The December shootings at two Colorado megachurches have raised security concerns for congregations that want to strike a balance between creating a sacred space and creating a safe place.
Four people were killed when Matthew Murray, 24, opened fire at a Youth With a Mission training center on the campus of Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, and in the parking lot of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. An armed, plainclothes security guard at New Life eventually shot and wounded Murray, ending the attacks and prompting Murray to shoot and kill himself.
Bob Klamser of Crisis Consulting International said he is working with three faith-based organizations that are re-examining their security in light of the shootings.
"Churches and faith-based organizations, especially the larger ones, can be a lightning rod for people who are unbalanced or have other issues," Klamser told Christianity Today. "Churches should be a holy place, a set aside place. But on the other hand, those who come to worship, it's reasonable for them to expect to be safe."
Megachurches have been developing security plans for a long time, said megachurch scholar Scott Thumma of Hartford Seminary, not because of terrorists or crazed shooters, but because of their cash flow.
"If the average megachurch has $6 million in income, there's a good chance that $50,000 to $100,000 could be coming in each week in terms of cash," said Thumma, author of Beyond Megachurch Myths. "If you have that much money, you definitely want armed guards transporting that to the counting room or to the banks."
Some churches outsource security to a professional agency, while others set up in-house security. Joel Hunter's Northland, A Church Distributed, located outside Orlando, has a ministry run by 75 former enforcement officers who keep the church secure.
"Any time you can use your own people, you're going to be more satisfied," Klamser says. "They are part of your team, they share your ethos, but it's almost always more expensive and incurs more liability."
YWAM director Peter Warren said the training center replaced locks and doors after Murray's attack, but because guests come to meals and worship services, he said it would be difficult to tightly secure the grounds.
"As traumatic as it is, I don't know that we could protect all of our staff and students better unless we took drastic measures," he said. "Those drastic measures would take us out of ministry to people."
Murray had gone through YWAM training in 2002, but he was barred from a field mission due to health-related issues.
"His health issues were not physical, but I can't say specifically [what they were] because of legalities," Warren said. "We're training people to go into challenging situations, and if we see someone that might crumble under pressure, we have to be careful because they could do greater damage than good."
In 1999, a man shot and killed seven people at a Wednesday night teen prayer rally at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. The church's pastor, the Rev. Al Meredith, has chosen not to post security guards.
"Do you make a church a fortress in order to give you some semblance of safety?" Meredith asked CT. "Thank God the security guard was at New Life. But to use the resources of the kingdom for armed guards for every door and say, 'Welcome one and all'? It gives a mixed message."
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Our coverage of the December 2007 church shootings in Colorado includes an interview with YWAM Director Peter Warren and a report available in CT Liveblog, along with other news and commentary:
Wednesday's new stories on Colorado shootings | Media attention turns to gunman's internet postings and homeschooling as churches pray for healing. (December 12, 2007)
Tuesday's stories on the Colorado shootings | Developments: Shooter apparently posted diatribe, coroner rules death a suicide, churches discuss armed guards, families will unite. (December 11, 2007)
Security Guard Describes Shooting | "It was me, the gunman, and God," security guard says. (December 10, 2007)
Gunman's family asks for forgiveness as YWAM explains relationships | Murray "was briefly a student" at training center but did not complete program. (December 10, 2007)
Colorado shootings reflect big threats at big churches | Growth of megachurches has spawned an industry devoted to protecting and securing large congregations. (December 10, 2007)
Gunman "Hated Christians," Kicked out of YWAM | Man killed four at training center and megachurch. (December 10, 2007)
Reports Draw Connections Between Victims, Shooter | Sisters in New Life shooting were heavily involved with Youth With a Mission. (December 10, 2007)
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