FRANKFORT, Ky. (BP) — Concern for church safety drew more than 1,000 leaders for training offered at the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Church Security Conference on March 24.
“While I grieve that a conference like this one is needed,” KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood said, “I’m thankful we could offer it.
“Headlines reveal that school children and churchgoers are the regular victims of deranged mass murders looking for high-profile targets that will get the world’s attention. Stopping a shooter from taking innocent life is nearly impossible, but stopping a shooter from taking everyone’s life, especially in the Lord’s house, isn’t that difficult.”
Chitwood described the response to the event “overwhelming. I’m encouraged that so many church leaders recognize the need to be prepared.”
A broad range of advice was relayed during the conference, including:
— Watch for warning signs to potentially prevent shootings, which are often preceded by visible signs of mental or emotional disturbance.
— Identify potential security weaknesses in facilities and make improvements.
— Create a response plan and conduct drills to maintain a state of readiness.
Breakout sessions dealt with active shooter situations, assessing vulnerabilities within the church, legal issues related to church security, safety in children’s ministry, communication and first steps.
“Every church must think about church security in today’s world,” said Steve Rice, the Kentucky convention’s team leader who organized the training event at Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort. “Every church should have a comprehensive church security plan and a church security team in place,” both of which would go largely unnoticed by members of a congregation.
“Having a church that is warm and accessible doesn’t have to mean being vulnerable to people who want to do harm,” Rice said. “There is strength in being prepared. Churches have long preached about spiritual attacks, but now, more than ever, churches need to be prepared for an outside, physical attack.”
Security experts with backgrounds in law enforcement and the military trained provided the training including the E:33 Group from Bowling Green, Ky.; Oasis Safety from Louisville; and Triple Counter Measure from Shelbyville.
During a plenary session, Brian Coyt of E:33 shared the story of the recent stabbing at Hillvue Heights Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky., and how members of the security team there responded to the situation. Although, “we had a good safety team,” after this incident the church further fortified their security protocol, he recounted.
Because emergency situations require, “split-second decisions that are life altering, you have to select people who can react under stress,” Coyt stated.
Understanding that the three responses in high-stress situations are “fight, flight or freeze,” “the time to learn how to do something is not when you’re in the middle of it,” he said, stressing the need for preparation.
Other keys to preventing violent situations and being prepared to respond to them include communication and psychological deterrents such as a police car presence and a uniformed officer on the campus.
Ron Aguiar with Oasis Safety relayed several case studies of church shootings and what can be learned from them. He emphasized the importance of training not only church staff or a security team but also training ushers, greeters and parking lot volunteers.
Pastors in attendance voiced appreciation for the sessions.
Frank Benton, pastor of Temple Hill Baptist Church in Glasgow, said a retired state patrolman in his congregation led his church to set up a security plan last October. However, information on children’s ministry security from the conference will assist Temple Hill in making their children’s area more secure, Benton said.
“Being at the conference encouraged me and affirmed that what we have in place is in line with what was recommended in the sessions,” Benton said.
“The potential of active shooter on our church property is a sobering thought,” he said. “The Scripture shared in the conference from Matthew 10:16 to be ‘wise as serpents and harmless as doves’ reminded me of the importance of doing everything we can to make our church as safe as possible.”
Larry Rowell, pastor of Beech Grove Baptist Church in Campbellsville, voiced appreciation for the sessions with “experienced leaders addressing the potential of life-threatening situations in the church.”
“This is the world we’re living in,” Rowell said, “and I’m thankful the Kentucky Baptist Convention saw church safety as a priority issue and addressed it.”
Hershael York, pastor of host church, Buck Run Baptist, said, “Everyone who attended learned helpful strategies to protect their congregations, but without creating a climate of fear. Churches can be safe without being scared. Safety is more about awareness than weapons.”
York continued, “Prevention is always better than reaction. Churches who intentionally think through awareness, prevention, protection and education are in a much better position to keep their congregations safe from tragedy and terror. Training like this gives churches concrete steps to take to get the process started and create a safe space for worship.”
Buck Run was honored to host the conference, York said, due to its central location as well as the capacity of its new facility. “When we were building, we realized how much security and safety has to be included in design and detail,” he said. “We think about it a lot and have invested heavily in it, so this event was a natural fit for us.”
Recordings from the conference as well as other resources will be made available at www.kybaptist.org/security.