By Jacqueline J. Holness
• “Decrease in worship center size and capacity”
• “Fewer segregated churches”
• “Churches no longer viewed favorably by many governmental units”
• “More bi-vocational pastors and staff”
• “Dramatic changes in senior adult ministries”
Rainer’s top predicted trend for American churches in 2016 was “Church security as the fastest growing ministry.” He explains, “Shootings in churches and sex abuse of children mandate this unfortunate trend. No church can afford to be without serious security measures, policies, and equipment. It will evolve into a major church ministry.”
Ministry security expert Carl Chinn agrees. He maintains an extensive database on violence that occurs in churches and says there has been an increase across the country. Chinn said that from 1999 until February 2015, 971 “deadly force incidents” have occurred at faith-based organizations.
While I am certainly not an expert in predicting trends for American churches, I have to agree that this seems to be an increasing trend.
• Last year the nation mourned with Emanuel AME Church after crazed gunman Dylann Roof shot and killed eight members and minister Clementa Pinckney as they met for Bible study in June.
• Last July Brandon Troy Barron, who had a history of mental illness, shot himself inside the bathroom at Immanuel’s Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. He reportedly committed suicide after asking for John R. Moore, who was a deacon at the church and a retired Special Litigation Counsel in the Civil Rights Division for the U.S. Department of Justice. Barron had a “relationship of some sort with someone related to Moore previous to that time” according to The Clarion-Ledger. When he was told the deacon wasn’t there, Barron went to the bathroom of the church. “There were reportedly several hundred people in the church at the time.”
• In January a minister had to think quickly when a stranger with a rifle entered the Heal the Land Outreach Ministries church building in Fayetteville, North Carolina, while a New Year’s Eve service was being held. The minister, Larry Wright, “was able to calm the armed stranger, take away his weapon and then pray for him before Fayetteville police officers arrived” reported The Fayetteville Observer. The man “said that the Lord had told him he needed to go to church before he did something bad.”
Increased Safety Measures
In response to these types of incidents, churches have been taking new safety measures:
• Longview Baptist Temple in Texas added resource officers this year, although the church already had security. These officers check the buildings before worship services begin and are in charge of safety plans if something bad were to happen.
• At Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, California, “five focal points concerning church security” have been developed, explained the church’s security task force chair Michael Jones. There are also plans to expand the church’s security team.
• In Elizabethtown, North Carolina, “the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office is providing the training to members of the clergy in the county to provide measures of safety to confront various threats and emergencies that places of worship may face,” according to WNCN.com. The first one was held at Elizabethtown Baptist Church. Topics that were discussed include: risk assessments, developing action plans, and emergency protocols.
In a Huffington Post article, John A. Tures interviewed Jennie-Leigh McLamb, author of the book Keeping Religious Institutions Secure. McLamb is an independent security consultant, and Tures questioned McLamb about how churches can protect themselves from a shooter. McLamb said, “The most important thing a church can do is simply recognize that their facility can be a potential target. Many local law enforcement departments will conduct a security survey for free. Or you can contact a private security company who can evaluate a site for a fee.”
While it is likely difficult for churches to see themselves as potential targets when they are designed and designated to be safe havens, our culture has become increasingly violent. Churches must be aware and adapt to this cultural shift.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).