As the administrator of First Baptist Church of Augusta, Jacob Malone has encountered everything from people trying to take over Sunday morning worship services to rabid animals on campus.
He has had deranged people confront church secretaries and light fires in the sanctuary. Cars have been vandalized, and once, he said, a flasher disrupted the church’s Wednesday night program.
Such events inspired him to invite the community to a church safety training event, put on by the Center for Personal Protection and Safety. The agency’s expert on church security will present a full-day workshop at First Baptist on Oct. 18.
“We’ll spend a full day dealing with everything from how to handle a disruptive person in services to worst-case scenarios,” said Jerry McConnell, a pastor for 35 years in the Church of the Nazarene, who is now the director of ministry outreach for the Center for Personal Protection and Safety.
It’s one of the few programs of its kind, and worth the $149 price tag, Malone said. The Spokane, Wash.-based company is the same organization chosen earlier this year to provide active-shooter situation training to all FBI personnel.
In Augusta, the group will train pastors, administrators, security teams, “even a head usher – whoever is responsible for the security of that church or place of worship,” McConnell said.
They’ll cover such topics as: developing a crisis management plan, protecting children, recognizing signs of a potential crisis, domestic violence issues spilling over onto the church campus, surviving a shooting and training a safety team.
“We get push-back all the time. People of faith say, ‘We don’t need this. God will take care of us,’ ” McConnell said. “The reality is there are violent incidents happening at churches all the time. At one time what people are saying was true, but it’s not anymore. Violence has come to church. Violence has come to schools. Violence has come to the movie theaters.”
Often, pastors themselves are the “biggest stumbling block” to security training, McConnell said.
“They say, ‘I don’t want people to be afraid because we’re talking about security,’ ” he said. “We’re seeing churches being sued across the country because they know they should have had a plan and were negligent. We have to address the reality. It could happen here.”
Often, little changes have a big impact, Malone said. He has equipped parking lot attendants with radios, made first aid kits easier to find and gotten rid of the sign that identified the financial secretary’s office.
“That signaled, ‘This is where the money is,’ ” he said. “It’s those little things. There are things you need to be aware of, precautions you have to take, to minimize the risk. We’ve had very few incidents here, but we live in a world where it can happen.”
Security training, McConnell added, is not only a practical consideration, but also part of a minister’s responsibility.
“I think pastors have a moral obligation to create safe environments to learn and worship,” he said. “I hope and pray it never happens in the church, but it’s better to be prepared.”