On a quiet Sunday, February 11th, at approximately 1:53 PM, silence at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, was shattered by gunfire. This church, widely known as the home of Joel Osteen’s mega congregation and housed in the former Compaq Center, welcomes over 45,000 attendees each weekend. The echoes of this event have reignited conversations on security, faith, and resilience.
This incident marks the second high profile attack within a year targeting a church, following the shooting at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, March 27, 2023, where the shooter claimed six lives. These events challenge us to confront complex issues intertwining identity, belief, and safety.
The Incident Unfolded
The 30-something assailant, accompanied by a young child believed to be 4 or 5 years old, managed to breach the church perimeter with a concealed long rifle under her long trench coat. Several news reports confirmed that the assailant entered wearing a long trench coat concealing the weapon, a backpack and holding the hand of the young child.
The aftermath was both miraculous and tragic by onsite off duty law enforcement while no lives were lost, other than the assailant neutralized by police. The young child accompanied by this assailant remains in a critical condition in hospital having been caught in the crossfire. This event has sparked widespread discussion, not only about the assailant’s gender identity but also about the political and social messages purportedly associated with the attack.
Beyond the Headlines
The incident’s complexity deepens with news reports of inscriptions on the barrel of the rifle stirring concerns of domestic terrorism. Such elements propel us into broader debates on ideology, security, and the places we hold sacred.
The Violence Project’s research, spearheaded by criminologists Dr. James Densley and Dr. Jillian Peterson, provides a stark backdrop. Their database, one of the largest on mass shootings, reveals that these horrifying acts, while increasing in public consciousness, remain statistically rare. Their findings show a mere fraction of mass shootings have been perpetrated by females or individuals identifying as transgender, urging a nuanced perspective on risk and vigilance.
In the wake of such tragedies, the familiar refrain of political debate over gun control resurfaces. Yet, within our houses of worship, the response is twofold: turning to prayer and reassessing our security measures. This dual approach emphasizes the spiritual alongside the practical, urging a comprehensive view of what constitutes our perimeter beyond physical structures to the temporal dimensions of anticipation and preparedness.
Evaluating Your Church’s Security Preparedness: A Checklist
The motivations behind attacks on places of worship are as varied as they are disturbing. Our theological stances on issues like gay marriage, gender identity, abortion and geopolitics can attract opposition, underscoring the importance of understanding and preparing for these risks. In the aftermath of such politized tragic events, it’s crucial to ponder several questions regarding our readiness and response strategies.
- Understanding Local Threats:
Does your church have a clear understanding of the potential extremist groups that may oppose your theology or beliefs on issues such as transgender rights, gay marriage, abortion, and geopolitical stances, particularly regarding the Middle East? How well do you know the specific threats in your local area?
- Baseline Behavior and Anomalies
Consider the behavior observed in recent incidents: an individual wearing a trench coat concealing a long rifle, carrying a young child, and equipped with a backpack. Would this behavior be considered unusual at your church? How would your security team or congregation members respond to such an anomaly? Do you have proactive measures to identify and address suspicious behavior before it escalates?
- Perimeter Security and Greeter Protocols
Assess the role of greeters and their positioning during services. Do greeters or security personnel vacate their posts once the service begins, potentially leaving entry points unmonitored? What strategies can be implemented to ensure continuous perimeter security throughout church activities?
- Armed Response Capabilities
Reflect on the nature of armed security within your church. Lakewood Church benefits from having off-duty police officers on-site. What does an armed security presence look like in your context? Are there trained individuals who can respond to an immediate threat, and what are the legal and practical implications of this approach for your congregation?
- Emergency Operations Planning
The effective deployment of an emergency operations plan, including a reunification site for families and congregation members post-incident, is critical. Does your church have a reunification plan in case of an emergency? How are these plans communicated to your congregation, and how often are they reviewed and practiced?
As we process the motivations and implications of such attacks, it’s imperative to acknowledge the persistent threats to religious freedom and safety. This recent incident at Lakewood Church, while deeply unsettling, serves as a reminder of our need to remain vigilant, prepared, and united in the face of adversity. Our commitment to safeguarding our congregations not only reflects our dedication to their physical well-being but also to the preservation of our cherished values and freedoms.
Simon Osamoh serves as the editor of Security Connections and is nationally recognized for his work in safeguarding houses of worship. He began his career in England, spending 14 years as a detective specializing in serious and organized crime before leading Counter Terrorism at the Mall of America in Minnesota. Simon founded Kingswood Security Consulting and the Worship Security Academy, aimed at providing security solutions to houses of worship. He is the author of two bestselling books and the host of the Worship Security Academy podcast. For submissions or topic ideas, reach out to Simon at email@example.com