As numerous fatal shootings have occurred at churches in recent years, fewer pastors say their churches have intentional plans for active-shooter situations compared to three years ago. In contrast, a new study suggests that more say they have gun-carrying congregants to help protect against any threats.
The survey from Lifeway Research found nearly four out of five U.S. Protestant pastors say their church has some security measure in place when they gather for worship, while 17% say they don’t have any such measures in place.
The Lifeway phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted September 6-30, 2022, from a random sample drawn from all Protestant churches. The error margin for the model does not exceed +3.2%.
Some security measures listed by researchers include an “intentional plan for an active shooter situation,” which more than half (57%) of churches surveyed said they have in place. A similar number (54%) said armed church members are part of their security measures, a nearly 10% increase from 2019.
A 2019 Lifeway survey found that 62% of pastors said their churches had a plan for an active shooter, while 45% said armed church members were part of their church’s security measures.
“While churches may have different convictions on maintaining security, it is surprising that fewer churches have an intentional plan for an active shooter than did in 2019,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “As churches cut back on activities during COVID, this may have been one of the initiatives that did not resume for some churches.”
While nearly one in four churches have security personnel using radio communication, 21% of respondents in the 2022 survey said they have a “no firearms policy” in place at their worship services. Another 20% said they have armed security personnel on-site. Nearly a third of all churches enforced a “no firearms” policy in 2019.
Only 5% have uniformed police officers on hand, while just 1% of pastors say their churches use metal detectors to screen for weapons, according to Lifeway.
The survey also found geographical and denominational factors played a role in how churches beefed up security.
According to the study, roughly half of all fatal shootings at U.S. churches since 1999 occurred in the South, where pastors are the least likely (12%) to say they don’t use any security measures in their churches.
Pastors in the South are most likely to say they have a plan for an active shooter situation (64%) and the most likely to say their church members are armed (65%).
The survey also found Lutheran (34%) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (30%) are at least twice as likely as pastors at nondenominational (14%) churches to say their churches do not use any security measures.
There were also differences among racial-majority churches: black pastors were three times more likely than white pastors to say they have uniformed police officers on site (12% v. 4%).
White pastors, meanwhile, are more likely than black pastors to say they have armed church members (56% v. 33%).
“Churches are not immune to violence, disputes, domestic disagreements, vandalism, and burglary,” said McConnell. “While loving one another is a core Christian teaching, churchgoers still sin, and non-churchgoers are invited and welcomed. So real security risks exist whether a congregation wants to acknowledge them.”
More churches were forced to confront their potential security lapses following the March shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, which left six dead, including three children.
On its website, the Covenant School is described as a ministry of the Covenant Presbyterian Church. The school was “created to assist Christian parents and the Church by providing an exceptional academic experience founded upon and informed by the Word of God.”
In 2017, 26 people were killed during a shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. In 2015, nine people were killed in a shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In 2022, one person was killed and five others injured in a shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, hosting the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church for Sunday services.