springs are – praise God – rare. Still, the Handbook points out that churches are soft targets containing large numbers of people – usually with their backs to the door. Books like The Church Security Handbook are an easy and cheap first step to making sure the church remains safe and secure while still able to joyfully spread the gospel.