On Sunday, November 6, a gunman entered a small, Baptist church in rural Texas and opened fire. Within a few minutes, he had killed at least 26 people and injured many more.
When a tragedy like this occurs, it is normal for church members to wonder what they would do if a similar thing happened to their congregation? Is my church prepared to deal with this type of crisis? Is there something that our church leaders could do to prevent it?
These are great questions to be asking. I reached out to the Christian Reformed Church’s Safe Church Ministry to get their perspective. While Safe Church is primarily a resource for responding to and preventing abuse, they do sometimes get questions about other types of church safety. They recommend that you connect with your insurance provider for resources.
“Overall physical safety is an important consideration for all churches,” said Safe Church director, Bonnie Nicholas. “This includes things like building codes and food allergies as well as random acts of violence. Your insurance provider is a great resource for answering questions about things like this. They are trained to minimize risk and can provide valuable information to churches.”
Eric Kas, Safe Church associate, agrees. He also recommends that churches consider using a checklist in order to do a self-evaluation.
“Brotherhood Mutual is a leader in insurance coverage for churches,” said Kas. “They have a free download called Big Book Checklist that offers several risk management checklists for ministries including one related to violence in the church.”
As you work through a checklist like this, you may discover several things that you could integrate into your church policy. This could include regular training of your elders and deacons (or another group of church leaders) so that your community is prepared for a variety of scenarios that could possibly come up.
A third resource that churches could tap into is their local law enforcement. In Ottawa County, Michigan, for example, the sheriff’s office leads a church safety training program. Through this initiative, church leaders are trained to recognize potential threats, secure members from those threats, and to develop a plan to move people to safer areas when a crisis occurs. Other municipalities might offer similar training through their police or fire department.
The idea behind all of these suggestions is to help your church gain information in advance of a crisis situation. With some knowledge and a plan under your belt, church leaders can feel better prepared and more confident in their ability to respond when emergencies arise.
Has your congregation received safety training or sought advice from an insurance provider on how to prepare for potential violence? If so, please share what you’ve learned and any resources that you’ve found helpful.