Churches and Gun Violence: 7 Practical Preparation Tips

Rebekah Simon-Peter —  November 7, 2017 — 15 Comments

Gun shots rocked yet another church over the weekend.  Sunday services inchurch doors2 Sutherland Springs TX turned into a blood bath, with at least 27 dead.  Before that horrifying incident, the folks of this small town felt protected by their rural setting.  But as we’re discovering, even those things don’t prevent gun violence from unfolding.

What’s a church to do?  I want to share with you 7 practical tips from Rev. Derrek Belase, a former certified police officer turned pastor, with two degrees in criminology.  He is now the Director of Discipleship of the Oklahoma Annual Conference.  His current portfolio includes coordinating the Safe Sanctuary Training.

Derrek believes that you can’t completely prevent gun violence from erupting.  Even with the best laid plans or the best legislation.   Then what?  How can a church adequately protect itself?  Here are 7 practical tips that can help any church prepare for the unexpected.

  1. Establish relationships with the first responders and other key people in your community.  Get to know the Sheriff, Chief of Police, Chief of the Fire Department as well as the Mayor and County Commissioners.  Let them get to know you and exchange cell phone numbers.  That way, they’ll know if they get a call from you on a Sunday morning, it’s a bonafide emergency.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call 911 if violence or threats of violence break out in your sanctuary.  But also call them.
  1. Invite them to come tour the church buildings.  Let them see the lay of the land, and the way your buildings are set up.  If they have a mental picture of your facilities, they’ll be able to respond with foreknowledge, if the need should arise.
  1. Be sure to have ushers, as well as greeters.  Greeters can keep an eye out for folks who may look troubled.  They can alert the pastor, or if need be, the authorities.  Once worship begins, greeters are seated.  That’s when ushers take over.  Once ushers are done seating people, they can serve as a vital link between the worshiping congregation in the sanctuary with its closed doors, and the outside world.  They can walk down the hall to the nursery and make sure everything’s okay there.  They can keep an eye out for stragglers, suspicious looking folks, or someone with a gun.  Make sure they can access the church office and a landline phone if need be.
  1.  Consider the layout of the building and the property, and what might happen if…  How far is the nursery from the sanctuary?  Do they have a landline where they could make phone calls out?  Do you have a landline in the sanctuary?  Do cell phones work in the sanctuary?  Do you have a lot of doors that are unnecessarily open during worship?  Are there places outside that people could hide?  Your first responders can give you helpful feedback on that.
  1. Does your church building have an accurate sign on it so first responders can respond quickly? You may be known as First Church to your own people, the Methodist church to the larger community, and the downtown community church with the big spire to the neighborhood locals.  Make sure your sign matches your website, Facebook page, and bulletin.  Also, make sure you have your street address handy.  That’s how ambulances will find you.
  1. Resist bringing in a security expert.  They’ll suggest things most churches can’t afford, whether that’s a security guard or metal detectors, which will ratchet up expectations and fears.  Instead, make these practical moves.
  1. Focus on what you’re there to do:  preach the Gospel, build the Kingdom, help people grow spiritually, connect with the community and with God, give hope, share love, pray and practice the presence of Christ.

For more solutions, check out FEMA’s resource for protecting your house of worship.  As in football where offense is the best defense, there are additional ways churches and other communities of faith can respond.  Next week we’ll look at how to shift our larger culture which gives rise to lone, aggressive shooters.

In the meantime, let’s do more than send our thoughts and prayers.  Let’s make sure our own houses are in order.

Rebekah Simon-Peter

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15 responses to Churches and Gun Violence: 7 Practical Preparation Tips

  1. Excellent suggestions that ALL churches can and should do as a bare minimum. Common sense awareness goes a long ways.

  2. Excellent article…our church is a small congregation and no defenses as outlined in your article except for the greeters and ushers .

  3. Sorry, I must disagree. The headline on the email link to this page was titled “Pastor offers tips to protect churches from gun violence”. But four of the first five tips were devoted to the aftermath of a shooting event–basically ways of getting the chalk outliners on site more quickly. Item seven is non-responsive. But the advice to shun advice from security professionals is just nuts. You don’t have to buy what they are selling, but you should listen.
    And security guards ratchet up fears? Every courthouse and school does this. I feel safer if everybody knows there is an armed guard on site.

    The best method of either preventing carnage, or stopping it shortly after it begins before the body count swells, is to allow or even encourage attendees with concealed carry permits to come bearing arms. Make sure everybody in your community knows this is the case. Cowardly would-be killers will pass on by.

    • Rebekah Simon-Peter November 30, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      While I disagree, I know that you’re not alone in thinking this way. That may be a short term solution that some churches opt for. Personally, I’m not sure that adding more guns to the situation is the best way to proceed. Or that it points us in the direction of the Gospel. Please see my latest blog for ideas about long term solutions: Re-making the Bad Boy Culture.

  4. Contact your local police department. They may have an “Active Shooter Response” training. Encourage the church leaders to attend, be it at your church or another church in your community.
    Having the local police department tour your church building will be helpful for you and them.

  5. This was an excellent and practical article.

  6. Gary D. Bratcher November 22, 2017 at 6:37 am

    I agree with Ed Secor completely. Our church is located in a community of about 1,200 people with local response teams, on Sunday, being about 14 miles away. I am disappointed in Rev. Belase not at least mentioning concealed carry permit owners bringing their pistols to church.
    They would be concealed which should have no outward bearing on the services at all. It seems that out church leaders, these days, are more concerned with being PC than Godly. This statement is based not only on this issue but other issues confronting all denominations and current issues being considered by our General Charge Conference.

    • Rebekah Simon-Peter November 30, 2017 at 6:17 pm

      Jesus was the one who counseled turning the other cheek in the face of violence. That’s a very hard path to take, I agree. But I’m not sure that carrying guns to church is necessarily godly. These are seriously tough issues that require creative thinking and responses. You and I are free to disagree of course, but I find that insinuating people are ungodly when they disagree with our way of thinking is unhelpful.

  7. Gunless American November 25, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    Great! Two gunsters are recommending adding MORE guns to the problem as if we aren’t already the most heavily over-armed country on earth. Brilliant! Are you guys NRA spokesmen or do you report directly to the Kremlin?

    • Rebekah Simon-Peter November 30, 2017 at 6:19 pm

      It is interesting how the more guns we add to the mix the more overall violence we have. We can really see that in America. Other countries don’t have near the gun violence that we have because they simply own less guns, and there are far more security hoops to jump through in order to own one. There are some telling studies on this.

  8. Jesus had armed disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, clearly he was not opposed to armed followers. Jesus did in fact direct his followers to obtain a sword, the weapon of the day.

    So if God is not opposed to armed followers in his presence, why is the UMC seemingly opposed to armed church members?

    • Rebekah Simon-Peter February 21, 2018 at 3:20 pm

      Glen, I think we have to weigh armed disciples in the Garden with Jesus’ admonition to the disciple who cut off an ear with said sword. Also, with Jesus’ message of turn the other cheek. Pulling one or two scriptures out of context makes for good rhetoric, but I’m not sure its that helpful in having respectful, open-minded dialogue.

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