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Consideration of security issues a heightened concern for churches


ATLANTA (BP)–There’s a page missing from many churches’ manuals on emergency procedures, if they even have such a notebook: what to do when an armed intruder comes in the sanctuary.
What was once unthinkable — entering a place of worship to do physical harm — has occurred several times this year, most recently Sept. 15 when four teens and three adults were killed during a Wednesday night “See You at the Pole” gathering at Wedgwood Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas.
“Perhaps one result of the heart-breaking tragedy at Wedgwood might be increased attention to security of our churches,” said Bob Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga.
“Certainly, we don’t want churches to be armed fortresses, but we need to train greeters, ushers and worship leaders to be alert to behavior that seems out of place and potentially dangerous, and train them for what to do in such cases,” Reccord said. Reiterating he does not mean churches should “circle the wagons,” he said the local church should be “a sanctuary, a place of refuge, a place to get away from the world and worship the Lord with his people.”
However, “It should be, as best as we can provide, a safety station,” Reccord said. “We can and must take wise steps to insure, as best we can, the safety or those who are drawn to worship with us.”
While churches typically have medical guidelines to turn to if someone trips on a step or an evacuation procedure if there is a fire, not many would quickly know what to do if a person with a gun walked into the church’s worship center or an office.
For David Henderman, director of Atlanta’s OSI Network, a Christian company dealing with a variety of security issues, churches’ current interest in security is both “a relief and a bit of a bittersweet topic.”
“I am so glad that churches are beginning to take a look at their security,” said Henderman, a member of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., which first looked into developing its own security procedures after receiving a bomb threat a few years ago.
“Planning ahead, the proactive approach to security, is always the best approach,” said Henderman, formerly a member of the Atlanta police department, serving as liaison between protection details and the Secret Service. “Waiting to become reactionary to incidents is disaster waiting to happen.”
OSI and NAMB are currently in the pre-production phase of making a video, a seminar and a book on these and other issues dealing with security for churches and other ministries. “Until recent days, there has just not been the interest,” Henderman said. “I hope this is the start of some very positive things to come.” Henderman can be contacted at (770) 931-3101 or via e-mail at [email protected] The OSI website address is www.osinetwork.com.
Henderman urges churches to start dealing with security issues by taking a thorough look at their premises.
“The security issues that affect us as Christians spread the entire globe, and they spread everywhere from the crib to the pulpit,” said Henderman, who has family members serving as international missionaries, one of whom was taken hostage after being caught in gunfire.
Because of his personal family experience, “We want to try to do something. This is something that is closer to my heart than just about anything,” Henderman said.
“There are so many predators out there and so many things going on. I believe the devil is alive and well and working day and night. I believe if we can get the enemy out of the camp, that sets the stage for revival.”
Proactive steps are important, Henderman said, because, “God calls us to accountability and to be good stewards, and part of that has to do with the safety and the security of our children and the resources that have been given to us. Our churches and what we have in them belong to God, and it is our responsibility to take care of them.”
Henderman advised that every church, both small and large, should have in place a security survey, completely outlining all known security issues, addressing possible solutions and detailing a plan for the future.
“The survey is a tool that will be expected by the courts in the event of an incident where liability or negligence become an issue,” he said. “The survey will look at every level of security and address all matters large and small. The document should be revised annually and kept up to date.”
Have adequate lighting, both inside and outside, Henderman continued. “Lighting is the number one deterrent to criminal activity,” he emphasized. “There are acceptable standards that should be addressed,” he said, since the church is subject to liability and should therefore seek to comply with minimum standards. However, “compliance in this area should not be addressed because of concern for liability,” he said. “It should be addressed with regard to the safety and well being of the members and the children.”
Educate the membership, Henderman said, noting that appropriate safety tips and strategy can be implemented church-wide by the wise church administrator. “Security is the responsibility of all, not just the pastor. There are ways to implement many security-related policies and procedures without abrasion. People will act very positively to programs, policies and procedures in which they have a personal interest and may have helped to implement,” thereby seeing it as “their responsibility.”
He added, “The success of the safety program and people’s willingness to carry it out rests with the administrator’s ability to be creative and allow the people to adopt security as just a normal part of church life.” He advised ministers to do “a little at a time,” rather than trying to implement a massive safety and security program in one weekend.
In terms of physical security, Henderman advised several specifics:
— Have access control. “We have been into many churches that leave their doors open and allow people to roam the halls at any hour. This is a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. “Yes, the church should be open to anyone, and the church is here to minister to everyone. However, just as you wouldn’t put a wolf in your child’s bedroom and walk away, we must also take the same precautions toward access of God’s precious house.” Henderman said access control will vary from building to building and church to church since each facility is different and must be looked at individually. Decisions should be based on usage, times of day, the surrounding area, various prevalent crimes and demographic factors.
— Some, not all, churches may benefit from having an alarm system, Henderman said. They should not use a homemade system, since certain standards must be maintained when installing technology. “In the event of an incident, this can come back to haunt you when the question is asked, ‘Were you reasonable in your efforts?’ to prevent an incident from occurring.” Henderman urged churches not to install dummy or fake cameras, since “there is legal precedent that deals with providing your people with a false sense of security.”
— Screen employees and volunteers. The OSI Internet site, www.osinetwork.com, includes five actual case studies to get churches thinking about the necessity of background checks.
In one case — which was the investigation responsible for launching OSI’s service to churches and Christian ministries — a church asked OSI to perform a background investigation on a prospective minister of music. Knowing this minister was currently at a mega-church in another state and thinking he had impressive credentials, the church told Henderman, “We know this fellow is a great minister and you probably won’t find anything hot.” Henderman said his routine screening quickly found that the prospective minister’s degrees were forged, his professional experience was fabricated, his salary was overstated and “he had a bad credit history, indicating a tendency to live beyond his means, making him a red flag for a possible theft candidate,” Henderman said.
Another screening Henderman did for a church in Florida revealed the ministerial candidate was not only a convicted rapist, he also had more than 30 criminal charges in a 10-year period, including child molestation, armed robbery, burglary and cocaine dealing.
While the vast majority of those who apply to work for a church or other Christian ministry are model Christians and citizens, unfortunately, “Every week we see several different cases where someone is a serious criminal,” Henderman said.
“We should protect [God’s] church and his people,” he said, “just as we would protect our own families.”

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  • Debbie Moore