Balancing Protection and Ministry in Houses of Worship

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In the wake of the recent mass shooting that occurred in Sutherland Springs, Texas, we are reminded that although we can't predict the actions of others, we must do everything in our power to prepare & protect our loved ones and our communities.

The following is a re-post written by Core Protective Solutions, a Crimeseen Advisor team member in Oklahoma City and Stillwater.

Protection of churches and other houses of worship have become more present and on the mind of many faith leaders in recent years, in part and due to the growing threat of the lone wolf terrorist attacks and the growing fear of active shooters in the United States. According to the FBI's most recent Uniform Crime Report, approximately 17% of all hate crimes are attributed to religious bias which amounts to 1140 incidents. Of those, over 50% targeted the Jewish faith. It would be unfair to say these numbers are alarming. However, the threat is real, and the fear is real.

The church shooting in Charleston South Carolina is a perfect example of a hate crime of a racial bias yet happened in a house of worship. On June 17th, 2015 a young white male killed nine people during a Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter later stated he targeted the church in hopes of starting a race war. A church is a place where we should feel safe and free from worry. It is called a sanctuary, isn't it? We can get into the muddy water when we talk about the real intent of the target when a church attack occurs, like the Charleston shooting. Either way, we have to recognize churches are considered soft targets.

When I speak to faith leaders about securing houses of worship, I refrain from using the word security. Security often brings a picture of gates and access guards. The thought of having a secure facility to most faith leaders is unappealing. First, the unwelcoming aspect of having a locked down secure facility is not conducive to the mission of most religious platforms. Second, as a nonprofit organization, the cost comes to mind of hiring and paying for security personnel.

When discussing securing houses of worship, I prefer the word protection in place of security. Protection does not mean a total lockdown and a pat down of every person that comes through your door. Could you imagine waiting in line to worship just to get scanned with a wand and your purse checked? Although it may operate well within a football stadium or concert hall, this concept of security does not work in a religious setting.

The question then is how do we balance protection with discretion? How would a church, synagogue or temple create an environment that is both welcoming and protected? The answer is simple. Protection is a ministry. If I am working with a client who desires to have a protection team, I often talk about a familiar topic of behavior threat detection. I use the example that one of your team members spots a suspicious person in the lobby. The individual has never been seen before and has the hundred yard stare. As your team member approaches the individual, they are hesitant to answer questions at first. Would this situation be a protection situation or an opportunity for ministry? The answer is both. The person may be an actual threat or had a significant life-changing event. Such as a divorce or recently lost their job. In this situation, we can determine if they are a threat or no threat and have an opportunity for ministry. You may have other ministries that can help them in their situation. Of course, this is just one example of how your protection team can serve the purpose of protection as well as a servant of his or her faith. There are many protocols to be in place to handle this situation of when and who to hand them over to for further help.

Protection and ministry can work hand in hand with training and experience. The goal of your team should be of a mindset that encompasses both welcoming visitors and protecting all who have come to worship.

To find out more about securing your house of worship, visit our website at

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