In previous columns, I discussed ways church design can keep worshipers safe from attack and suggested some security features that can provide a heightened level of protection.
Can all this be done without creating an armed fortress that intrudes on the spiritual experience? Yes, and it’s already been done in churches throughout the country. But, there is still room for improvement.
A growing need and acceptance for church security
Most churches now provide some level of security for their congregants. Examples include volunteer security teams, surveillance and a visible police presence on church campuses during Sunday services and other events. Most church leaders, however, feel they could improve their security, and many churches lack any sort of comprehensive security plan. A crisis plan is crucial to safety in the event an armed intruder does penetrate external security measures.
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As a church designer and devoted churchgoer, I would agree with church leaders there is more that can and should be done on the security front. Fellow worshipers also express concerns about church security. This is especially true among parents, who are often separated from their small children during church and want assurances their children are safe and secure.
Fortunately, virtually every church that is considering a renovation or rebuild brings up security measures in their initial consultation with designers. And we can provide those measures in a way that doesn’t overly intrude on the worship experience.
There are some security features that can’t be muted, of course, including locked doors, surveillance cameras and the presence of armed and uniformed police. Most parishioners are accepting of these measures, because it communicates that a church cares about the well-being of its families and visitors. Such security features are so ubiquitous now in the U.S. that few pay them much attention.
There are ways to downplay or mute security measures, and it all starts with design. Proper design can make a church feel welcoming and inviting while also providing some opportunities to control access that are subtle and less obvious. These features should all work to the same end: Allowing a well-trained security team to mitigate threats efficiently and quickly.
A good plan is the best defense
Understated yet effective security measures can include access controls and establishing layers of protection to effectively lock down the building to isolate an intruder and limit access to other parts of a church.
Houses of worship should consider locking main points of entry or should also lock internal auditorium doors when services commence and have ushers in place to allow people in and out after verifying they are not a threat. Those doors must have proper hardware to allow egress while prohibiting entry.
Most importantly, a church needs to have plans to evacuate large assembly areas, classrooms and other high occupancy areas within the building. Such plans are vital, and churches need to have a crisis plan in place. For instance, who is going to call 911? Who will direct congregants to emergency exits? Ample evacuation routes are crucial, and should be included in the initial church design plans for renovation or new construction. Churches should establish security committees to periodically review security protocols.
One of the most effective deterrents is to have police officers or patrol cars in plain sight on church campuses and in buildings. One way to make this option less intrusive is for any police officer inside a church to wear plain clothes. Few will be the wiser.
Many people, however, now take comfort in seeing a uniformed officer in large assembly areas such as theaters, sporting events and public schools. Police officers or sheriff’s deputies are generally not paid what they deserve, and most departments allow moonlighting as private security. Churches can handle the issue of concealed handguns carried by church members at their discretion. Most experts agree, however, that any engagement with an intruder should only be carried out by professionals with training that far exceeds the requirements to carry a concealed weapon.
With a good plan in place, adequate infrastructure, and training of staff and volunteers, security can be both muted and felt – a lot like the spirit sought in a church itself.
A little prayer for the security of your congregation can’t hurt, either.