Protecting the flock: Active shooters seminar helps churches prepare

By Jessica Brodie

COLUMBIA— In an active shooter situation, churches can’t wait five to seven minutes for first responders to arrive. Church members are the true first responders and need to be actively engaged in protecting their own lives.

That was the gist behind a church security seminar attended by a host of United Methodist pastors and church leaders, as well as leaders from other denominations across the state.

“You are all warriors, sheepdogs, protectors. You ladies, too—look at Esther,” said Guy Beveridge of Strategos International, keynote speaker. “It’s our job every day. We don’t know what’s coming, what day or when it’ll happen, but the roaring lions are looking for someone to devour, and the sheepdogs have got to stand up. It is biblically, ethically and legally right to do this.”

Beveridge spent several hours in a free seminar, offered by Southern Mutual Church Insurance for its South Carolina customers, teaching church leaders how to wrap their minds around the threat, accept a biblical responsibility to step up in this area and begin to prepare for what their church can do in the case of an active shooter at their church.

“It’s not about Sunday ‘special operations.” We just need to be watching, looking, discerning,” Beveridge said. “There is evil in the world, and we need to protect the flock.”

Chris Varnadoe, support services manager for SMCI, said their company became hyper-focused on the issue of active church violence after the shootings that left nine dead at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 in Charleston. The church was one of their customers, and one of the victims of that shooting, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was on SMCI’s board of directors.

“That tragedy really hit us hard,” Varnadoe said.

Varnadoe began researching what they could do to help their church families plan and respond in a similar situation and found Strategos International, which specializes in church, school and corporate security.

“We want this (seminar) to get you thinking,” Varnadoe said. “We want this to be a catalyst to make your church safer.”

Matthew Quinton, marketing manager of SMCI, agreed.

“We want churches to be proactive in putting measures in place to provide a safe, secure and welcoming environment,” Quinton said.

‘The unsaved can’t be martyrs’

Beveridge began by emphasizing the threat churches face, noting there has been a 2,510 percent increase in violence in churches since 1999 and a 500 percent increase in the last 10 years.

“In an active shooter situation, the idea is not to survive but to prevail,” he said. “We must make good plans, policies and procedures in advance, and make sure they’re insurable.”

Beveridge is a former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces who was serving as a private contractor in the Middle East when his team experienced a surprise attack in spite of taking strong measures to protect themselves. He thought the attack left him dead, but he survived, and his experience taught him some key things, which he now uses to help others in facing their own surprise attacks.

Beveridge said some people object to the idea of preparing for an active shooter situation. They think it will compromise the mission of the church, or think being a Christian means being a pacifist, or they lift up the concept of being a Christian martyr.

But, Beveridge said, “Martyrdom is fine for you, but it’s a personal choice. What about the unsaved? They can’t be martyrs.”

The church has an obligation to protect its members and ensure they get what they came to church for: worship, comfort, refuge and learning.

“Our job as protector-sheepdog-warriors is to make sure they get that,” Beveridge said.

A biblical mandate

Beveridge said often we don’t understand we’re being attacked, which is one of the obstacles to surviving active shooter situations.

“But God also tells us, ‘Don’t be stupid,’” Beveridge said. “It is not showing a lack of faith in God to protect our churches and church families by preparing for the worst.”

Beveridge lifted up a number of Scriptures pointing to a biblical mandate to protect our churches and people: Acts 20:28, “Keep watch over yourself and all the flock.” Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” 1 Peter 5:8, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Nehemiah 4:9, “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

The point, Beveridge said, is to be on your guard and be ready.

Helps foster a welcoming church

Beveridge said proper church security also helps foster a welcoming church where people feel comfortable, plus it can aid in church growth.

After all, the average 80-year-old woman going to church is not going to think of what will happen; she just wants to worship. And in the wake of school shootings and other violence in the nation, younger people have come to expect safety and security measures wherever they go.

“The ‘secret sauce’ is if people feel good and safe, they’ll keep coming back,” Beveridge said.

Church security planning helps keep the church safe, he said.

How to begin

Beveridge said known attack motivations for church shootings range from robbery at 25.9 percent to domestic violence at 16 percent, followed by random, personal conflict, mental illness, gang related violence and religious hatred.

When there is an active violence threat, he said, there are two responses: subjective and objective.

Subjective responses includes convincing ourselves this situation is “normal,” to disbelief, denial panic and then helplessness. But the objective response—acceptance of crisis, being aware and proactive, recall of previous training, urgent response and commitment to action—is where we need to be.

“The quicker we move from denial to action, the more survivability,” Beveridge said.

He said a good planning checklist starts with doing a risk assessment, followed by drafting a written proposal, obtaining needed funding from your church council, creating a handbook, selecting a security/safety ministry leader for your church and then team members, training your team and then training church leadership, getting needed equipment such as radios or Tasers, and finally communicating your security presence to your members so everyone understands.

After all, Beveridge said, “hope” not a strategy, but having training, policies and procedures is.

“Preparation allows us a planned response. In absence of direction, the default response is to self-direct, and that looks like chaos,” Beveridge said.

Can still show Southern hospitality

Beyond active shooter preparation, churches also need to be prepared for all situations, including medical emergencies.

A medical ministry and emergency plan for your church is also important, Beveridge said, noting churches should also be sure to have proper equipment such as a first aid kit, a trauma kit, an Automated External Defibrillator and a backboard or stretcher.

Fire ministries and preparing for natural disasters are also important.

SMCI’s Matthew Quinton said sometimes people mistakenly believe churches cannot show Southern hospitality and be discerning like this at the same time, but they can.

“The perception is it’s rude, but no,” Quinton said. “There’s a way can be done that’s polite, engaging, such as greeting someone new or seemingly out of place with a, ‘How are you? What brings you here this morning? So nice to meet you.’”

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