How Would Your Church Respond to An Active Shooter or Other Serious Incidents?

The senseless church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas this week is another indication that religious places of worship are targets for an active shooter or other serious incidents.  How Would Your Church Respond?

Below are three situations that your church could experience. Gather your leadership and your safety/security team and read through these scenarios. Discuss how your ministry would respond in each situation. There may be multiple ways to resolve an issue. We have given you one possible resolution for each scenario.

Scenario 1: Distraught Person

A middle-aged woman wearing an oversized jacket and a baseball hat and carrying a large purse walks into your church. It is between services so there are a lot of people in the main hallway. She keeps her head down and her hands in her pockets. She does not look up and talk to anyone. She roams the hallways and finally ends up outside the sanctuary. When an elderly usher greets her and tries to hand her a bulletin. She says, I don’t want your paper. I just need help. The usher’s first instinct is to put a calming hand on the woman’s shoulder and ask her what’s wrong. The woman pushes his hand away and becomes angry. She yells, Everything! I don’t know what I’m going to do if someone doesn’t help me, right now!

What would your ministry staff and volunteers do?

Things to Think About

  • Would your ushers, staff, and volunteers know how to respond? Would they know what to do and say to help defuse the situation and calm the visitor down? Would they know what not to do and say to avoid further aggravating the distraught person?
  • What would they do if the visitor demanded to talk to the pastor?
  • What would they do if the visitor reached into her purse? Would they be prepared to defend themselves, if necessary?
  • Would they know who to contact (i.e., someone on your security team) for help/assistance?
  • How would they call for assistance?
  • Does your church have policies and procedures in place for addressing requests for assistance whether it’s money or other resources?
  • Do you hold training sessions for ushers and your security team?

One Way to Respond: Distraught Person

  • Our sample church has a trained security team and all ushers are members of that team. The usher recognizes that by her actions and words, the woman does not want to be touched and is extremely distraught.
  • Since he does not recognize her, he introduces himself, tells her he wants to help her, and asks what her name is. This helps to calm her down at least temporarily. After learning her name, he uses it often while talking to her in order to build a sense of relationship.
  • He points to a bench nearby and suggests they sit down while they talk. He uses his two-way radio to call a security team member for assistance. Together they create a non-threatening, yet strong front.
  • Using their verbal de-escalation training, the team members calm the woman down and discover what life situations have brought her to her current position and state-of-mind. They offer assistance according to the church’s ministry and mission.
  • For instance, if she is seeking money, they offer meal coupons to a local establishment to help with immediate needs as well as offer to put her in touch with area organizations. Whether it’s connecting the visitor with organizations that can help with job search, housing, food, travel, etc., or helping to counsel and minister to her, the church tries to actively help the visitor.

Scenario 2: Domestic Violence

After services, a couple with a history of domestic violence, is seen arguing quietly in the hallway of your church. Within a few minutes the argument escalates with the couple raising their voices. The woman walks out. When she gets to the parking lot, the man grabs her arm and yanks her around to face him. The woman struggles to get the man to release her while telling him to let her go. Before they reach their car, she slips out of his grip and hurries back a few steps. She yells for help.

What would your ministry staff and volunteers do?

Things to Think About

  • Has your church consulted an attorney concerning local laws regarding domestic relationships and domestic violence? Is your state a “common law marriage” state? Does marital status affect what your church can or cannot do?
  • Does your church have domestic violence hotline numbers readily available? Is your church aware of what local shelters exist for victims of domestic violence?
  • Is your staff and security team trained on detecting signs of domestic violence? Does this training include verbal de-escalation skills unique to domestic violence scenarios?
  • Is your staff and security team trained on techniques for restricting an aggressor’s movement without making initial physical contact?

One Way to Respond: Domestic Violence

  • Our sample church has a trained security team in place. A member of the church witnesses the couple’s escalating fight in the building. She goes to get a security team member. The team member communicates with other team members by two-way radio.
  • A parking lot volunteer (who is a member of the security team) hears the call over the radio. He sees the couple exit the building. When the woman breaks free of the man, the parking lot security team member quickly and calmly places himself between the man and woman.
  • Other team members respond to their location and form a physical barrier between the man and woman. Using their verbal de-escalation training they persuade the man to accompany them away from the area to discuss the situation more privately.
  • Meanwhile, a female member of the security team takes the woman to a room and remains with her while the appropriate ministry staff member is notified. Together, they talk with the woman about her situation and determine what action to take next.

Scenario 3: Active Shooter

It is Sunday morning, and service is just about to wrap up. A man with a duffle bag gets out of his car, walks past two of your greeters without acknowledging them, and proceeds to the sanctuary. Just outside the doors, he pulls a semi-automatic weapon out of the duffle bag and opens the sanctuary door.

What would your ministry staff and volunteers do?

Things to Think About

  • Is your staff and security team trained to look for danger signs (e.g., stranger with a duffle bag)?
  • Does your church have the ability to communicate with all members immediately? Could the ushers alert the entire security team with a single communication? How quickly can law enforcement get to your facility?
  • Does your security team have established standard operating procedures for dealing with this type of threat? Would every team member know what to do as soon as the necessary information about the threat has been communicated?
  • Does your church have a plan for directing the reaction of the congregation in an active shooter scenario? Do church members know when to shelter in place and when to evacuate? And do they know how to do so safely?
  • Are you able to lock down other areas of the building away from the shooter, especially the nursery and children’s ministry areas? Is your security team trained to perform the lock down immediately after the threat is identified?
  • Have you worked with local law enforcement so they are aware of the layout of your facilities and campus?

One Way to Respond: Active Shooter

  • Our sample church has a trained security team in place. One of the ushers immediately alerts the entire team using a handheld radio.
  • He also calls local police using his cell phone. Security team members inside the sanctuary move quickly to remove the pastor from the platform and instruct the congregation to get down on the floor.
  • Other team members communicate with the children’s areas and evacuate as possible. For areas in which it would be too dangerous to evacuate (such as in the path of the gunman), staff, members, and children lock doors and shelter in place.
  • Security team members continue to deal with the situation accordingly until police arrive. After police secure the gunman, the members of the team (who are knowledgeable about the layout of the facility) help police clear all areas, evacuate everyone, and do appropriate follow-up for the ministry.

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