Like you, I’ve been heartbroken while watching the news unfold about the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Yesterday, an armed man walked into the church and began firing, killing 26 people and injuring at least 20 more.
The victims included people from the ages of 18 months to 77 years old. Among those killed were eight relatives spanning three generations in a single family.
Shootings at churches are becoming more common. So common that authorities have created a National Church Shooting database. The database documents 139 shootings at churches between 1980 and 2005, with 185 people being killed, including 36 children.
Since 2005, there have been many other church shootings, including the 2015 shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, which killed nine people.
Like never before, now is the time for churches to take a hard look at their safety and security measures. In this article, we’ll specifically focus on safety measures that children’s ministries need to have in place.
Realize no one is immune to being attacked. This attack reminds us once again that an attack can happen at any time, at any place. As news reports are stating, the attack in Sutherland Springs is the last place you would expect something like this to happen. Don’t think your church is immune to being attacked. It can happen in small towns and big cities.
The truth is most churches are a very soft target. Think about it. Service times are known. Everyone is welcome. There are usually multiple entries. Few churches have security personnel or policies in place. Parking lots are not monitored. The reality is churches, which should be a safe place, free from violence, are now one of the most vulnerable places to be.
Have security personnel in place. Hire an armed security officer to be present in your children’s ministry area. The best scenario is to have an armed police officer there in full uniform. Don’t worry, parents and children will not freak out about this. They will welcome this. In fact, one of parents’ top concerns is their child being safe in a world of terrorism and violence. Having visible security in place will cause families to return to your church.
In addition to an armed security officer, you should enlist a volunteer safety and security team for your church. This team should not only monitor the children’s ministry area, but the entire church…starting in the parking lot. A shooter stopped in the parking lot will never make it inside to harm people.
I have friends who were present when a shooter begin firing in their church parking lot a few years ago in Colorado. The shooter killed a few people in the parking lot and was making his way toward the church building when a volunteer security guard shot him and prevented him from getting inside the building. This obviously saved many lives that day.
If your budget prevents you from hiring a uniformed security officer, then at a minimum, you should have a volunteer safety and security team in place. Again, the best plan is to have both present.
Ideally, the volunteer safety and security team should include individuals with medical and law enforcement training. Some of them should be licensed to carry a concealed weapon. Obviously you have to use wisdom in where you will place this team in your children’s area. I would not have any of this team inside the classrooms, but rather in key places in the hallway or entrance areas. The team must have a clear plan and know what to do in situations.
Limit access to the children’s ministry area. Only approved volunteers and parents with security tags should be allowed in the children’s areas. The children’s area should not be a part of the building where people can walk through unmonitored.
Lock down the children’s ministry area. Once service begins, you should lock down your children’s ministry areas. Lock down the children’s ministry hallway. Lock the classroom doors. This helps create layers of protection that can stop or hinder a shooter from reaching the children. People who arrive late are met at the locked door and walked to their room.
Train your team how to respond. Staff and volunteers should be trained to recognize signs of a person who is agitated, angry, intoxicated or showing aggressive or threatening body language. Have guidelines in place on how to approach and deny access to these individuals.
What if an active shooter gets inside the building? Staff and volunteers in the kids’ areas should be trained on what to do.
Procedures should be planned with the help of a professional. There are companies that can help you formulate your plan. I highly recommend Lion Heart International Service Group. My friend, Tim Miller, is the founder and CEO. Tim is a 30-year law enforcement and military professional. As a Secret Service Special Agent assigned to the Washington Field Office, he coordinated all aspects of security for the President, Vice-President and foreign heads of state on a regular basis.
Whether it’s asking your local authorities for help formulating a plan or consulting with a company like I mentioned above, make sure you formulate a well thought out plan and be prepared.
We live in a broken, sin drenched world. Tragedy and heartbreak comes at us through both natural disasters and the acts of depraved men. When will it end? When Jesus returns and makes all things right.
Until then we must be both “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” This means we are prepared to defend the precious children and families God has brought to us while sharing the love and hope found in Jesus with all who have not yet experienced His forgiveness and life-changing grace.
This article originally appeared here.