There were times in the world of sacred spaces when the word "security" was more closely associated with issues surrounding the physical integrity of the church facility as much as anything else.
Now, thanks to a variety of factors (some cite the proliferation of high-profile firearm-related violence in the U.S., others a breakdown in one or more aspects of social mores, and still others a combination of the two) that word has taken on additional meaning when it comes to churches.
"To us, security is the prevention of bad people doing bad things, intentionally, to others," says Chuck Chadwick, president of the National Organization for Church Security and Safety Management Inc., a church security consultant based in Frisco, Texas. The organization's Gatekeepers Security Services LLC unit provides security system design, guard services, and executive protection to churches.
Gatekeepers provide both armed and unarmed security. "Armed security plays the role of initial responder' to a deadly force incident that would try to minimize the death toll or terminate the incident until the first responders' of local law enforcement can get there and take command," Chadwick explains.
Citing numbers from Carl Chinn, a writer and speaker to faith-based operators and law-enforcement groups on church security, "One only need to look at the statistics to see what types of deadly force incidents are happening to churches," adds Chadwick.
Statistics from Chinn's website (www.carlchinn.com) indicate that "Deadly Force Incidents" (DFI’s) at U.S. faith-based organizations, including abductions, attacks, suspicious deaths, suicides and instances of deadly force intervention/protection, totaled 792 from 1/1/1999 through 2/01/14. Of these incidents, just over 37 percent resulted in the death of others.
"This is our family"
While there haven't been any incidents putting members of the congregation in immediate danger at The Bridge in Bixby, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, "What's been going on in the world in general has brought people to the point where they are feeling more vulnerable," says executive pastor, Scott Baker.
Elements of the security plan at this church, where weekend attendance averages around 700, include a police presence with an off-duty police officer with a squad car parked directly in front of the church during services, security cameras and a security team that stays in what Baker describes as "close, but not intrusive" proximity to the senior pastor at all times.
This team is dressed in plainclothes, formally trained both in hand-to-hand fighting, and is armed. On the weapons side, all team members are certified by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET), an organization that provides education and training within the ranks of Oklahoma law enforcement, and manages and regulates the licensing and training of private security. The church uses an executive protection service to train the team in hand-to-hand techniques.
The Role of Church Ushers
The role of church ushers in security at The Bridge is simply to observe and report, according to Baker. Citing liability issues, "We don't want to have a weapon on an usher," he says, explaining that preventing individuals from rushing the platform is the limit of an usher's physical intervention.
One important aspect of church security is keeping it in perspective, Baker notes.
"This [church security] can become such a focus that it really takes over the culture of the church," says Baker. "But, what you want people to see is that the love of God comes above all else, and that you are only doing what you believe is absolutely responsible and necessary as a leader in the body of Christ."