What You Can Do Now: From Security Specialists, an Evangelist and a Psychologist

The definition of Christian hospitality doesn’t include the idea of locked doors and metal detectors, but what if your church could provide a more secure environment by implementing under-the-radar safety measures?

“As long as the church security is handled in a low-profile manner, no visitors will even know there is a security plan in place,” says Brian McKenna, owner of Winning Edge Training (Hazelwood, Missouri). He says that although training is crucial, most people just aren’t equipped with the skills needed to handle a violent attack. In addition to developing an emergency plan and safety training, McKenna advises churches to put together a team of specifically qualified volunteers.

Experience a Plus

“Just about every congregation can find a least a few members who are concerned about this problem and are willing to put themselves at risk. Try military veterans and active or retired law enforcement officers for starters,” he says. “Station at least one properly trained member in the parking lot who can spot armed or otherwise potentially dangerous individuals early and notify a predetermined person inside to lock the doors.”

Tim Dodd, CEO of Patriot Protection (Plano, Texas), agrees that most people don’t have the right mindset to do what needs to be done in a dangerous situation, especially against an active shooter. “Contrary to what most people believe, people tend to be very slow in calling the police during this kind of emergency,” he says. “And it takes a considerable amount of time for the dispatcher to dispatch responding units and get them to the scene.”

Dodd also believes that training needs to be more than a classroom PowerPoint® presentation. “Training as realistically as possible is the only way to possibly understand how hectic and terrifying the situation can be,” he says. “All too often people mistake paranoid for prepared, and prepared for trained and these misconceptions can have dire consequences in any situation.”

Crook, or Saint?

As the founder of At His Feet Ministry (New Haven, Connecticut), Beverley Vaughn speaks at about one hundred churches a year, all across the globe. Her mission work has even taken her into the Muslim portions of Uganda, China, Burma, and Haiti where practicing Christianity is risky at best. “My faith allows me the feeling of security,” she says. “I have to believe I’ll be okay, or I wouldn’t be able to continue what I do.”

Although her faith sees her through, she understands why experts like McKenna and Dodd are advocates for specialized training. “Parishioners should be trained to recognize suspicious behavior along the lines of how police officers and military personnel are trained,” she explains. “Just like the armed security that is with the Pope…the worship experience isn’t diminished because of it.”

She says it comes down to balance. “Everyone isn’t a crook, and not everyone is a saint, but we mustn’t make the saint feel like a crook or vice versa,” she says. “Church leaders and members of society should be equipped to maneuver whichever way the circumstance dictates with not only wisdom from above, but with practical wisdom as well.”

Relationship Matters

Dr. Thomas Boyce, president of the Center for Behavioral Safety (San Carlos, California), says depersonalization is often a component in the psychology of violence. “Everyone has had the experience of behaving in an aggressive way towards a driver that has cut him or her off,” he explains. “We do this because we depersonalize the driver.”

“Activities that promote personalization and getting to know those in a community can decrease violence. We start to build relationships, and as a result we remove the depersonalization and anonymity from the equation.”

Relationships…community…ring any bells? Do you think your church’s outreach programs and hospitality efforts have helped to curb violence? Please share your experiences.

Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee. She also works at Brentwood United Methodist Church in the church’s Caring Ministry.