In the realm of church safety and security, it’s common to hear the need for better protection of our building perimeters. This sentiment arises after tragic church attacks or when incidents like theft or assault are reported to have occurred. While the secular world often advises fortifying buildings, implementing strict lockdowns, and scrutinizing every person who enters, such measures do not align with the mission of the church. Unlike other settings, the church aims to create a warm and welcoming environment, inviting those who are broken to find solace, seek forgiveness, and be led to Christ. Consequently, the challenge lies in striking a balance between maintaining an open-door policy and implementing an effective risk management strategy to ensure the safety of individuals within our buildings.
I want to share some examples to illustrate this delicate balance. One of my clients, a multi-church organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has multiple campuses and buildings. Outside of worship hours, all doors remain locked. Visitors must press a buzzer and be seen on camera before they are let in. They state that their culture is that of an open-door church and I would agree.
Another client, a historic Catholic church, keeps all its doors unlocked during the day. Thousands of tourists visit annually to take pictures and experience the church’s atmosphere. People are free to enter, pray, and receive support services. They, too, consider themselves an open-door church.
In an area with high crime rates, another client prominently displays a sign that reads “ALL ARE WELCOME.” However, to gain access to the church, visitors must follow a process similar to the one at my multi-site church in Minnesota. Despite the sign’s welcoming message, the doors remain locked, and individuals must communicate through an intercom to be granted entry. They state that their culture is that of an open-door church and I would agree.
Lastly, in response to an incident a few years ago involving an aggressive individual hiding inside our building who assaulted a member of our facilities team, my own church made changes. We restricted access to the church by locking many entrances and directing all visitors to a single door where a receptionist greets and welcomes them. This process also involves behavioral assessments. Despite these measures, we still consider ourselves an open-door church.
In each of these examples, the churches maintain an open-door policy but look very different. However, here is my question: What does an open-door church mean to you? In my book, “Securing Church Operations: A Seven-Step Plan for Ministry and Safety Leaders,” I stress the importance of identifying your security culture as the first step. This culture stems from your church’s biblical stance on various issues, which influences their perception of worldly dangers. For many, an open-door church represents an open-minded and safe space where individuals can freely enter, pray, draw closer to the Lord, and seek support and services. Nevertheless, there are times when we must challenge this thinking.
Tragic events such as the 2015 Charleston church shooting and the 2017 Sutherland Springs church massacre remind us that not all who enter with ill intentions can be welcomed. These individuals sought to cause harm rather than embrace the sense of community, faith, and acceptance that the church embodies. To navigate these complexities, I offer some suggestions:
- First, engage in discussions with your church community to understand what an open-door church means to them. Expect a range of views, as this exercise is meant to promote understanding.
- Second, convene with your leadership team to deliberate on the concept of an open-door church. Explain that churches are no longer immune to criminal acts and that our duty is to safeguard the congregation, not only from deadly attacks but also from opportunistic criminals seeking to steal.
- Third, explore strategies to enhance building security while preserving openness. For instance, you may consider emulating what my church did by limiting entrances to one or two and channeling foot traffic past our team members who are trained in threat detection and situational awareness ready to engage, welcome, and conduct conversations with all who visit the church.
- Fourth, seek guidance through prayer. Having worked with churches for over a decade, I understand that the notion of an open-door church can spark contentious debates. You may not find a resolution immediately, but do not be discouraged. Continue the conversation, document all security incidents, and maintain an ongoing dialogue to discover what works best for your house of worship in securing the open door. Above all, establish a clear definition within your faith community, so you have a path forward.
Remember, the goal is to create an environment where the broken can find solace, forgiveness, and salvation while ensuring the safety and well-being of all who enter your church.
Simon Osamoh, a British American, stands as one of the nation’s premier specialists in securing houses of worship. Leveraging over a decade as a serious crime Detective in England, he relocated to the U.S to spearhead Counter Terrorism at Minnesota’s Mall of America. A devout Christian, he has devoted over a decade to safeguarding non-profits. As the founder of Kingswood Security Consulting and the Worship Security Academy,
Simon has penned best-selling books including Securing Church Operations and 10 Powerful Strategies for Conflict De-escalation. As the host of the Worship Security Academy podcast, he provides practical, engaging security advice. Reach Simon at email@example.com