Guest blogger and security expert Scott Brawner of Concilium—a leader in risk mitigation and crisis management for religious organizations—discusses practical considerations in developing a church or mission security plan in this timely post. While Mr. Brawner’s article outlines some of the practical considerations of such a policy, it does not speak to the legal implications that houses of worship should also consider. Laws on this topic vary by jurisdiction and may be nuanced, so organizations should be sure to seek legal counsel before implementing a church security protocol, particularly if it involves armed staff or volunteers.
With so much apprehension stemming from the terrible church attack in Texas, I do recommend that churches consider training on confronting threats to their congregations. BUT, jumping the gun and moving directly to an active shooter response is short-sighted and can lead to catastrophic situations including litigation and unwanted media attention with an accidental shooting. Therefore, I offer the following ideas for consideration in developing a church or mission security plan in the USA.
First, make sure that your church establishes its priorities. This (should…) mean prioritizing the Gospel as the highest value for the congregation—and for the community. Consequently, it is important to ensure that security “P3s” (planning, policies, and procedures) are built on the foundation of the church’s mission, not around it. Any security P3s that inhibit Gospel ministry are a stumbling block and thus should be avoided.
Develop a Comprehensive Security Program
Second, when you consider companies and trainers for the task, do not let them run a program that only covers shooter engagement or response; that’s the last resort. Rather, start with the development of a comprehensive security program that utilizes layers of “visitor engagement.” This is a human endeavor that begins with the parking lot attendants and moves on to the door greeters, visitor assistants, deacons, etc. This method layers security based on locations/venues including the parking lot, buildings, sanctuary, and other places where large groups gather (youth, children, etc.).
When it does come to confronting potential (and I do mean POTENTIAL) threats, make going to the gun a last resort. Start with training your staff, volunteers, and key members of the congregation to develop situational awareness, body language, and threat recognition, and other principles that allow them to engage a potential threat first with the Gospel as they assess a person’s ability and intent toward violence while lowering their opportunity for violence. That way, a person who arrives at church appearing distraught can both be ministered to (fulfilling the church’s mission and keeping the Gospel the highest value) while protecting the congregation from potential harm (which is the highest priority).
In event of the worst-case scenario, if an active shooter arrives on the church campus with gun drawn, armed response is really the best and only response in these terrible situations. That’s when a layered security model really kicks in. For example, the parking team identifies the threat and communicates a FLASH report via radio to the security team. This allows the mid-layer of security to converge on the threat and confront while the internal layer(s) secure populated locations (sanctuary, youth/children’s area, etc.).
Stay Grounded and Focused on the Probable vs. the Possible
With that said, those actual dynamic responses are really far and few between. The goal is to keep church security teams focused on the other more probable security situations including potential for the kidnapping of a child from the children’s area (often by an estranged parent), as well as other lower-level security events such as arguments and other disturbances that can be caused by the mentally imbalanced. The key, however, is to keep from escalating a situation by brandishing a firearm prematurely.
Remember, the church’s P3s must cover principles for de-escalation and take into account local, state, and federal laws regarding the carrying of weapons; this includes knowing when to draw or not draw and shoot or not shoot, which is critical to avoid catastrophic litigation and unwanted scrutiny and coverage from the media due to an accidental shooting.
When It Comes to Church Security, Size Does Not Matter
It is important to note that, while the methodologies of protecting smaller congregations can be quite different from larger churches, the principles of security are very similar. This is important as most churches have less than 150 congregants and do not have the manpower or budget that larger churches may have. Regardless of a congregation’s size, the principled security needs of a church, and the P3s required to manage those security needs, remain the same.
As mentioned earlier, every church, large or small, needs a security plan that includes not just active shooter response, but P3s that seek to protect congregants from other threats such as children and youth being removed from the church without permission. Often, this means developing P3s that limit access to the children or youth areas with single entrance/exit points and alarming secondary access doors for emergency exit only. These are low-cost ways to protect children and direct pedestrian flow at any size church.
Next, when it comes to developing a proactive security plan, I recommend that the pastor of any size church first speak to the elders or leadership and use their knowledge to identify key individuals whom they would desire to be part of a security ministry (and that is exactly what this is: a ministry). To be clear, the security ministry does not have to be comprised of the elders themselves; I do, however, want the buy-in of the leadership on a church security plan and their recommendations for who might serve in the security ministry.
A security ministry for a smaller church need not be large or overbearing. To that end, I know of churches who run less than 120 in worship and have a dedicated security ministry of 2-4 individuals that run a good, layered security plan. In one case, a church posts an armed greeter at each entrance to the church (in this case there are 3 doors—2 upstairs and 1 downstairs) and one armed greeter in the parking lot who helps the elderly in and out of their vehicles and to the door. Once church starts, the security ministry locks all but one door (the main entrance to the sanctuary) so that foot traffic is directed through the main door where an armed greeter (or greeters) are posted. This allows them to warmly greet all who come in the church and quickly assess potential threats. Concurrent with monitoring the front entrance, the security ministry runs individual patrols inside the church and outside walking the immediate grounds.
A similar plan is certainly possible for a smaller church that has detached buildings. Essentially, seek to limit entry where possible. If realistic, maintain a security ministry presence at the entrance of each building, and have individuals who periodically walk the halls and grounds of the facility as possible. Again, the methodologies may be different given the size of the church, but the principles are very similar. In this way, a small security ministry of 2-4 people can provide a tangible level of safety and security for a congregation and support the regular greeters in their ministries and duties at the doors and in the parking lot. Thus, the security ministry becomes a force multiplier for ministry and not a stumbling block to the Gospel.
The need in our nation for the Good News of the Prince of Peace has never been greater. Also of great need is for churches to build resilience into their ministries as they prioritize the Gospel as their highest value and the safety of God’s people as their highest priority. This, in turn, allows those churches who do so to be good stewards of both life and treasure as they seek to make disciples from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest post belong to the author, who is responsible for its content, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Telios Law PLLC.
About Scott Brawner
Scott Brawner is the President of Concilium, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that desires to see Christians of all ages engaged in ministry with boldness, legitimacy, and competency. Concilium seeks to glorify the Lord with biblically centered approaches to security best practices, risk mitigation, and crisis management. Concilium trains, equips, and resources both the US and global expatriate Christian community for the strengthening of security and resilience in ministry. Concilium is committed to the mentoring, empowering, and releasing of the next generation of Christian leaders to share God's love with the world.
Brawner accepted Jesus as his personal Savior in January of 1987 and served in the United States Army with the First Ranger Battalion. As a Ranger, his military service included a tour in Operation Desert Storm as a sniper and team medic. He is also a licensed and ordained Southern Baptist pastor and holds a master’s degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 2007 the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention selected Brawner to serve as Director of Risk Management where he supervised security and risk management for nearly 5000 missionaries and their families until 2014 when he co-founded Concilium. Scott is married to the former Jamie Kalmbaugh, who is the love of his life. They have three children: Aden, Ashlyn, and Aaron.