We live in violent times. People are stressed, government is inadequate and people are experiencing bleak economic conditions. Social woes, challenging family conditions and religious conflicts are just a few of the factors that are fueling the stress people are feeling globally. I suggest that this stress is at least an underlying factor that is motivating people to snap and inflict violence on people in workplaces, in schools, in social settings, in family homes, in shopping centers, in movie theaters, in airports and, tragically, in houses of worship (HoWs).
Historically, there was a time when a HoW was considered a holy place— a location in which no one dared to perpetrate any evil for fear that God would strike them down. Sadly, that is no longer the case. HoWs of all major faiths, all around the world, have experienced violence. In Africa, militant groups have killed innocent worshippers in churches and mosques. In Asia, terrorists have killed innocent worshippers in churches, mosques, and Buddhist and Hindu temples. In the US, innocent worshippers have been killed in churches, synagogues and mosques. This is a tragic period in the history of the world. I believe that action must be taken to help prevent these tragedies.
The Good News is that many schools, shopping centers and airports have taken action to try to prevent violence inside their domains. The effectiveness of those actions is still unknown, but, at the very least, they are doing something. Numerous HoWs have taken action to try to prevent violence in their worship facilities; yet, we can easily claim that the majority have not done anything to address potential violence and security vulnerabilities in their HoW. Why is that? Because most HoW leaders believe that God will protect His people. Plus, they’re concerned that, if the sanctuary is no longer perceived as being safe, then people might quit attending worship services.
There is, of course, also the perception that’s all too commonly held: “That would never happen to us.” And, honestly, leaders do have a reasonable position to defend there; the reality is that, when we place HoW violence in context on a global scale, only a small percentage of HoWs actually experience acts of violence. Nevertheless, even one loss of a loved one due to violence while worshipping is one instance too many.
I believe that HoW leaders must take security seriously so they can do everything they can to prevent violence from occurring on their campuses. I also believe that actions they can take will actually help them achieve a greater sense of community and purpose among congregants. In addition, I believe that HoW security will become an industry within our industry. Thus, now is a good time to consider ways that we can help HoW leaders secure their facilities in order to prevent a tragedy from occurring.
Let me clarify that I am not a security expert. My goal is to bring awareness that HoW leaders must do something to protect the people who attend worship services on their campuses—and we can help them do it. The information I present here was drawn from conversations with HoW leaders and with those who take security seriously and have taken actions that will help them keep their worship spaces secure.
Here, I present seven steps that I believe can help to create a more vigilant sanctuary for worship. They are as follows: 1) create an action plan; 2) create a security team; 3) train the security team; 4) create a video-surveillance system; 5) keep most doors locked except for primary in/out doors; 6) create a check-in/checkout system for children and teenagers; and 7) explain the need for security to the congregation.
Obviously, many additional action steps could be taken to secure a HoW. Ultimately, however, my goal is primarily to provoke us to think more precisely about security and develop effective ways that our industry can help HoW leaders secure their facilities, and do so seamlessly—without generating fear and anxiety that could cause people not to want to attend worship.
I believe there are far more good people on earth than there are evildoers. Nevertheless, I also believe we must do all we can to protect the good people who want to attend their HoW without worry or fear. Thus, in Part 2, I will explain the seven steps in greater depth, thereby offering a starting point for discovering ways to help people move safely from the parking lot to the pew.