Ben O’Neal, security manager for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, gives a presentation on church security. The training is available for free to any Georgia Baptist church through the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. BEN O’NEAL/Special
DULUTH — Ben O’Neal isn’t surprised when his phone starts ringing and emails increase every time there’s another shooting at a church. It happened again recently after a Texas shooting ended with the death of the gunman by a parishioner, but not before he had killed two others.
“Every time one happens, there’s an upswing of people wanting me to come to their churches,” says O’Neal, security manager for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “Next week I’ll be visiting six churches throughout the state to talk about security.”
The training is available to Georgia Baptist churches for free. Over approximately three hours, O’Neal talks about matters such as establishing a security team, finding the holes in a church’s security, and legal matters such as Georgia’s Safe Carry Protection Act.
O’Neal brings 23 years of military experience. That includes four combat deployments to Afghanistan and one to Iraq, extensive anti-terrorism and weapons training, and working in areas from personal security to asset protection and military police. In 2015 he retired from the military and started a security consultant firm specializing in churches. Through that he would hold weapons training, assess buildings, and help churches establish a security plan they would then check through mock drills and emergency situations.
5 areas of importance
His first client was the Georgia Baptist Mission Board (then the Georgia Baptist Convention). “I helped staff understand what they needed to do in the middle of a crisis,” he explains. “I also instructed them and [collegiate missionaries] on safety for overseas travel, something I still do.”
O’Neal points to the Texas shooting as an example of a tragedy that could have been much worse. “They guy who ended that threat was a weapons instructor and knew what he was doing. It’s very difficult to protect everyone in that situation, but you can make a definite difference.”
While O’Neal strongly urges churches to receive training for security, he points to five areas that can make a church safer.
Situational awareness. “Understand what’s going on around you. If something doesn’t feel or look right, talk to that person in a non-confrontational way.”
Leverage volunteers. “The hardest thing is to get volunteers to buy in. Help them understand the difference between mission and security. People won’t come to your church if they don’t feel safe.”
Protect your children. “People want to feel like their children are safe. They also want to know that staff are trained in safety as parents are in Sunday School or worship.”
Protect your pastor. “If there is a crisis situation at your church, the pastor needs to be there to help the church walk through it. Also, the pastor needs to be able to have peace of mind while delivering the message. If there’s a situation or confrontation, that needs to be taken care of outside the sanctuary.”
Implement in layers. “Security starts in the parking lot. By using trained staff and volunteers, you can have extra layers with the golf cart drivers, greeters at the door, and others. Leveraging people in your church to create those layers helps you look for something that’s out of place.”
Security should enhance ministry
“I try to be a good steward of a churches resources when it comes to increasing their security,” O’Neal says. “If they are talking about spending $10,000 on cameras, I’ll look at how they can get close to the same coverage by just placing cameras in key areas, for instance.”
What about small churches in rural settings that don’t have the resources for such equipment?
“They tend to be better secured than most,” remarks O’Neal. “They know the importance of protecting themselves in those areas.”
His mission statement reads: “To provide a realistic, effective, and proactive security approach that encourages a safe, mission-focused environment fostering trust and confidence across your churches, community, and missions area.”
Establishing security protocols doesn’t exhibit a lack of faith. It also doesn’t have to be heavy-handed with a lack of subtlety. The goal, O’Neal stresses, should be one pointing back to ministry.
“We need to protect our missions, outreach programs, and especially children because they are the future of our churches,” he says. “People will not come to a church they feel is not safe and doesn’t have the safety of its members as a priority.”
For more information or to contact O’Neal to schedule a security training, call (770) 936-5301 or email email@example.com.
Scott Barkley serves as editor of The Christian Index.