By Chester Quarles, Professor Emeritus
Ron Aguiar, security director for the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., directs one of the largest church security units in the U.S.
As a mega-church, a multi-acre campus and 14 buildings to protect, he designed a comprehensive security ministry.
With the approval of his pastor, Aguiar gives security training to all ushers, deacons, and greeters. These men carry communication devices to alert others of any security or safety risk. He also established a “Nehemiah’s Team,” based on Old Testament scriptural tenets.
The Jubilee Fellowship Church in Lone Tree, Colo., calls its security ministry “Shepherd’s Watch.” The ministry is based on Nehemiah, Chapter 4. Pastor John Leach asked Raleigh Rhodes, a certified protection professional and security director for a regional company to assist him in this effort.
Many forward thinking church security and safety ministries have “blended” first responding agents including police, sheriff, fire, EMT and medical professionals.
The security ministry is historically validated through Old Testament scripture. When Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Sanballat, Tobia, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashod decided to “stir up trouble against it.”
In Nehemiah 4:9 we find that good security is scriptural: But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat [NIV].
Later, the threats were so brazen that half of the men worked while the others stayed by their weapons. They carried their arms constantly because Nehemiah turned his workmen into a military force.
At Southeastern Christian Church there were more than 30 certified peace officers who were members. Some of these men and women worked at local jails and prisons, as well as in local police units; including city, county, state, and federal agencies.
After I met with them, Southeastern established a volunteer team of gun-carrying professionals prepared to protect and defend the premises, the congregation, and the pastor.
One of the benefits of using “certified peace officers” is their agencies insure and authorize them to carry concealed weapons. This limits the church’s liability, but does not remove it entirely.
If a church member carries a concealed firearm to church, he or she is liable. However, if a church approves gun-carrying, it assumes general legal accountability with the attendant risk of civil litigation.
Members authorized to carry firearms should be carefully screened. One insurance company was asked to validate a serving senior military police sergeant. While he had all the appropriate training and skill, he was not authorized to carry a firearm off-post and the government’s liability stopped at the military reservation boundary.
The insurer denied his church’s petition for the military officer to carry a firearm during services. The primary insurer wanted another layer of risk insulation for themselves. The insurer did approve the request of a local police officer, however.
Whatever your church decides, your security ministry should plan together, train together and work together.
A serious incident will require extensive coordination so each team member needs to know what the other members will be doing, and where they will be during an on-going emergency.
At Southeastern, each member of “Nehemiah’s Team” is assigned a strategically placed seat. Some of the team members are also stationed in the choir loft, primarily to protect the pastor, but are also available to intervene in any emergency. The team is always ready to respond in case a visitor or even a member becomes disruptive
Some of the security team members volunteer as door keepers and greeters. Should they observe a problem on the parking lot or near the church grounds, they will immediately initiate radio contact with other team members, locking the doors to the church, calling 911 and using other appropriate deterrent procedures.
The key to any layered security approach is to stop trouble before it intensifies or to prevent trouble completely. By being vigilant, the “Guardians,” welcoming committee and “Nehemiah’s Team” can often spot troublemakers before they enter church buildings.
Security ministry members have cell phones for 911 contacts, hand-held radios for team contact, keys to lock doors, and (as a last resort) the ability to restrain the unruly.
A security ministry is not to be lightly considered. Be sure that your risk assessment is reasonable and plan accordingly. Remember to discuss the church security policies and plans with the police or sheriff’s department, your local prosecutor, and your insurer.
Informing your membership is a must! Some leaders feel members will be repelled by these procedures, but generally these applications result in a membership that feels safer in the Lord’s House because of your diligence.
Whatever title you give your security and safety team, always remember that the purpose of this group is to enhance the overall ministry of your church and to increase the likelihood that those in attendance at your services will come to know the saving grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.