Our church has not given extensive thought to security issues. What are some of the things, naturally speaking, that other churches are doing to address security concerns in today’s societies? Do other churches have armed security during services? What kind of training do you require for someone who is armed, and what kind of guidelines do you give ushers and others who may not be “security” in a technical sense but who do look out for the safety and well-being of the people at church?
Today you will find that people, when looking for a church, are looking for a safe environment—one where they feel safe. Security is a big deal. I have a security team; some are armed and some are not. A lot of the armed ones are police, retired police, or military-type people. Some have their concealed carry license. I think it is wise to have one. If they are trained properly, it can be a huge help dealing with issues so you don’t have to. Err on the side of safety. It’s wise and smart.
Russia has been the subject of many terrorist attacks—many more than most Westerners understand. These attacks have ranged from bombs detonating in markets, schools, hospitals, apartment complexes, on subway strains, and even in public drama theaters. In one case several years ago, a group of terrorists entered a very popular musical theatre, planted bombs around the interior, and took hostage hundreds of people. As a result, several hundred people died. After that event, we—and other larger protestant churches in Moscow—took precautions to guard against public terrorist attacks. Thus, since that time to the present, we use metal detectors at all entrances to our facility. Everyone is required to go through the detector as they enter our building. No one gets upset about it, as everyone remembers the tragic and horrific event that occurred several years ago. In addition, we have guards that stand throughout our facility. We see protecting our people from public assault as part of our responsibility.
Two years ago, our church board made the decision to add a line item to our annual budget to hire a uniformed Colorado Springs police officer to be on our campus every Sunday morning for all three services. The issue in our culture today with terrorist-style attacks are “soft targets”—large gatherings of people with easy access and typically no security.
For us, there were two options: (1) hire just the officer, or (2) the officer along with a marked police car. We went with option two to create a visible presence and deterrent from the street. We have a reserved parking space at our front entry so the car is visible to all. There are several advantages. We now have immediate contact with all our city resources in case of a crisis. It also gives our members peace of mind and a sense of security to come and worship. Our cost is $53 per hour. At five hours each Sunday, our annual expense is just over $13,000. For me that is quite affordable to protect the lives of my valuable sheep.
We posted the position weekly through the police and sheriff’s departments and had several different officers fill our need. After a couple months, “officer Michael” became the primary officer to respond. He enjoyed the consistency of extra hours and working with our team. Now, he is like part of our church family. Our members know him, children give him high fives, and he is familiar with what we do on a weekly basis.
We allow church members with concealed weapons permits to carry while attending church. But, we have chosen NOT to have anyone on our volunteer security team carry weapons. Their purpose is for surveillance only and to contact the police officer on call if an issue arises. I do not want someone responding with a weapon in a crisis situation who has not been properly trained and is highly skilled. Our security team monitors the parking lot and rotates throughout the building. We purchased a basic radio system that all our lead volunteers, ushers, and security function with and our officer monitors. Each of the children’s classrooms also have a radio.
Our church has WOW: “Watchman on the Wall” (we actually have a couple women who serve in this capacity as well). This group is overseen by a trained police officer and by a former military policeman. Certain ones who are trained and licensed do “carry.” Since concealed weapons are legal in our state, we must have a sign that specifically prevents them in our facilities.
This group is distinct from ushers and is at all entrances in all the buildings of our campus. They also protect me, my family, the platform, and ministry guests. They are visible to the congregation and to visitors.
In my part of California, concealed carry permits are very difficult to obtain, so armed security is rare. But here are a couple of good points to go over with your ushers.
1. Each usher is an extension of the pastoral ministry. Pastors want their ushers to treat people with the same care that they would. Pastors want ushers to be just as hospitable, to learn names, smile, care, and show excellent manners. Visitors often make a decision about a church before the worship ever starts, and it’s those initial interactions with ushers and greeters and parking lot helpers who can make all the difference.
2. Pastors should empower their ushers to make decisions about what is allowable, permissible, and appropriate in a given situation. You can’t cover every situation in an usher handbook. So give your ushers authority in deciding what to politely stop and what to allow.
For instance, we had a lady arrive at a service who lived nearby in San Francisco. She had long frizzy hair, and as she walked in an usher saw something “move.” “Excuse me, what do you have in your hair?” our usher asked politely and assertively. “My pet rat,” she responded. “Well how about you leave your rat in the car, and come on back in and enjoy the service with us” was the perfect response by the usher. You can’t put this in handbooks!!
This same usher once had to break up an airtight head to toe hug between a married lady in the church and the guest speaker’s pilot. They had been hugging like that for like almost a minute when the usher went over and encouraged more appropriate “ministry.” This was in the back of the church, and me and my wife were facing the other direction on the front row, so we couldn’t see it or put a stop to it. The usher had to make an appropriate decision—and did so wisely. Later, the same two people were found in another “ministry” embrace—and again politely pried apart. This associate of the guest minister was let go, while the usher received praises in the church’s leader’s meetings.
So, pastors spend time with your ushers so that they know what you allow and encourage and what you want to discourage. Teach them how you would respond in situations, and let them know you will support their decisions during your services.
The day that I actually gave a lot of thought regarding church security was just over eighteen months ago. The head usher informed me that the two men standing at the back of our sanctuary were bodyguards, but that I should not be concerned. Well, that was easier said than done! Throughout the service, I was wondering who we had in the church that needed not just one bodyguard, but two. Then, the thought came—we are either well protected or very exposed. Which is it?
Security is a major concern to us and it should be for every church these days. It cannot be taken lightly. As the church has grown, so has the need for more security at all levels. Presently, our security team is not armed, but we do have a police presence during our weekly Wednesday and Sunday services. In our city, this is a benefit that the police department offers as part of their service to the community.
As an extra level of protection, we have obtained the necessary permits to allow the two-way radios used by our security team members to be connected directly to the police station. This has eliminated the need to use our cell phones in the case of an emergency. It required some training on codes and daily reporting, but having direct access to the closest police station was certainly worth it. The local police department was more than willing to provide all the necessary training to implement this, as well as ongoing training two to three times a year.
It is also important to point out that security is not just the responsibility of the security team, but of every employee and volunteer in the church. All of them are trained on the basic guidelines of security and are instructed to notify our team of any suspicious person or unusual activity within the church.
Written by Altitude Ministries concerning the topic of church security.
We at Altitude take the security of our members and staff very seriously. Pastor Gene has a federal firearms license and is a qualified licensed concealed carry instructor. He is also a safety instructor in basic concealed carry instruction. Altitude has several licensed people who carry during all services, and we do have a head usher who carries and is our leader in safety. All people who carry are instructed to follow the lead of Pastor Gene, although Pastor Gene does not carry during any services, he believes with the Lord’s help he can talk to a threatening person to bring peace to most any situation. Should the need arise, the concealed carry persons are instructed to protect the congregation first. We at Altitude have had one occasion where a person needed to be removed and then instructed not to return. This same individual threatened Pastor Gene in another location, but he was able to talk him through and brought about a peaceful resolution.
Before 2015, our children’s’ ministry had their own procedures and most of our leadership team understood how to respond in an emergency. Once we were settled in our new and much larger facility, we formalized our security team as a ministry department and it continues to be modified and adjusted.
Our security team lead is under the direction of the security lead, who is an elder/leadership team member with previous law enforcement experience. We prefer all detail leads (those overseeing a service time with other scheduled security team members) to have some sort of government/security/law enforcement background since that would include professional training they can bring into our environment.
We handpick those we think would be good on the team and would understand their purpose:
The Garden Christian Assembly (GCA) Security Team (ST) is composed of members who provide the ministry of security on a volunteer basis. They work to ensure the safety and security of the GCA members, visitors, and guests while seeking to provide an atmosphere conducive to worship; they are of the body of believers, for the body of believers, to protect the body of believers, visitors, and guests to the GCA.
Of course, all security team members must pass a background check.
Side note from Lynae Carter, Staff member: My husband is the security lead, and when he’s speaking with the team lead, who develops and implements the training, he uses the analogy of a sheep dog. Pastor Thom is the shepherd and the body is the sheep. Security are the sheep dogs who stay alert to (and handle) any threats and help keep the sheep safe so the shepherd can do what he’s been called to do. They interact with everyone, answer questions, etc., while maintaining awareness of their assigned post.
Our security team has a “uniform” that they wear while serving ONLY (if they’re attending a service and serving in another service, they need to change shirts). This is a button-up black and grey shirt with our logo on it but doesn’t say “security.” We’ve heard comments that people feel safer and know who to go to in an emergency because they’re easily identifiable.
For each service, we schedule:
- Detail lead
- Main entry
- Parking lot
- Pastoral staff (as needed/requested)
We do not require anyone to carry weapons as this would put additional liability responsibility on the church. All security team members are required to sign a liability release form stating that they understand we aren’t asking them to be armed, that they are required to be trained and follow basic firearm safety (listed in the document) and we aren’t responsible if they discharge their firearm.
Training & Resources
Our security team lead conducts quarterly, mandatory training with the team that covers updated active shooter procedures, personal interaction procedures, facility security, etc. A few times a year, he does a general security training and opens it up to other ministry leads (ushers, kids leads, greeters, etc.). This way, every department understands the process and procedures.
We’ve participated in church security conferences such as www.code4.org and make use of the free security resources available through our insurance provider. We also speak with other churches about their security procedures and bounce ideas off of each other.
Notices & Updates
Occasionally, we’ll have members who make us aware of possible threats (usually registered sex offenders or someone who may violate a restraining order). In those cases, we communicate that information with the rest of the security team and key leads in other applicable departments.
What are some of the things, naturally speaking, that other churches are doing to address security concerns in today’s society?
- Churches have begun to address the concerns of security by implementing basic steps such as background searches for their children and youth ministry leaders and volunteers to ensure that all children have safe environments to learn and play.
- Video cameras and access control systems throughout their facilities have become important. It provides the ability to track who is in their facility and where they are going, especially in areas that are off limits.
- There is the more advanced levels like being prepared in case an intruder enters the facility. The church has realized that they have to convert their facilities from a soft target to hard targets.
Let me explain the difference between a “soft and hard target.”
A soft target is a facility or individual that is relatively easy to attack, or better said, unprotected or vulnerable. There is no security and no vigilance. No one is ready to respond in case of an emergency. It is an easy target for a terrorist attack.
A hard target is better protected with video cameras, armed guards, or some type of active security team. They expect an attack or have prepared for an attack. They are vigilante with patrols and secure the facility or person being protected. Hard targets make it harder for the bad guy to be successful.
Churches historically have been soft targets but they have now started to conduct security assessments of their facilities in order to see where there are weak and vulnerable areas that can be attacked. Things to keep in mind are burglaries or an active shooter situation, or an attack to the pastor and his staff.
Note: A simple example of a weakness is that every church has a safe, but very few bolt the safe to the ground.
What are the guidelines for ushers and others who may not be “security” in a technical sense but who do look out for the safety and well-being of the people at church?
Teach the ushers and greeter teams on how to read individuals and observe mannerisms that are out of place. For example: a person walks into the church in the middle of August with a long winter trench coat. It appears that they are hiding something or act uncomfortable. Another example is a person that has a backpack on and is holding onto it for dear life and is sweating. These are signs that something is wrong. Individuals in the parking lot ministry or greeters at the door should be able to confront and ask the correct questions before they enter the church. If they bypass that first line of questioning, then the security team must immediately confront and try to assess the person and/or situation as quickly as possible. This is done through training those that are on the front lines like your ushers, parking lot, and greeter volunteers. It is important to keep everyone fresh and up-to-date on any new concerns and training techniques.
Note: One of the fastest growing ministries in the church in the last five years has been the security ministry. Creating a well-trained safety and security team has become a must in the church today.
Do other churches have armed security during services?
There are many churches that have armed security.
What kind of training do you require for someone who is armed?
Training is a key component in the development of security teams. Teams are not just a group of guys that a church musters up. The team should be led by and include individuals with military or law enforcement experience that understand how protection works. Some carry weapons, and some don’t. It is up to the lead pastor to determine the liability risk when allowing team members to carry weapons. I always recommend only those with law enforcement, police, or military training to carry on the team, and not civilians—this is due to training and experience. Firearms training should be done every six months with no less than a year qualification with a trained NRA (National Rifle Association) instructor.
Keep a record of all yearly qualifications on file, and make sure that a policy and procedure is written for the protection of the ministry and the security members.
We have implemented two levels of security protection. The usher ministry handles all non-physical concerns and security would be involved with incidents that could escalate to a potentially physical interaction. Security is trained in the following areas: permit to carry or conceal, usage of firearms, when and what steps are to be taken for the use of force, and preventive measures to take in how to stand down a crisis. First aid with CPR, AED is needed with preferably a first responder certificate too. The usher ministry is to be observant in helping to identify potential crisis situations, when to refer and involve security, and how to deescalate a volatile situation.
In the past two years, we have set up security measures to protect our congregation as well as possible. We have always done a security sweep of the inside of the church building as well as outside, as we are located downtown and we have a lot of homeless people in the area. Unfortunately, because of the times we live in we have had to address these issues of security.
Here are some of the things we have instituted and are instituting:
- We currently have two men that are permitted to conceal carry during services. These men are current military individuals and have been trained in security measures. One was a former MP, and the other works in a high security environment on the base here. We are currently in the process of having at least one more person trained and available to conceal carry during services so that we have at least one person each service that is permitted to carry.
- Each person that carries during service must write a letter to me to receive permission to conceal carry during services (these people have already had a background check done, and have been selected by the head usher after doing an interview with them).
- We are also working on keeping them up to date on their skills by having them go to the shooting range periodically.
- All our ushers have been and are being trained to look for suspicious and unusual behavior. We welcome all people, but we want to be wise in protecting our congregation.
- One usher per service does at least two security sweeps of the building to make sure we have no one loitering around our children’s areas, and/or hiding in the building (we have an older church building and there are places where people have been found hiding after a service).
- We have an evacuation plan set up with maps around the building in key locations so our people know the evacuation routes in case of an active shooter, and/or some other type of threat.
- We are in the process of teaching our congregation what to do in case of an active shooter, as well as having the children in a secure area.
We are still in the process of updating and making sure we are as secure as possible and protecting the people that God has given us as shepherds of His flock.
Here is a summation of where we are concerning armed security:
- We have thought about armed security in the church off and on.
- Three or four members of the congregation carry pistols.
- Over 33+ years we have had to physically remove two people—neither were violent.
- Recently a member, who recently retired after 20 years in the USMC, came to me and asked if I was considering having armed security in our services. This man had recently obtained his license to carry a firearm.
- As you watch the news, having someone armed in the services seems more and more plausible.
- I did some checking and and learned of one church having an armed, uniformed police officer in plain view, and learned of armed security officers at another church.
- I have spoken to several ministers in our area and they all believe it is prudent to have an armed security officer, but none of them seem to have specific guidelines for us to use as a reference.
- One has an armed officer whenever the man attends church.
- A church in PA has an armed security officer and is trying to find or put together some guidelines and other information that they use.
- There is a church in our area that has hired a security agency. How feasible this is for us and the costs involved are unknown at this time.
- I called the Newtown police department and they were of very little help, basically leaving all of the approvals for an armed officer to us. They said to call them when and if we do it.
- There must be some state agency that can give direction of what to do. As we build the new church, much of our time is consumed with the project.
- It was suggested I call our insurance agent. We will do this as we progress farther into this.
- I believe we will earnestly pursue having an armed security officer. The new church will be right off of the interstate and the character of people, as end times approach, seems to warrant such a move.
- Whatever we are told concerning training, we will surely do, since this is a pretty ‘heavy’ move.
- Our ushers now are attentive to look for potential trouble. They are the ones who removed those two individuals years ago.
- Obviously an armed security officer puts a huge responsibility on them and the church staff. Every precaution will be taken and training necessary will be given.
The new church is extremely time consuming. There must be some guidelines that will help us. Due to the enormity and responsibility of this, we will do all we can to do this right.
I’d like to address the question this month about security concerns in two stages, based on both the general and specific nature of the question. Paul addressed a basic principle that could also apply to any aspect of a church service when he wrote, “Let all things be done decently and in order” – 1 Corinthians 14:40 (KJV).
Based on this simple truth, we have done our best to train our team leaders and key membership to identify potential problems, and be prepared with an appropriate response. These ministry of helps people are all part of the G.U.S. Team, which is an acronym for Greeters, Ushers, & Security. When there’s an incident, someone in the ministry of helps might call for “GUS” to come over and step in. It seems that using a name instead of calling for “Security” deflects any potential resistance, or possibly creating fear in those observing the situation. Besides, not knowing how someone might react, it’s less embarrassing or intimidating for the person being dealt with. The focus for the G.U.S. Team members should primarily be the safety of the congregation, and maintaining order in the service by practicing the standard set forth in 1 Corinthians 14:40.
First, in general terms, is the broad scope of security concerns that any church might face. These could include anything from a disruptive visitor that comes in drunk or under the influence of drugs; a fire alarm or an intruder intending theft of church or personal property; or the disgruntled spouse who has a restraining order served against them and is trespassing on church property; or the divorced or separated couple that might be in a legal battle over custody of their children, or any kind of medical emergency such as an adult having a seizure or heart attack during the service, or an allergic reaction in a child attending the children’s church. Being prepared and having protocols for dealing with everything from domestic abuse to a catastrophic storm is essential, and there are resources available from various websites and insurance providers that will help. Over the past thirty plus years of ministry, we’ve experienced many of these incidents and have some interesting stories to tell! Several years ago, our church and home were vandalized by a mentally disturbed young man. It finally escalated to the point that it became serious and he threatened our lives, which resulted in him being arrested when confronted by law enforcement.
Secondly, the more specific issue raised with security concerns involves having armed security and dealing with a potential live shooter incident. Each state has their own concealed carry legal standards. Here in Minnesota, we have very specific laws and requirements about carrying concealed firearms. I know we have several individuals in our congregation who have been trained and passed the MN requirements. Unlike so many local churches and businesses, we DO NOT have a “no guns allowed” policy statement posted at the entrance of our church. Personally, it seems that a sign like that is an open invitation to someone who thinks they could do harm or injury without running into any security on the premises.
Due to the laws in Minnesota, and our current threat assessment, we have determined that staff members of the church, or any designated personnel representing the church, will NOT be armed at our request. We believe this would place the church in a position of unnecessary liability. However, we do believe it is best to allow trusted members of the congregation to follow the accepted legal standards and act responsibly as fully trained individual citizens, and who just happen to have concealed carry permits. Honestly, if I were to take a survey, I imagine I’d find at least three to five trusted members of our ministry of helps people who are armed during any given service. (This is due to incidents mentioned above. Incidentally, my wife and I both have concealed carry permits.)
Finally, in this climate of national strife and division, it is important that every church and ministry team have policies and procedures in place that fit their community and culture. I’ve outlined some of the basic issues that any church or ministry might face; however, state and local laws will vary and will define the rules of engagement for each potential security issue. As leaders, we have to ask the hard questions and know that our ministry of helps personnel are trained and prepared to respond to any and all potential incidents, both spiritually and naturally speaking.
The church or ministry is ultimately responsible for the safety of those attending their services or special events. We should also realize and take responsibility for doing whatever possible to prevent any acts of violence that might threaten our congregations. As people of faith, we should obviously pray for protection, utilizing Psalm 91 and other Scriptures. And yet, we must also confront the “natural” side of things, as this question has asked, and take personal responsibility to be prepared, while tapping into local law enforcement and your insurance provider for training materials.
The following is a link to an FBI report on the total number of live shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013 (https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-study-2000-2013-1.pdf ). This report is not church specific, but may be of interest to those who want resources and like statistics!
We do have armed security in our church during services. However, not all are armed—only a certain few—and they are required to attend a gun safety class which is usually held in a local church. Those few that are armed are retired military or retired police officers.
Our security & usher departments have a complete training class every three months, and they all review the safety issues of the people and pastor of our church. They are taught the best ways to evacuate the building, secure all doors, and always escort the pastor. We also have two people secure the offering during service.
Special care is given to the children’s department to secure the evacuation of all of our children during an emergency with the help of our ushers. This training is required by all that are in the security or usher ministry.
Unfortunately, because of the time in which we live, we now have a security system during the day in our church and are able to see those wanting to enter the building from cameras in our office. Visitors are given access by the pushing of a button that then unlocks the door and allows them to enter. It seems such a shame that our doors have to be locked.