Over the last five years, violent acts in churches — notably the fatal shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas — have led to a new focus on church security. Seventy-one percent of evangelical leaders say their local churches have taken steps to increase security at worship services and other events over the past several years, according to the May Evangelical Leaders Survey.
“Places of worship should be safe spaces for everyone,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “Many churches are adopting new security measures so that they will continue to be places where people in their communities feel welcome and safe.”
Many evangelical leaders who responded to the survey provided detailed descriptions of the steps taken by their local churches. One of the most common responses includes partnership with local law enforcement. Some churches hire off-duty police officers to be present when the church is gathered. Others have members of the law enforcement community train their volunteer security teams. There is also significant use of both uniformed and undercover security personnel in churches.
Churches are also using technology to enhance their security, particularly as security technology has become more affordable. And, many churches have established consistent protocol for locked entrances and procedures if an incident were to occur.
Kevin McBride, pastor of Raymond Baptist Church in Raymond, New Hampshire, said, “It is sad we have to be thinking and planning for attacks in our places of worship. We now have a generation that has grown up always knowing about calamities in places that used to be considered safe.”
Some reasons evangelical leaders gave for their churches not taking recent steps to increase security include: their church size being very small or located in a house; security not being on the church leadership’s radar; or their church has had a longstanding security ministry.
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.