It’s widely known that Jewish and Sikh temples, as well as mosques need increased security given the world today. But very quietly, Christian churches have had to start doing the same thing.
Whether it’s fear of radical Islam, or more close-to-home worries, such as kidnappings or shootings, churches are no longer bastions of safety and sanctuary.
“It’s kind of an upswing, maybe because of the political climate, as well as different agendas,” said Casey McMichael, an Elder at Heart of the Canyons Church in Santa Clarita.
“Christians are humans, too,” said Tom Hollenbeck, head of security for Valley Bible Fellowship in Bakersfield. “This is the world we live in. It’s just an unfortunate situation.”
According to an article on the website preparedchristian.net, the incidence of violence at churches from 2005 to 2010 increased by more than 1,000 percent, from 10 to 118. And in 2008, there were more than 24,445 crimes committed at churches/synagogues/temples, said an article by the Christian Security Institute. While this combines various houses of worship, the article’s author, Chuck Chadwick, wrote, “I am willing to concede that not all are going to be Christian churches, but the majority would be.”
The larger the church, the easier the target, Hollenbeck said. His church has 15,000 members. Contrast that with tiny Cornerstone Church, which has no building of its own and meets in a Valencia warehouse. “We don’t have assets,” youth pastor Colin Dorsey said. “We don’t have anything to protect, except our people.”
The reasons for increased security vary. Some think bad economic times make people more desperate, and churches need to safeguard against that. Others, such as Hollenbeck, believe a church is an ideal place for an estranged parent to try and kidnap a child.
Dorsey said there is a political divide between evangelical Christians who supported Donald Trump and other branches who didn’t. “The church is fighting internally, and all of us are trying to be faithful to the word,” he said. “We’re preaching the radical word of Jesus, yet the church hasn’t experienced much security concerns. Everything is going to hell, so the church gets some backlash. That’s part of being Christian.”
Associate Pastor Bob Lininger of NorthPark Community Church in Valencia and Hollenbeck say Islam is a huge issue.
“I don’t see that as racism as much as religious,” Lininger said.
“Christianity to them is just an abomination.” Hollenbeck said. “They’re cowards and they have to do mass destruction to innocent people.”
So, what are churches doing to safeguard their congregants? As McMichael said, “It’s better to be proactive, but be ready if something happens, not that anything has happened.”
At most churches, all people who work with children are screened, whether it’s through FBI background checks or fingerprinting. At Heart of the Canyons, which meets at La Mesa Junior High, volunteers walk the grounds to ensure that anyone who isn’t supposed to be there isn’t wandering around. This is to protect the children who are in the classrooms, away from the main service in a multi-purpose room, McMichael said.
At Valley Bible Fellowship, people check backpacks, perform aisle sweeps and have in place plans for locking down the church and what to do if a shooter appears, Hollenbeck said.
“We confront with love and grace, then if they don’t respond, we try to stop that,” Hollenbeck said, “and we’ll meet resistance with resistance. We try not to escalate unless we have to.”
They don’t publicize, and perhaps members don’t realize it (which is how Lininger likes it), but NorthPark has had a security team in place for between seven and eight years, Lininger said, consisting of off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officers and sheriff’s deputies who are also church members. There also are several EMTs to help if people get sick or injured. All security personnel carry radios during Sunday services.
“It’s not a matter of fear, it’s a matter of being wise,” Lininger said. “We want to be wise. We don’t want to walk in fear, but at the same time, we don’t want to be stupid.”