Warren Mitchell, a veteran police officer and member of a prominent African American congregation in Dallas, has seen the lines blur between his work and church life over the past several years.
On Sundays, “you just can’t sit comfortably, especially from my seat, because I know I’m responsible for the security of the church,” said Mitchell, who leads a 75-member security team at the Friendship-West Baptist Church.
His congregation—like others across the country—has been forced to shift strategies and ramp up training in the wake of recent threats.
After a white supremacist killed nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, Mitchell’s 12,000-member megachurch expanded active shooter drills to other ministry teams beyond security, including hospitality teams and ushers. “Everybody needed to be a part of providing a safe environment,” Mitchell said.
Then the church’s pastor, Frederick D. Haynes III, reportedly appeared on a hit list alongside several progressive politicians who received pipe bombs in the mail last year, and the congregation was on alert once again.
Attacks on US churches by angry outsiders remain relatively rare. But they have been happening more frequently and more prominently.
An estimated 617 worshipers have been killed in violent incidents in the US since 1999, and the number of attacks at houses of worship has risen almost every year, according to data from the Faith-Based Security Network (FBSN).
This November will be the second anniversary of the deadliest church shooting in modern history: the ambush on tiny First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 26 people. Since then, two US synagogues have also suffered deadly shootings, as have dozens of other public places.
This disturbing trend has made church security a new normal. Many congregations now have guards at doors and parking lots, security cameras monitoring entrances, and crisis procedures for staff and volunteers.
“There is a general sadness among churchgoers that we have come to this point,” wrote Thom Rainer, former CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, on his blog last year. “Church members . . . don’t like locked doors, security cameras, and gun-carrying members. But they realize this reality is here to stay.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. Larger congregations can often afford to hire local police. Others enlist volunteers, often tapping members with law enforcement backgrounds. A whole subset of ministry resources has emerged to arm churches to protect their flocks.
Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Alabama is blazing a new trail after the state authorized it last June to create its own police force, which will patrol its sanctuary and school campuses. And churches that can demonstrate a threat of violence may be eligible for new Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to upgrade security and hire officers.
Experts at Brotherhood Mutual, which insures churches and ministries, have suggested easy changes that can improve security in sanctuaries, like using two-way radios, locking doors to create a single entry point during Sunday services, and pointing out the exits.
If a pastor is considering launching a security team, Carl Chinn at FBSN might be his or her first phone call.
His organization of church security leaders and law enforcement officials shares best practices, threat information, and a database of every act of violence at a place of worship in the past two decades.
Click here to read more.
Source: Christianity Today