Church security measures are being underscored again after another tragic episode Sunday when a gunman killed two during a Texas church service before being fatally shot within seconds by armed volunteer church security members.
Church security has become a paramount issue with violence in houses of worship seemingly on the uptick.
The gunman appeared to be wearing a disguise, like a fake beard, according to one church member. He pulled a shotgun from his clothing and began to open fire before being brought down by two members of the church’s volunteer security team.
There were more than 240 members in the West Freeway Church in the Fort Worth area, authorities said.
In a livestream of the church service, the gunman can be seen getting up from a pew and talking to someone at the back of the church before pulling out a gun and opening fire. Parishioners can be heard screaming and diving under pews.
It was a nightmarish scenario that ended quickly once the gunman was taken down.
Last spring, the Kentucky Baptist Convention held church security seminars to better prepare churches for situations that arise, including a gunman who enters the building.
Steve Rice, who leads the KBC’s Church Consulting and Revitalization team, said preparing for the unthinkable is what every church leader needs to consider.
“Someone in every Kentucky Baptist church should step up and make security a top priority,” he said.
Of course, church security isn’t just about active shooters.
“Security is something that should be approached broadly,” said Bowling Green attorney Brian Schuette, who has represented churches throughout the eastern United States. “From violence that grows out of domestic situations to make sure kids in children’s ministries are safe, making sure the church bus is properly maintained, screen and do background checks on folks working with children.”
Michael Webb, a former Kentucky State Trooper who runs a security firm called Triple Counter Measure, said preparation is imperative.
“The overarching message is just to be vigilant,” he said. “We live in a time when church security is paramount.”
It’s an alarming number and growing. As of last year, more than 600 people having been killed in deadly force incidents since 1999 at faith-based properties, including churches.
“Faith-based institutions are under attack. You can go to a 100-man country church or a megachurch with theater seating, it doesn’t matter,” Webb said. “I don’t want people to think it couldn’t happen here.”
Webb says churches often feel they have the solution for active shooters by arming members.
“I would respectfully say most churches in Kentucky and the Southern Baptist Convention are your smaller country churches,” he said. “Within those churches the prevailing thought is having a couple of good ‘ol boys with guns saying, ‘We’ll take care of this.’ It’s a little shortsighted and naïve.”
Schuette said: “It’s important to think carefully about the issue of arming people within the church. What I typically recommend is neither encourage nor discourage members to be armed. If you put together a church security team, it’s important to have some good training for those folks. A conceal-carry permit doesn’t make them qualify to deal with the security threat using firearms. A lot of churches exaggerate the risk.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted out a statement:
“Places of worship are meant to be sacred, and I am grateful for the church members who acted quickly to take down the shooter and help prevent further loss of life.”
It isn’t the first deadly shooting at a church in Texas. In November 2017, Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire on the congregation at a church in Sutherland Springs, killing more than two dozen worshippers, before taking his own life. And in 1999, a gunman killed seven people in Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth before detonating an explosive device and killing himself.
Webb said people are interested in the topic of church security, but it takes time to change culture.
“When you turn a cruiseship or battleship around it doesn’t turn on a dime,” he said. “To have a change in mentality and culture, to have a plan, to be prepared, is big. We used to always operate under the assumption people came to church for good reasons, they were welcomed with open arms and there was very low threat (of violence). Our guards were lowered. We were a soft target. Now people may not come for the right reasons.”
Regional consultants are available to help Kentucky Baptist churches put together a security plan. There will also be an Equip track on church security in August.