Editor’s note: This article has been revised. A reference to “an automatic gun” was changed to “a semi-automatic gun” because the weapon used by the shooter at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, was a semi-automatic weapon.
I pastored a small church much like First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.
You know all the people by name in your church. You know 95 percent of the people in town by name.
That is not braggadocios or arrogance. It is the truth of small-town living. I knew every football player. When the school district plays six-man football, that is not a big deal. It is just the way it is.
As I read about this latest mass shooting, I asked myself a question: Had a man walked in with a semi-automatic gun, what would we have done?
The results would have been very similar to Sutherland Springs.
The pastor’s grief of doing 26 funerals in a couple of weeks is compounded by the loss of his daughter. I have no idea how he survives this. He will likely have post-traumatic stress disorder even though he was not there.
What about those who escaped the building without injury? Stepping through those doors again will produce stress that will be off the charts.
Here are four ideas for small churches to consider putting into place this week to be able to calm parishioners who might be worried:
1. Invite your police department to make a threat assessment of your church. They will do this at no charge. Be ready to take their advice; if not, this is an effort in futility.
2. Come up with evacuation plans in case of emergencies. Practice those this Sunday. We practice them all of the time at my high school. It could save lives.
3. Hire security for this weekend at the very least. It may stretch your budget in the short-term, but it will save money in the long run.
4. Set up volunteers who can help with security once you have a plan. Make sure they are trained and equipped to do what you need them to do. This could include people posted in vehicles at major entrances with phones, or even strategically positioned peace officers, who are members of the congregation.
This is the warning that I must include: Do not count on members who have concealed weapons to be your first line of defense.
I can’t even begin to imagine the tragedy of church members accidentally shooting fellow members, no matter what the intent.
Your church should have a no-weapons sign in plain view at all times. People should know that this is not the “wild west.” We can’t let fear override common sense.
I was a director of ministry in a megachurch. There was a small army of plainclothes officers and those in uniform. There was a plan that was well rehearsed.
If you are a large church, this should be put in place as soon possible if it is not already there. Local law enforcement should be fully aware of your plans and made a part of your team.
Policies, such as no backpacks in the auditorium, are the beginnings of easily achieved objectives.
Here is a plea to megachurch pastors: Small churches can’t afford security; maybe you could adopt a small church and pay their security bill.
What if your church knew they were investing in securing the most vulnerable among us? Jesus spoke of that from time to time.
Small churches are vulnerable, and large churches can help their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Ed Hogan is a public high school teacher in Houston. He is an ordained Baptist minister and a Baptist Center for Ethics board member.