How should churches and groups respond to the Charleston shootings?

By now we’ve all heard about the tragic loss of life a few days ago at the historic Emmanuel African shootingAmerican Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.  This isn’t the first time a shooting has taken place in a church, and it won’t be the last, either. Years ago, a shooting took place close to a church where I served on staff. Wedgewood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, experienced its own tragedy one Wednesday night, and Dr. Al Meredith and his staff bravely led the church through some terrible days following that shooting. Because of a variety of factors, America is a different place than the one we may remember from our childhood days. And church is no longer a safe haven from violence.

What should the church’s response to the Charleston shooting be? How far should a church go to protect its members and guests? Should a church do nothing, and trust God to protect it from such evil actions, or should it hire private security? I’ve heard the pros and cons on both sides of that conversation. Perhaps you are talking with fellow church members, or your staff, even now about next Sunday and the security at your church (or lack thereof). People may be more on edge this coming Sunday than they were last week prior to the shootings in South Carolina. Some families may choose to stay away. What is the right response when things like Charleston happen? If you were the senior pastor at your church, what would you lead your congregation to do? Pray for your pastor, because I would guarantee that he is thinking about this since the incident in South Carolina took place.

In an article published by USA Today, Mark Griffin, pastor of a Florida church (Wyman Chapel AME) was quoted as saying, “Every church leader has to take a look at their security protocol. We are seeing more violence in the church.” Read the full article here.

Chuck Chadwick is the founder of Gatekeepers, a company in Frisco, TX. His company’s mission is to equip churches to better handle security so that things like Charleston don’t happen – or if they do happen, to equip people so they know what to do in order to minimize the loss of life. His company trains men and women from congregations to respond to critical situations like the one in Charleston. They leave his program as licensed security personnel and are recognized by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Graduates of his program are trained to observe people and body language, and they become adept at subduing individuals and correctly handcuffing and restraining suspects. The people who come through his program are “regular” church members – ushers, greeters, and people who work in kid and student ministries – anyone who is willing to help by “running toward the sound of a gunshot” to minimize the loss of life.

A member of the 2AO (Second Amendment Organization) has called on its 160,000 members to volunteer to train church members in gun safety and awareness. To his way of thinking, churches and schools are “soft targets” and demand better protection in today’s environment. “It is the new reality,” he said.

Here are a few things to consider going forward:

  1.  Should your church have a formal security team made up of members of the church’s deacons, staff, and police personnel who are members of the congregation?
  2. Should the entire church go through some kind of training to better handle a crisis situation like the one that took place in Charleston?
  3. Do your church’s group leaders know what to do if shooting started? Is there an emergency plan?
  4. In the case of an emergency, do your teachers have a strong understanding of the procedures to release children to parents and/or guardians during a chaotic, crisis moment?
  5. If the news media shows up at your church, do you have a designated spokesperson?
  6. Is there a lockdown or evacuation plan that parents and teachers understand and can implement easily?
  7. Are you regularly praying for God’s protection over your church and its people?
  8. Is it time to hire off-duty officers to be on your church campus during worship, Bible study, VBS, and other events when large numbers of people gather together?

I’m sure I’ve left something off the above list. What would you add? What do you hope your church does? Do you feel prepared to respond if a violent act is carried out at your church?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What tips has your church learned that you can share with us?

In the meantime, we join with our fellow Christians from South Carolina, grieving with them over the tragic loss of life. A congregation is without its senior pastor. Families are without children. Children are without parents. And in the middle of it all, God’s grace and the message of forgiveness is being put on display for a lost world to see. I am thankful for the family members of the deceased who are extending forgiveness to the man whom Satan used to strike a blow to the church. But I am confident that God will take even something as tragic as Charleston and advance His kingdom and the gospel of Jesus Christ. May our fellow believers in South Carolina stand strong in the grace of Jesus, and may they show his love and forgiveness to a world that may not understand how they can forgive someone like the 20-something shooter. May the world come to see that we have been forgiven such great amounts of sin that our first response is to extend forgiveness because we realize the gravity of our own sin, and the great grace that God extended to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. How could we not forgive “seventy times seven”?

I’m praying for the victim’s families, and for the young man who caused this tragedy – a young man who so desperately needs his sin forgiven by the Lord. May he one day experience God’s saving grace as he is witnessed to by the families he has hurt so deeply.

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