When I’m not speaking somewhere or filling the pulpit for another congregation, I attend a small country church. The horror at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, has done to me what it has done to many other peaceful Christians in our country: it’s made me ask what would have happened if the skeleton-masked monster had come to my church’s doors that fateful morning.
I don’t know for a fact, but I’m guessing in rural Indiana that there are a couple of folks in our congregation who carry a firearm, though I don’t know whether or not they bring it with them into the sanctuary or leave it in their vehicle. But I also know that because of the layout of our church, virtually any door an intruder would enter would place him in the midst of defenseless children.
Unless you subscribe to some warped theology where Jesus has taught His followers to be doormats, that has to change. Loving our neighbor and thinking the best in people is not synonymous with leaving the innocent widows and children in your charge vulnerable to a madman with a death wish.
So what should churches do? I am no certified safety expert, nor am I in law enforcement. I am merely a guy who loves his family, and the church of Jesus. And it seems to me that every single congregation of believers across the country need to take some immediate steps to make our weekly gatherings less attractive to the criminally minded.
- We should pray regularly for the safety of our local body and our extended family of believers throughout our community and country. No manmade safety plan is more powerful than Divine protection.
- Automatic locking doors are no longer a luxury. They are a necessity. Is it an extra expense? Of course. But so was the fence around the children’s playground. So was the lid and locking cover for the baptistery. Having a digital unlocking system controlled by a main office with cameras has become commonplace in our schools. The reason they’ve been important enough to include in school budgets is the same reason they are important enough to include in our church budgets. And if it’s just not feasible for whatever reason, only keep doors unlocked that are under constant supervision.
- Create a rotating team of security volunteers to watch over the church entrances each week. They can be plain-clothed parishioners who are carrying concealed weapons or are merely staying vigilant. Your church puts together rotating lists of communion preparers and nursery workers every month, and they should do the same for this.
- Implement a safety plan and inform the congregation somewhat regularly to make sure newcomers are aware. A safety plan should include three things: (1) identifying places to go in case of an emergency, (2) assigning people in charge of securing and protecting the children, (3) articulating a “fight back” strategy to neutralize imminent threats.
Those who worry that all this might prove to be an unsettling distraction for average churchgoers, remember that the lingering fears that have been generated by the horror in Texas are likely to be a far bigger distraction. Security allows believers to worship without looking over their shoulder or anxiously worrying about how they would get to their kids if something happened.
And the objection that this kind of preparation will turn our churches into war zones misses the mark entirely. There will be no war unless a violent criminal comes and declares it. In that case, better to have our churches be a war zone than a slaughterhouse.
The odds that a demonic psychopath ever enters the church where my family and I are worshipping? Not very good. They weren’t very good at First Baptist in Texas either.