Churchgoers who are responsible for the safety of their places of worship huddled in Denton on Friday to learn about the methods they can use to defend against threats ranging from child predators to active shooters.
Denton Bible Church hosted the National Church Security Conference, a two-day event that wraps up Saturday. Speakers, including a Denton police officer, taught the audience how they can prevent and respond to some of the most prominent threats facing worshippers today, whether locally or abroad.
“We do have to be prepared to face those risks, and we need to respond to them,” said Joe Calfee, the safety and risk coordinator at Denton Bible Church.
Some of the speakers Friday iterated the notion that church security teams are gatekeepers for their congregations. (One of the conference’s sponsors was North Texas-based Gatekeepers Security Services, which cites 1 Chronicles 9:21-27 as its founding Scripture — the story of how four guards were stationed along all four sides of the tabernacle.)
Denton Bible Church had people in Nice, France, in July 2016, when a Tunisian man killed 86 people in the Bastille Day terrorist attack. Everybody from the Denton church made it back and avoided injury, but the episode seems to have added some urgency in how the church prepares people for potentially dangerous situations.
“It’s everybody’s responsibility,” Calfee said.
Closer to home, a gunman killed 26 churchgoers at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs in November 2017. And last October, a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh left 11 people dead. A gunman killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
These and other events are on the minds of church security teams in Texas and across the country. Inside Denton Bible Church on Friday, there were talks of assault rifles, evacuation plans, terrorist groups, including white supremacists, and the more spiritual responsibility these teams — often licensed to carry — have to their fellow worshippers.
“Somebody has to be the lead person,” Denton police Officer Shane Kizer said. “They’re going to be looking to you.”
Kizer, who spoke about active shootings, and others said churches, mosques, synagogues and temples need to have plans in place — to screen potential child predators, to safely send people on mission trips, and to thwart violent attacks.
“There is a biblical basis for the work that we do, for looking at risks and making decisions about them,” Calfee said, as he read through Scripture. “As believers and church workers, we have a moral obligation to protect the people that God has entrusted to us.”
The conference continues at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Denton Bible Church, 2300 E. University Drive.