Safeguarding congregation against active shooters now part of pastor’s role

By Denise George
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

On Nov. 5 our nation experienced yet another mass shooting at a local church during its morning worship service. The small congregation at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, was victim to an active shooter who walked into the church at about 11:30 a.m.

He killed at least two dozen church members, wounding about 20 others. A close-knit community, Sutherland Springs is home to about 400 residents. The church, like most small Southern Baptist churches, had minimal church and grounds security.

After another church shooting and mass murder of members, pastors and church leadership are asking how they can protect their church members against this kind of unexpected violence.

Ways to protect

• Hire security guards as a first line of defense. Train volunteer church greeters to be watchful for those who are suspicious and may cause violence. Provide them with two-way radios to report possible danger to an appointed church person.

• Establish a no-concealed weapons policy in your church.

• Meet with local police and learn their strategy for responding to an active shooter. Give police a detailed blueprint of every room in the church to be used if they might need to secure the building. Ask police for up-to-date contact information in case of a church crisis and distribute to church leadership/staff. Ask law officials about a lockdown policy for your church to avoid the chaos of an unexpected evacuation.

• Train your deacons to be watchful before, during and after church worship services and events. Teach them to be actively aware of people/things that seem out of the ordinary. During worship services, place deacons throughout the sanctuary, balcony and building. Most church shootings take place after the worship service begins.

• Consider locking some church entrances after services begin, but use doors that allow members to leave the building if necessary. Put greeters or a security guard outside entrance doors left unlocked to meet latecomers.

• Establish an emergency plan in the event of an act of violence and practice it regularly. Equip church leaders and staff with information on how to respond to emergencies, as well as how to get police and medical assistance. Create a list of counselors in your area who can be contacted in case of an emergency.

• Hold a disaster leadership workshop. Ask a local police chief to train appointed key leadership/people in your church to deal with active shooters.

• Also plan for a post-incident course of action: evacuation and assembly points, witnesses speaking with police, prayer time and counseling, etc.

• Make the congregation aware of all emergency exits in the building. Ask members to report any concerns and/or anything out of the ordinary to the appointed central person. Teach them what to do in case of an emergency. This can be done with the congregation as a whole or through newsletters and brochures. Practice emergency procedures together as a church on a selected day.

• In your children’s ministry area, organize a safe system of drop-off and pickup for each child. Make sure each volunteer worker with children has passed a criminal background check. Station security volunteers or professionals at the entrance of the children’s area. Report any suspicious persons.

Designated points

• In case of an emergency, alert your members to places they can take cover and hide, as well as a designated rally point inside or outside the church.

• Know your church members, especially those people who have criminal records, a history of violent behavior or a grudge against the church and/or leadership.

• Establish a good method to communicate among church leaders, staff and security teams.

• Install closed-circuit televisions, alarm systems and good lighting for church grounds at night, especially sidewalks and parking lots.

• When reporting an active shooter, call 911 immediately. Tell first responders the following urgent information (if you know it):

• The estimated number of shooters.

• The shooter’s location in the building.

• The type of weapon the shooter might be using.

• The immediacy of the threat.

• The location of nurseries, children’s ministries and other sensitive areas.

Stay on the line to keep police informed about happenings, etc.

While church shootings are rare, shooting violence is escalating. Taking preventive measures including designated security teams, carefully placed safeguards and a practiced plan of action/evacuation can help Southern Baptist churches avoid the tragic results of active shooters and other acts of violence.

To help your church guard against violence and other disasters, GuideStone Financial Resources offers a safety toolkit through a partnership with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. For more information, visit


Why the Church may be targeted

• Churches are welcoming to strangers, inviting them inside to join worship services and church events.

• Most churches have no preplanned emergency guidelines or established safety precautions.

• Security is limited and/or nonexistent at many churches.

• Church members are often too trusting of those who pass through the church doors.

• Churches may not conduct professional criminal background checks before they allow or hire volunteers to work with children, nurseries, etc.

• Church worship services provide a shooter with open opportunities to enter church sanctuaries and the greatest number of people to kill or injure at any given time and space.

• Most outside and inside doors are unlocked and easily accessible.

• Oftentimes church doors may be left unlocked at night. (Denise George)


Southern Baptists offer to cover funeral expenses

When disaster hits — whether it’s a natural event or a tragedy like a mass shooting — Southern Baptists reach out and respond.

On behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has offered to cover funeral expenses for all victims of the First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooting in coordination with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, NAMB confirmed.

In what has been called the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history, at least 26 were killed and about 20 were wounded when a gunman entered the church Nov. 5 and opened fire. The dead ranged from an unborn baby in its mother’s womb and an 18-month-old to a 77-year-old, The New York Times reported. (TAB, BP)