Church Security

A YouTuber walks into a church …

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It’s no joke when a confrontationist disrupts your worship service. But what should you do?

We recently posted an article about a YouTuber who had been disrupting church services in Tennessee. He was armed only with a camera, but aimed to cause chaos and then upload the footage.

The post exploded on Facebook, reaching nearly 5,000 people and resulting in more than 50 comments. In the post, we asked, “If he walked in on your church, would you have a plan?”

Most comments were insightful, but one person recommended shooting the YouTuber (please, please don’t do that). Others wondered exactly what they ought to do if this happened in their house of worship.

What to do?

Starting with the premise that every situation is different, here are some general guidelines to help determine a response.

Facebook post: YouTuber disrupts church services

Your response begins way before the incident

If your church has a security team (and we hope you do), it needs to be governed by a use-of-force policy. It must be clear when to use force and when to stand down.

If no one knows the rules, or if there are none, anything can happen. If you have a Wild West security policy and someone is live streaming the confrontation, the results could be devastating.

(Use of force training is one of our specialties here at Strategos – send me a note to learn more.)

Generally speaking, this policy needs to address:

  • Security team members who are law enforcement officers
  • Security team members who are civilians/volunteers

Guidelines should state that professionals can use force to protect themselves and others and take lawbreakers into custody. Lay people can do the first two, but can’t make arrests. The guidelines, of course, should say much more, but we don’t have space to cover it here.

How to respond

On its face, this YouTuber incident appears to be more of a nuisance than a threat to anyone’s safety. Hopefully it stays that way. But nuisances can explode into threats quickly, so you need to be ready (but not trigger happy). Security team members should stay three-to-six feet from the agitator. You’re then in position to respond if he becomes physical.

De-escalateWhoever throws the first punch loses.

A security team should never turn a non-physical conflict into a physical battle. Don’t let a war of words become a war of fists – or worse. This is why it’s critical your team be trained in conflict de-escalation. Anyone can start a fight or pour fuel on the fire. But it takes training to put the fire out.

At your church, would you rather have a fight prevented or “win” the fight?

Another issue is use of force that’s “lawful but awful.” In other words, your actions may withstand legal scrutiny, but they don’t withstand ethical scrutiny. The world is watching. You want to act with wisdom and honor – not rage.

Don’t agitate – de-escalate. When there’s a reasonable alternative to force, take the exit ramp.

We are not advocating pacifism or inaction. If people’s safety is threatened, you must protect them. But don’t swat a fly with a sledgehammer.

Some agitators not only want to make a statement and get attention, but to provoke an angry response. Their goal is to get security to overreact. One way they do this is by making the conflict personal. It’s easy to respond in kind.

When this happens, the agitator wins and the security team and church lose. You made the news! But not in the way you wanted.

If you lay hands on a non-violent person, you may also end up in a civil lawsuit.

The golden rule here is: Don’t take things personally and don’t make things personal. When you take security matters personally, you rarely make good decisions.

Keep training.

Better to sweat in practice than to bleed in battle. Especially on YouTube.

Peace out.

Vaughn Baker

Vaughn Baker is president of Strategos International, a Kansas City, Mo., -based firm that provides security training, consulting and executive protection services. Baker has 20 years of experience in law enforcement including patrol, investigation, SWAT and special operations. He has trained thousands of school, health care, government, law enforcement and military personnel in security practices. Baker has also developed a specialized intruder response curriculum for schools and churches, including some of the nation’s leading training on behavior pattern recognition.

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