As you may know from reading my blog I helped launch a Safety and Security team at my home church a couple of years ago. Our church is by no means a large church, we average about 150 people per service on weekends. But since the launch of our team, we have had several incidents that very well could have ended much worse, without our team in position.
The first incident, I was inside the worship center during first service, and the worship team was playing music while people were finding their seats. I am the team leader, and all of our members have walkie talkies when they are serving. We generally run two team members per service, plus the lead. We have one member on patrol in the parking lot, with a focus on the entryway to the children’s ministry and another inside patrolling. During a normal service I patrol all areas and monitor everything. This particular morning, Big Mike one of the Elders comes to me in the worship center, and tells me a guy with two guns is trying to get in the front door.
As I follow Mike out into the lobby, I tell him to point him out, he was a white male – mid 30’s – about 6’1″ and maybe 175 lbs. He was wearing a gray blazer, black cowboy hat and jeans, with a big Texas belt buckle. Inside the front of his Jeans are two black semi-automatic pistols tucked on either side of his belt buckle. He is standing just five feet outside the entrance, with his arms on his hips and an angry look on his face. My approach to him was my normal approach, pleasant but forceful.
“Good morning sir, how can I help you today?”
“You can help by telling me why these Communists won’t let me come in this Church and worship my savior Jesus Christ!”
“Well sir, we do not allow firearms on our property, you are free to worship along side us, but you will have to secure your pistols in your vehicle first.”
“This is America, and I am free to worship my God without having my Second Amendment rights trampled! And I will NEVER put down my guns, because I do not trust ANY man, I only trust God.”
At this point I realize I am not dealing with someone who is thinking rationally, and this could develop rather quickly into a bad situation. My eye spots my first team member observing from about 15 feet away on my right. Now I have to position this guy and myself away from the front glass doors of this church, in case he decides to pull his guns and shoot. So I move in towards him, and as I do, he backs up around a wall blocking his view of the doors (good).
“Sir, this is private property and we reserve the right to prohibit the possession of firearms on this property. If you would like I can call Metro to the scene so they can explain the law to you clearly.” At this point he gets very angry and steps into my personal space with his finger pointing less than an inch from my face.
“You are the problem with this Country, Goddamn Communists trying to take away my rights, you want me to show you the two AR-15s I have in my truck?”
“No sir, and as a matter of fact, I don’t appreciate the threats, so I need you to get in your car and leave the property right now. If you don’t leave you will be arrested for trespassing.” Both of my team members are only feet away at this moment, not knowing his next move, I stay calm and keep eye contact. In my mind I realize if he draws, I have to get control of the guns, and rely on my team to neutralize him. It will only take him seconds to discharge his weapons so we will have to move fast.
He chooses differently and disengages from me, turns around and walks off to his car cursing at us and calling us Communists. He then speeds out of the parking lot. Meanwhile my team had taken plenty of photos of him and his vehicle, while he was talking with me. My next move was to notify local police of what had happened, in case he drove off to another church that day.
Another incident, that didn’t turn out nearly as good, occurred on August 11, 2017 when a naked man with a gun was found meditating at the front door of our church. There is a link to an article I wrote about this incident above.
But for the purposes of this article, this man was depressed and suicidal and tried to lure the Police to kill him that day, but they only wounded him to the shoulder. He is lucky to be alive, whether he knows that or not. Another blessing, was that he showed up on Saturday when the doors were locked.
But how common are Church shootings really?
There is an article on the Gospel Coalition that details some statistics on this matter.
The full link to the article is here. But here is some of what they had to say…
The Center for Homicide Research produced a study using online newspaper archive articles to document all cases of shootings on church property within the United States from 1980 to 2005. According to the data, there was a total of 139 shootings on church property with a total death toll of 185 people. During that 25-year period there were an average of six shootings on church property every year.
While that shows gun-related violence is rare, those statistics are for all shootings that occurred on church property, including some in the parking lot and unrelated to church activity and some that involved targeting of pastors outside of church services.
Let’s narrow the data further by considering media reports involving only shootings that occur within the church, and look at the period from 2006 (just after the study by the Center for Homicide Research) to June 17, 2015—the day of the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
During that nine-year period we find approximately 24 church shootings, an average of 2.7 per year.
If we assume that approximately three church shootings occur every year in the United States, what is the probability they could occur at any particular church? Church shootings are rarely random, and many are spillovers of domestic violence. But for our calculation let’s assume the targets are randomly distributed across all congregations.
There are an estimated 378,000 congregations in the United States, which means the likelihood of any congregation being involved in a shooting in any year is approximately one in 126,000 or 0.0000079 percent.
If we assume that each congregation meets at least once per week, there are a minimum of 19,656,000 church services every year in the United States. That means your odds of being in a church service in which a shooting occurs are at most 1 in 6,552,000 or 0.00000015 percent.
Well golly gee, that all sounds like we should all be safe as a bug in a rug! But then the real world happens and I have found through personal experience that it is not only likely that our church will have a security issue(s)… it is actually just a matter of time.
In the couple of years since our team launched, we have had two people with guns show up, several belligerent church goers, a few suspicious persons (one who just approached the alter during the sermon less than a week ago) two falls that resulted in injuries, and a few other safety and security matters.
Our team is out in the open for the most part, we have uniforms and radios, and we pray before each service. However, most days I will stay in plain clothes and monitor church activity from the background.
When we first launched our team we had many people in the congregation who opposed us, thinking we looked like a security force and asking… is there a problem we need to know about? Is it safe to come to church?
My response was always simple… “No ma’am there is no problem, we are just going to be proactive and not reactive when a problem arises. We are here for your safety, if you need anything, just lets us know.”
At this point our team is well received and everyone is happy to have us around. What you should consider in your local church, is do you need a safety and security team? My answer is always a resounding YES. No matter what the size of your church, there is always a need.