One of the unpleasant realities of working with the public (or just generally being in a public place) is that there are dangerous, violent people in the world.
This is an ever-present reality of hospital emergency departments, but it’s also true of churches. The shooting at “Mother Emanuel” AME church in Charleston in 2015 was a stark reminder. So was the shooting at Burnett Chapel Church of Christ near Nashville last year. The list goes on.
For this reason, churches increasingly have security teams. That may mean off-duty police officers, or it may mean members of the congregation whose ministry is to watch over the flock during services.
But either way, I can tell you some important realities that have to be confronted in order for congregations to remain safe. I say this not as a security professional or police officer, but as someone who has been in the room with violent, threatening people, and as someone who has helped restrain and medicate them as police were summoned.
The first thing to remember is very hard for Christians. We preach about sin and our innate tendency to disobey God’s laws. But sometimes, especially in church, it’s hard to ascribe dangerous motives to someone. We want to think the best, don’t we?
But reasonable suspicion of the behaviors of others can be life-saving (and may help that suspicious person to get help, as well). So the best advice I can give in this short space is what I’ve read from experts: If you feel frightened or worried about someone and their behavior, do not ignore the feeling. God gave us remarkable skills for identifying danger. You may not live in the wilderness or fight off other people for food, but those skills are still present and valuable.
Next, when you have that feeling, notify someone — the security team, the police officer or those sitting around you. You’ve heard the phrase, “If you see something, say something,” and it’s good advice. The sooner help is invoked, the safer everyone is going to be.
Experts in active-shooter scenarios can give advice I’m not qualified to offer. But as I have mentioned in previous columns, church members should learn how to do CPR, use a defibrillator and control bleeding. Equipment for all of these should be readily available and accessible in every church.
In fact, I can’t think of a good reason why every adult (and most teenagers) in a church shouldn’t have those skills. If someone is injured, regardless of security measures and diligence, there should be responders ready to spring into action even as EMS is on its way. What a ministry that is in itself!
These are frightening times. But remember this: In all of history, there has never been a time when humans were statistically less likely to suffer a violent death. The media would have you petrified (as it helps them sell ads) but it’s a pretty good time to be alive, all things considered.
Now, pay attention and get ready to help.
And pray. Always pray.