Making the Decision to Have Armed Security Team Members

A volunteer security team member is credited with saving dozens of lives at a large Colorado Springs, Colorado, church after firing multiple shots at a gunman who killed two people and injured three before turning the gun on himself.

In the wake of shootings at churches around the country over the past decade, the question of having armed security team members comes up quite often.

Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company urges all churches to have a violence response plan—one that helps you respond swiftly and appropriately to threats against people. And then within that plan, each ministry must determine individually whether its set of circumstances merits having trained, armed security team members. If you decide this is an option for your ministry, we recommend that you enlist only current or former law enforcement or military professionals or security firms who receive regular weapons training.

Create a Plan

If your church doesn’t have a security plan that addresses threats of violence, it’s time to develop one. No church is immune from being a target. Yours could be chosen simply because it’s a large place where people gather.

In many ways, the process is identical to creating a disaster response plan for weather-related events. You assess your situation, determine how to respond, and practice what to do if it happens.

For more information on planning, read “Prepare for Violence in Your Church.”

Experience, Training Essential

If you don’t know where to start, hire a security consultant to help you assess your ministry’s security risks. Be sure to hire a reputable professional who maintains proper credentials. You may be able to obtain recommendations from your local police agency, school system, area businesses, or other churches.

Let’s say that your plan calls for a security team. Among the first decisions, you’ll need to make is determining who should be on the team.

Law enforcement officers receive hours of weapons training each year, and they are taught to deal with unruly, violent, or mentally unstable people. Their training and experience helps them respond appropriately under stressful conditions, including those involving life-or-death decisions.

For these and other reasons, current or former law enforcement officers make excellent candidates for church security positions. Hiring an outside security firm to serve as the church's security also can be an be an excellent option, especially if there are no trained law enforcement personnel affiliated with your church.

If you decide that your church needs an armed security team, please allow weapons to be carried only by active or retired law enforcement officers who receive regular weapons training. As you can imagine, a person who may shoot accurately at a firing range or while hunting might not perform as well when faced by a gunman threatening a congregation.

Lay people and others without the training and experience of law enforcement officials might pose more of a liability to your church than a benefit when faced with a situation such as the one at New Life Church.

Consider these Factors

Here are a few factors to consider when discussing the need for a security team:

Team composition—Will you use volunteers or hire professional security? How many members will you need? How will you screen them?

Risk to Others—What is the likelihood of your security team members being overpowered by an attacker or shooting someone other than the intended target? Could they be accused of using excessive force? How will they be supervised?

Training—How much formal weapons training have security team members received? Are they licensed to carry a weapon in your state? Has their experience included training in resolving conflict with people without using weapons?

Vocation—Are security personnel current or former law enforcement agents? How often do they undergo weapons training?

Before concluding that your church needs armed security team members, do some overall planning in conjunction with local police, your insurance agent, and your attorney. All can give you valuable advice.