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The recent church shootings prevented at Jesus’ Dwelling Place Church in Pennsylvania has sent shockwaves through faith communities. A man, compelled by what he believed to be a divine command, attempted to shoot the pastor during a livestreamed service. Thankfully, his gun malfunctioned, and he was tackled by a courageous congregant, averting a potential tragedy.

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Incidents like this leave us shaken, especially in smaller churches where a sense of close-knit community might create a false impression of immunity. While we can’t eliminate all risks, this incident reminds us that we must be proactive. Small churches can greatly improve security, even on limited budgets.

Understanding the Risk Landscape Of Church Shootings In 2024

Sadly, even small churches are not immune to targeted violence. Attackers have struck rural houses of worship, suburban congregations, and urban ministries. It’s critical to acknowledge this reality so we can take steps to protect ourselves and our beloved communities. (For a more comprehensive guide on church security systems that can prevent church shootings, read our recent post here)

  • A Troubling History: We tragically have examples to draw upon. In 2017, a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26. In 2015, nine people were murdered at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in a racially motivated attack. These are just high-profile cases; smaller incidents occur more frequently than many realize.

The motives of attackers can vary widely:

  • Religious Hatred: Some incidents stem from extremist ideologies targeting specific faiths.
  • Mental Instability: As in the Pennsylvania case, individuals with severe mental illness may experience delusions that lead them to violence, including distorted religious commands.
  • Personal Grudges: Disgruntled ex-members, people embroiled in disputes, or those with fixations on the church or its leaders may pose a threat.

The “God told me” factor makes these threats particularly unpredictable and emphasizes the need for vigilance and mental health awareness within congregations.

The Prevention Aspect of Church Shootings

While unsettling, a focus on prevention should empower small churches, not paralyze them with fear. Here’s where to begin:

  • Threat Assessment Without Profiling: It’s crucial to focus on behaviors rather than appearances. Look for these red flags:

    • Sudden changes in personality – withdrawal, increased anger, irrationality.
    • Escalating outbursts, threats, or fixations on violence, whether in person or online.
    • Concerning social media activity: Fixations on violent figures, religious delusions.
    • Have a designated, trusted person in the church to discreetly receive concerns.
  • Mental Health: Ally, Not Enemy:

    • Actively reduce the stigma surrounding mental health care. Let members know it’s okay to seek help.
    • Discreetly offer resources. Have a staff member or trusted volunteer who can connect people to professional support.
    • Offering help early might prevent someone from reaching a crisis point.
  • Know Your Surroundings:

    • Good lighting, inside and out, deters crime. Trim bushes to remove hiding spots.
    • Windows should offer clear sightlines for observing the property.
    • During services, limit entry points. Have greeters welcome people warmly but also remain observant.
    • Access Control: Consider even simple measures, like keypad locks or a buzzer system on main doors to control entry during events.
    • Surveillance: Even a few basic cameras, especially monitoring entrances, can act as a deterrent and provide valuable information if an incident does occur.

 Low-Cost, High-Impact Measures To Prevent  Church Shootings

  • The Power of Community Vigilance:

    • Encourage members to be aware without being paranoid. They can discretely scan the room during services.
    • Have a system for quickly alerting staff to issues: code words, text chains, or silent signals.
  • Communication is Critical:

    • Plan how to alert the congregation of danger – a code phrase over the sound system, an alarm, etc.
    • In advance, designate escape routes and safe zones. Share these plans with trusted members.
  • Train, Don’t Just Talk:

    • De-escalation: Staff should know basic calming techniques, like listening, and how to spot escalating aggression.
    • Run, Hide, Fight: Discuss options within the context of your building. It’s NOT about encouraging gunfights, but empowering people to assess their situation if trapped.
    • First Aid & Trauma Kits: Keep well-stocked kits in obvious places and have multiple people trained to use them. This prepares you for accidents as well as violence.

Section 4: Beyond the Basics (If Budget Allows)

  • Law Enforcement Liaison: Build a relationship with your local police. They may offer free assessments, training, or help develop plans.
  • Volunteer Security Team: Even a few trained people rotating shifts increases deterrence and response capabilities.
  • Simple Tech:
    • Upgrade Access Control: Consider card readers or systems that allow revoking access to problematic individuals.
    • More Comprehensive Surveillance: A camera system covering both the interior and exterior can be invaluable if an incident does occur.

Section 5: Finding the Balance

  • Security vs. Welcoming Atmosphere: Discuss how focusing on vigilance and clear plans can minimize intrusive measures. A friendly greeter who’s also observant sets the right tone.
  • Insurance Check: Review policies to ensure adequate coverage in case of incidents.
  • Collaboration is Key: Partner with nearby churches for training or shared resources. Don’t go it alone.

Conclusion

A layered approach of prevention, planning, and training is a church’s best defense. Even small steps greatly increase safety. Here are some vital resources:

Call to Action:

Encourage readers to open this dialogue within their own churches, even if it starts with a small committee. Preparedness isn’t an act of fear, but one that honors the sanctity of worship.

To see how we can help you with securing your church premises

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