Self Defense and Church Security

Based on the work at this web site (, there exists reason to believe that deadly force incidents are on the risk in American churches. His web site claims there were 176 deadly force incidents last year. The more concerning part for me isn’t the specific number of incidents, but the trend he presents on his site. If he is only someone close to the truth, then we really do have a serious, growing problem on our hands.

His site tells a tale that most Americans have not heard (this information is nation-wide and includes all denominations and independent churches):

  • Since 1999, 335 incidents have resulted in the death of at least one individual – 35% of the 971 deadly force incidents
  • Since 1999, 1011 have been killed or injured, with 64% killed being males, 36% females
  • Since 1999, 30% occurred inside the church building, 69% occurred on church property, 40% occurred during a ministry event
  • 72% had a single attacker
  • 2014 – 176 incidents
  • 2013 –  132
  • 2010 – 102
  • 2005 – 10
  • Baptists are the most vulnerable – 22% of incidents happen at Baptist ministries – Evangelical Free are tied for the safest – only 3 incidents since 1999.

As I said, it’s the trend that bothers me. If we can see a jump from 10 incidents in 2005 to 176 just ten years later, then the trajectory is not good. Should this trend continue and we get the point where we have 300, 500 or even 1000 deadly force incidents in American churches, then we’ll see churches shoring up their security.

For many Christians, it probably just “feels wrong” to have people at church with guns/Tasers/mace and so forth – there is likely some cognitive dissonance about having instruments of violence in a place of worship and love.  I get it. But there is a basis for Biblical self-defense. Sometimes, violence can be an act of discipleship. I think it was Chesterton who said the reason a man fights another man is not because he hates what’s in front of him, but because he loves what’s behind him.  This would true of self-defense.

In short God gives us the right to defend ourselves as well as those who cannot defend themselves. Consider these passages:

  1. Abner kills Asahel after telling Asahel to stop chasing him:  2 Sam2.22-23
  2. Exodus 22.2 – self-defense at night was considered legal
  3. Esther 8.11 – the king gives the Jews the right to defend themselves

In all of the passages that I could find on self-defense, never once was the concept presented as being sin, being associated with God’s displeasure or something that the writer felt compelled to comment on in a negative fashion. The larger arc of Scripture will embrace the preservation of life and that some life must be ended in order to end sin and/or a real threat to others following God. The Old Testament is replete with examples like this. (For a fuller discussion of self-defense in the Bible, consider

Churches need to engage this distasteful reality: violence is on the rise in our society and we need to secure our ministry events as much as reasonably possible. Such security should include measures to diffuse tense situations using verbal commands, use-of-force protocols, extensive training for those on the security team, coordination with community resources and a way to ensure all this is seamless and transparent to the attendees of ministry events.

While a few will want to be black ninjas and Rambo’s, the reality is that we do not want to change the flavor of our ministry events with the introduction of open weapons. At whatever level of force your church chooses, be sure to have that force fly “under the radar” such that most attendees have no idea that force is present.

Brotherhood Mutual has some good information on this topic. It’s ironic that it’s coming from an insurance company rather than our seminaries, churches, colleges or heads of our denominations. You can find their information here:

  1. Prepare for the unthinkable
  2. Assess risks
    1. An estranged boyfriend stalking his ex-girlfriend at church
    2. Agitated man entering the building looking for someone
    3. Man demands custody of his children from the Sunday school teacher right before Sunday school starts
    4. Youth ginned up on Meth or is mentally disturbed comes into your services and starts firing with semi-automatic weapons
  3. Must have plans and trained personnel to deal with these threats
  4. Must establish protocols to direct your response
  5. Should pre-coordinate with first responders, law enforcement, community leaders and such about how to prepare for violent incidents
  6. Conduct practice drills (preferably when church is not in service)
  7. Inform the congregation


They also have a “Violence in the Church Emergency Checklist” that is worth getting and filling out:

From my perspective, the upshot is that we can no longer buy into the notion that “it won’t happen at my church”. I think the shooting in Charleston should dispel such thinking. Secondly, we trust God – yes – but we also do our part to engage in reasonable self-defense and security. This isn’t paranoia – it’s just a reasonable reaction to reality. And it’s the right thing to do, in my opinion.

Bill English