South Texas Mass Murder Renews Safety Discussion for Churches

26 people died and 20 others were injured in a shooting Sunday at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas

The mass murder of people simply gathering for Sunday worship is renewing a discussion for many congregations.

Churches have long attempted to find a balance between safety and an "open-door policy" for those seeking a spiritual connection.

A Dallas pastor has long considered both in his quest to reach as many people as possible.

G. Laine Robinson, a pastor at Limitless Church in Dallas, said he found out about the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Sunday afternoon via Twitter.

"You think about the people whose lives have been torn apart, and then I think about the people I get to shepherd, and I think about their safety," Robinson said. "I think a lot of us are getting a little bit numb. It's almost like we're expected it now."

"Pastor G," as he's known, is quick to zero in on any potential threats at his house of worship.

"I saw a couple of people walking around the balcony and they looked like teenagers. I wasn't sure who they were, and I was preaching. I paused for a second and said, 'Someone go check the balcony,'" he said.

In that case, there was no real threat.

But there's a reason behind Robinson's constant vigilance.

"Being a former Marine, I'm wired to always look for security and to think about exits and to think about opportunities for people to come in and do harm," he said.

Paul Lake, president of Sentry One Consulting Group, provides security plans and training for churches.

"The better long-range approach to church safety is to develop a professionally trained team of church members that can cover the gamut from the ministry aspect to the safety aspect," Lake said.

By state law, churches are now allowed to make up their own security teams with volunteer members who are legally allowed to carry a gun.

Despite the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Lake does not foresee many churches opting to install metal detectors, given the welcoming atmosphere churches want to offer.

"There are other places that are left that are soft targets now, and churches are probably the softest one where people are gathered — and sometimes large quantities — and an easy mark for someone who wants to do what this person did," he said.

Lake says even small congregations, often with small budgets, can create a safety plan using trained church members.

"Being on the lookout for people that are hurting," Lake said. "Then you got people who are constantly looking for those that are 'out of the norm' individuals and can respond to them early, even in the parking lot."

Limitless Church increased security years ago, following a mass shooting.

Security now includes at least one uniformed officer and three armed members dressed in plain clothes.

"There is no perfect plan," Robinson said. "There's no way you can prevent these things from happening totally."

Contact Us