I recently spoke with the head of security at a local church and was shocked to learn his personal credentials to carry a firearm were expired. He also revealed that he could not remember that last time he shot his gun and that he had never seen some of his security team members shoot. I was so blown away by this that it took me a minute to respond. After gathering my thoughts, I was forced to begin the tough conversation of how completely unacceptable this is! This is a larger church. A church with a supposedly solid security team. The part I found to be so jarring is the fact that if this is his truth, it’s true for many others. Again, this is unacceptable.
Overall, houses of worship are considered to be safe places. Of the millions of people attending a worship service on any given weekend versus the number of deadly attacks that take place there, the statistics are minimal, but nonetheless, they happen and it is our job to do everything we can to prevent it. We don’t get in our cars and put on our seatbelts because we are certain we will be involved in an accident. We don’t insist that our children wear helmets when going for a bike ride because we’re sure they’re going to fall off. We do these things as a precaution. We take these precautions because in the case of an accident we’re prepared for minimal damage. Safety and security teams do far more than combat shooters. They are there in case of domestic violence, to escort those in charge of moving and counting offering, and to enforce safety among many other things. If you are part of the safety and security team, paid or unpaid, you have a responsibility to be prepared for worst case scenarios.
How can you be sure your team is prepared for these situations? What training is involved? Before we answer these questions, let’s back up just a bit to a few other questions that need to be answered first, such as; Should everyone on your team carry a firearm? If they have a state issued permit to carry is that enough? We’ll start with the first question…
Everyone on your team does not need to carry a firearm. Your safety and security team should be made up of multi-level team members all working together for the safety of everyone. I referred to many of my team members as Watchmen, who would be posted throughout the foyer of the church. These men/women are not armed and do not hold any credentials. A Watchman’s job is exactly that. They watch. They also communicate with the rest of the team about anything that looks suspicious or needs attention. Watchmen are posted in one area, meaning they don’t move further than a few feet in any direction. Watchmen make up the safety portion of your team, and while no credentials are needed to serve in this area, this is an excellent starting place to determine if any of them would be a great fit for security.
Those who make up the security portion of your team must have credentials. These men and women should have state issued permits to carry firearms and if your church has partnered with law enforcement, which I strongly suggest, these team members should also have arrest powers. But more than just having credentials, it is your responsibility as the head of security to regularly teach ongoing development with your team, including new or revised state and local laws. Target practice is essential to your team’s training as well. I refuse to sign off on anyone that I have not seen repeatedly hit targets. I refuse to sign off on anyone that does not invest his or her own time in becoming better, faster, and more skilled with firearms and safety. If you have a team member that does not push themselves to be better, they will quickly become much more of a liability than an asset to your team and the people in your church.
A state issued permit to carry a firearm is an absolute must to be part of the security team, but it’s not enough. You will hear me say over and over again the importance of building relationships with your local law enforcement. They want this relationship as much as you do. If there’s emergency it helps to already have someone at the scene. That person is you. If you have credentials through your local law enforcement that allows for carrying hand cuffs and detain someone on church property until your local PD arrives on scene this is in the best interest of everyone involved. I encourage you to partner with them. Find out the necessary steps to attain credentials and have your security team certified.
Before we move one I have to stop right here and address an issue that is sure to arise sooner or later. If when you have someone interested in joining your team because they get to carry a gun or they get to detain someone, precede with caution. Yes, this is part of the job, but anyone who’s a little to anxious to play cops and robbers is not who you want on your team. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people or have wrong intentions, but it does mean they don’t have the level of maturity necessary for this position.
Regardless of how many credentials each team member holds or how many classroom teaching sessions you insist they sit through, nothing compares to scenario training. This means getting your team inside the auditorium, in your children’s area and out in the parking lot and working through worst case scenarios. How does your team respond? Do they work together to resolve the situation quickly and with minimal interruption? Do they communicate well with each other? Passing a test on paper, or simply knowing the right answer means nothing if you can’t execute well under pressure. Use this list of scenarios to train with your team.
The church will always welcome others to “Come As You Are”. While this statement is inviting and inclusive, it alsosuggests a place of safety. Serving as part of your churches safety and security team is an awesome responsibility and while it should fun and rewarding, the safety of others is always the priority. Make sure you and your team are taking the necessary steps to ensure your house of worship is a Safe House.