Don't just talk to your peeps this Sunday
As is my habit, we will now begin with history.
It was Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019. Three churches in Sri Lanka and three luxury hotels in the commercial capital of Colombo were targeted in a series of ISIS-related suicide bombings. The end result was the death of 269 people including three police officers and the eight suicide bombers. An additional 500 were injured.
Christians were attending Easter Sunday services when the bombings took place, targeting churches and hotels around Sri Lanka. The sequence and coordination of the bombings were planned to cause maximum destruction, targeting Christians during worship services across the island nation, and targeting guests during breakfast in beachfront hotels in the capital. All six of the first set of explosions targeting the churches and hotels were carried out by suicide bombers.
So, why Easter? Numbers.
Despite a significant decline in church attendance on Easter, the Holy Day is still the busiest for American churches. A decade ago, 60% of Americans attended services on Easter as opposed to the current number of just under 40%.
With numbers like this, it is not hard to see why Easter could easily become the target of a lone wolf or organized group seeking to make a statement or to show their hatred for Christian beliefs.
It was my goal to write a series on church safety and security for this week but time got away from me and so I had to change my approach and select some simple advice for churches, church workers, volunteers, Sunday School teachers, nursery workers and ministers.
In Homeland Security published a Security Guide for MITIGATING ATTACKS ON HOUSES OF WORSHIP which I believe to be one of the best publications I have ever seen come out of Washington D.C.
One of the best mitigation techniques that are presented in the book will fit into any budget and can be implemented by anyone in your church. It is not the “catch-all” nor is it the greatest and newest technology in active shooter detection, but it will work and it won’t hurt to try it this Sunday.
Yep. That’s it. Say “Hello”.
With all these visitors and folks you don’t recognize coming through the door this Sunday, they need to be greeted. Used effectively, the right words can be a powerful tool. Simply saying “Hello” can prompt a casual conversation with unknown individuals and help you determine why they are visiting your house of worship and whether they present a threat.
Use the OHNO approach: OBSERVE, INITIATE A HELLO, NAVIGATE THE RISK AND OBTAIN HELP IF NECESSARY.
You do not have to be a psychic nor highly trained to perform this duty.
OBSERVE: Identify suspicious behavior, such as taking pictures/videos of facilities or security features, using abusive language that a reasonable person might find threatening, or loitering at a location without a reasonable explanation. Just look for something or someone that really looks out of place.
INITIATE A HELLO: Engage with individuals you observe in your space. Acknowledging a potential threat can act as a deterrent and mitigate risk. People who enter a building to cause harm will shy away from conversation and resist interaction. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a stranger in your church.
NAVIGATE THE RISK: Ask yourself if the behavior you observe is threatening or suspicious. Is the individual acting in a way that suggests they have a legitimate reason to be there or in a manner that would arouse suspicion in a reasonable person? You do not have to act, merely make mental notes and speak to an Usher, Deacon or other leader about your concern.
OBTAIN HELP: If you believe the individual presents a real threat, do not intervene; obtain help from management or law enforcement. Report your concerns through the appropriate channels at your house of worship and always call 9-1-1 for emergencies.
Now, you might try this on Sunday and become quite exhausted after greeting every visitor and stranger. It may even be more exhausting striking up conversations with people that appear to have a heavy burden on their shoulders or a lot on their mind. You may even become aware of more people than ever before that are in real need of just someone to talk to and you might even run into one or two that want to share exactly what they expect from God this Sunday.
And chances are really, really, really good that you will not encounter a single person that wants to do harm to you, the congregation or the church.
And you will not have wasted your time but instead you will have ministered to a group of people that you wouldn’t have a chance to reach any other time of the year, and that is better than the biggest chocolate bunny. Say “Hello” and “Happy Easter”!