By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — In light of the church shooting at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch a few weeks ago, churches need to take a look at their security plan or, sadly in many cases, lack of plan.
“Hope is not a strategy anymore,” says Ken Alexandrow, founder of Agape Tactical in Franklin, a business that focuses on helping churches and businesses avoid situations such as what occurred at Burnette Chapel.
On Sunday, Sept. 24, a man drove into the parking lot of Burnette Chapel and shot and killed a woman leaving the church before entering the church and opening fire. Seven people were shot and injured including the shooter who was stopped by an usher.
“A safety and security mindset doesn’t just happen,” added Mark LeMay, facilities/risk management specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “It takes someone who is passionate about creating a program that is focused on ministry and it takes planning and leadership,” he stressed.
LeMay and Alexandrow believe that Scripture admonishes Christians to take precautions and not just assume they will be safe. Alexandrow cited Nehemiah 4:9: “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”
LeMay heeds the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:16: “Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Citing statistics from Focus on the Family, Alexandrow said church-related shootings are not rare. Between 1999 and 2016 there were more than 1,573 deadly force incidents in churches that resulted in 746 deaths, he observed.
Both LeMay and Alexandrow, a member of Thompson Station Baptist Church in Thompson’s Station, help churches assess their security needs and make the adjustments necessary to ensure their members are as safe as possible while on church property.
The two men agree that churches of all sizes must assess their security needs and be prepared. Though Alexandrow is geared to helping large congregations, he also has had smaller churches as clients.
“Small churches think they have nothing that a bad person would want or that the 2 or 3 percent who carry weapons in their congregation will handle matters that arise,” Alexandrow observed. “They don’t understand the liability of what would happen if someone fires a gun in the church without training.”
He noted that generally insurance companies cover only accidents that occur on church property. “Pulling a trigger is not an accident,” he stressed.
LeMay agreed. “Church members generally don’t understand the unique liabilities of each congregation,” he said, adding that proper insurance is vital.
Alexandrow, a retired Metro Nashville police officer who taught confrontation management at the police academy, stressed that his company is not a “gun crazy organization. If you do what we ask you to do, guns are never seen.”
He is an advocate of a deter, detect, and deny strategy which basically discovers potential problem areas and puts a plan into place that limits the likelihood something will occur.
Preparation and planning are keys to keeping church members safe, the two men agreed. See graphic on this page.
“We may never know how many people have come into your parking lot with the intent to commit a crime, but procedures churches had in place deterred anything from happening,” Alexandrow observed. “The greatest achievement is the crime that is never committed.”
The size of a church does not matter, the men noted. Whether a church is big or small, it needs to have a security plan in place, Alexandrow said, noting the Antioch church had less than 50 people present on the day the shooting occurred.
LeMay, who leads a conference for churches on “How To Keep My Church Safe and Secure,” cited five ways a church can manage risk.
(1) Engage leadership. He cited Proverbs 11:14: “Without guidance people fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance.” Alexandrow agreed, noting that the church’s pastor or executive leadership must be on board with any safety plan.
(2) Assess Needs. “Ask, what if?” LeMay said. He noted that a church safety/security plan involves more than protecting against a possible shooting. “It’s more likely for someone to die of a medical emergency in your church than someone being shot, but you need to be prepared for both.” Take a close look at the unique ministry needs of your church, he suggested. Alexandrow noted that everything his company does is based on observation. “We cite the vulnerabilities of the church and offer a solution for each one.”
(3) Make key decisions. “During the assessment stage, you identified safety and security problems and solutions,” LeMay said. “Now, leadership must make some decisions.” He encouraged discussion about the scope, financing and timing of programs. “Be sure to consult with your church’s attorney and insurance agent about liability risks and insurance coverages,” LeMay said.
(4) Form a team. “Pick candidates in good standing with the church who show good judgment, integrity, and compassion,” LeMay suggested. He also noted that “you may want to sanction your team with a church vote.”
(5) Create a plan. “Document and communicate who’s doing what and when,” he stressed.
LeMay observed that a strong plan involves every area of church from church incorporation to how money is handled, how children are protected, property and vehicle maintenance to actual church security and everything in between.
Everything a church does should center around a basic concept, LeMay said: “Never place a church family member in a situation where they could be accused.
Alexandrow added that hope and denial will not protect a church. Every church needs a plan to protect its assets.”
Both men are available to speak to churches. LeMay’s conference is provided at no cost to Tennessee Baptist Convention churches through the Cooperative Program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alexandrow charges for his services but will give a free introduction to what his company can provide to churches within a 50-mile radius of Nashville. For more information on what he can provide, call 615-438-9017.
ARE WE SECURE?
Questions Leadership Should Ask About Church Security
Are you operating under the assumption that evil only happens elsewhere and won’t affect your organization? Is hope your security strategy? If so, then ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the executive staff on board with having a safety/security element?
- Has your organization had a security vulnerability assessment completed in order to identify your most critical assets? (Children/Congregation/Pastor)
- Do you have trained personnel protecting those assets?
- Are your volunteers following “best practices” within the children’s ministry?
- Do you have a plan (written and practiced) in place in case someone with harmful intent comes to your door?
- Do you have a procedure to identify a threat before it enters your facility?
- Do you have eyes on every access point?
- Does your security team periodically practice as a unit for the full range of possible natural or man-made disasters?
- Do you have an evacuation plan and has your security team practiced it?
- How secure is your offering collection/accounting/deposit?
- Has leadership comforted the “flock” by making them generally aware of the above-mentioned ongoing efforts?
Hope and denial are no longer acceptable. Every church needs a plan to protect its assets. What is your plan? Proverbs 22:3 “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”