Imagine sitting during a church service, enjoying learning more from the deep wisdom of Scripture, only to then have the tranquility of that moment ripped apart by the loud explosion of a firearm. And then things get worse. That’s what happened this past Sunday at a church in Sunderland Springs, TX as a lone gunman walked in an began a narcissistic, rage fueled killing spree that took the lives of 26 people and critically injured 20 others. Sadly, the recent shooting in isn’t even the first one this year. Unfortunately the Sanctuary doesn’t offer the sanctuary it used to. This is our new reality, not only in church, but in virtually any place we want to go. So what do we do?
Of course the ongoing dialogue about guns in America will continue, and the divide will simply grow deeper. So what is the church to do in the meantime while the nation is at odds with how to handle this issue? In my view, it’s time for the church to get serious on safety.
First off we need to be honest enough to admit there is an issue, and that even though events like these are still statistically rare, we still need to have a plan. We plan for fires, tornadoes, earth quakes, and hurricanes, so why not active shooters? A well formulated and communicated plan helps in any emergency, and there are plenty of people out there, many of whom are in our congregations, that can help with that.
Safety though isn’t just about gun violence. A well trained safety team should be prepared to handle medical and weather emergencies as well as being able to help someone find their way through the church with a smile. At LifePoint we have had a Safety Team for several years. They have prevented theft, helped in numerous medical emergencies, protected children in foster care, interrupted drug deals, and have even taken weapons, including loaded firearms, from hurting and scared people coming to church to get help. I have seen these men and women talk suicidal people out of taking their lives and then take the time to stand with them as they went to get help. And our people love it.
There is a certain security that comes from knowing that if someone gets hurt, has a heart attack, or comes to church with bad intentions, that there are people trained to provide the help that is needed. When a young lady had a seizure in our sanctuary a few years ago, our team assessed her condition, called 911, secured her safety, and began to lead us in prayer all in a matter of seconds. They were trained to handle these situations, and they have done a good job each and every time they were called upon to do so. Our Safety Team is an indispensable part of the Dream Team here at LifePoint, and I can’t recommend that every church has one like it enough.
How Do I Start a Safety Team at My Church?
1. Find the Right Leader
We have a rule at LifePoint: No leader, no new ministry. The right leader isn’t the loudest NRA member, it is someone who is organized, cool headed, able to communicate clearly, has a bent towards protection, and has the heart to serve. Many times these are people who are current or former Law Enforcement, Emergency Personnel, or Military. That said, even though someone might have those things in their backgrounds, it doesn’t automatically qualify them to lead in this area. Serve? Yes. Lead? Maybe. You definitely need a leader in this role.
2. Contact Your Insurance Carrier
Depending on the level that you want to operate at you may need to carry a rider on your insurance policy, and no matter what your decision, they need to know what you are planning to do. Our insurance agent has been very helpful to us in setting up the qualifications and restrictions for our team.
3. Hire Someone to Train the Team
Some training and planning may be able to be adequately done in house but there are somethings that will likely require you to actually spend money. Your team needs to be trained in CPR and basic first aid, personal defense, active shooter, and firearms safety at a minimum. A good trainer will also help you establish the various plans you will need for different scenarios to ensure your people are safe no matter what.
4. Communicate to Your Congregation
As these things are getting in place, let your church know about it. Communicate and even post your emergency plans, make sure every teacher and volunteer knows about them as well. Your people will feel an extra measure of safety. Your men and women will have a great opportunity to provide meaningful service. Of course, there will always be nay sayers. They will say “Isn’t your faith strong enough to keep you safe at church?” and then they will lock their doors at night. We are proud of the men and women who watch over our church, we celebrate them, and know they make the environment at church better for everyone.
5. Reiterate to the Team That We are Here to Love People
Just like any other ministry role, we are here to share the love of Jesus by loving people. Keeping people safe is very loving, but the Safety Team is no place for bullies who just want to exert a little authority. If your Safety Team members can’t love first, they can’t serve on this team. Love First doesn’t mean we avoid conflict or even act soft, it means that we place a hight value and priority on all people, regardless of what they look like, smell like, talk like, etc. Honoring people is part of our DNA here at LifePoint but that doesn’t mean we ignore suspicious behavior, tolerate abuse of any kind, or just let things slide every time. But those key aspects of our DNA do dictate our attitude as we confront the situations we may face, even and especially on the Safety Team.
6. Put the Team to Work
Once you have a team put them to work. Don’t just talk about having a team, give them assignments. Train them. Meet regularly. Have expectations. Treat this ministry as if it is just as important as the nursery workers or ushers who collect the offering. As a leader, personally celebrate each team member as often as possible knowing that they are contributing greatly to your services.
Starting a Safety Team is something you can begin working on today. If doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, and in today’s climate it will be well received in your church. Part of shepherding the flock is protecting them from wolves, it’s time to get some sheepdogs in place.