Editor’s Note: Regardless of your personal religious beliefs, the issue of church security is one that impacts all our communities, and the solutions apply to a variety of public settings. Whether you attend a place of worship regularly or not, I encourage you to read this article and think about how the ideas within it might affect your own thoughts on personal and family safety.
I was sitting in my home on June 17, 2015 when a friend called and told me to turn on the local news broadcast. My heart sank as I watched the aftermath of a mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina. But unlike the vast majority of people in the country, the churches as well, I was not at all surprised by the attack. In 2004 I had been motivated to write the first book on protecting houses of worship. It is a comprehensive guide to the when, why and how not only of establishing a security team but also how to manage it. When the book was published in 2006, I started the task of disseminating information to those ministries in need. In this article, I will present my view of the current state of affairs in this arena and maybe even get a little prophetic in the process.
Community outreach with active security.
Photo: Denneco Pruitt
News networks have bombarded the public with the newest wave of attacks against the ministry, but the question comes to mind: is this new? The church has sustained mayhem, death and destruction since its inception. In the Bible, Aaron, the first priest, established a systemic approach to protection with his instructions to ring the tabernacle in the desert with warriors to prevent worshippers from being attacked. We have seen many types of attacks, including the firebombing of churches and vandalism of mosques, synagogues and temples. It has always been this way throughout history; men have always killed in the name of God. I have to agree with Solomon: there is no new thing upon the earth.
No matter who quotes statistics, they must vastly under-report the information because of one very important reason: no agency is required to collect data of attacks against ministries. The agencies that do report do so voluntarily and I would submit to you that most ministries don’t file charges for fear of appearing to the public as “ungodly.” Several years ago, I submitted a copy of my book to the Crystal Cathedral after I discovered they had no security in place to protect their members. To me this was insane, and soon I found out that someone had made their way into the sanctuary and committed suicide. Of the various sources you can review, trends indicate crimes against the ministry increase 15% every year, but this again is based on available information. So more and more we have seen the rise of attacks, and the violence of these attacks has escalated. Which brings us to the next question: why?
I believe we are seeing an escalation of violence against ministries for several reasons.
Scandals: The heavily publicized shortcomings of pastors starting with Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart revealed to the general public that people in the pulpit are human beings. With the removal of this false sense of holiness in the public’s eye and the criminal eye as well, attacks against ministries were no longer taboo.
Alternative lifestyles: With the promotion of alternative lifestyles and non-traditional relationships, we see the development of intolerance and sometimes persecution against those who openly express their faith.
Radicalism: The expansion of radical Islam has provided us with a firsthand view of the massacre of Christians throughout the world. In many countries, alternative methods of worship are often punishable by death.
Indifference: The public is no longer concerned about what occurs in churches because they themselves don’t go.
How Do We Combat the Trend?
Team building through situational awareness training. Photo: Denneco Pruitt
We must examine the various options we have to discourage this current trend. Because of the ferocity of the current attacks, many ministries are pursuing security training, which is good, but is standard training good enough? The unique aspect of the church being a place of spiritual healing dictates that standard security training or guards is not sufficient to assist ministries in making themselves safe. Over my years of providing support in this arena, I have found that to truly make a difference, anyone engaging in security in ministry must have a sound foundation in servant leadership. Things that are permissible in a worldly environment are not permissible within the confines of ministry. A balance of professionalism and love is needed in the execution of duties. The function of the church is to serve those in need, which means a large number of people coming through its doors will have committed a variety of transgressions. It is to be a place of great compassion, and no level of security can be established without taking this into consideration