Securing the Faithful

What New Life Church did right when a gunman showed up in its parking lot.

John Murphy, a staff member at Youth With a Mission’s Denver offices, was racing on foot toward the Arvada training-center dormitory minutes after a shooting there left two students dead and two others wounded.

It was the very definition of an emergency, but Murphy still stopped to help when he saw a man nearby slip on the icy sidewalk, The Denver Post reported. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Sorry, guys,” the man responded in a shaky voice.

Murphy thought this response odd until hours later, when he saw photos that indicated the man to be the gunman at the training center and, later, the parking lot of New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

The irony is compounded when one considers that most churches have a plan for when someone slips on their sidewalk, but not if he were to show up with three guns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

New Life Church is an exception, but its response plan has been misunderstood and misappropriated. The church did not issue a call for members to pack heat. Instead, it implemented a studied, careful security plan appropriate for the nature of its congregation. In the wake of the Colorado shooting, more American churches are debating armed security. What’s remarkable about New Life’s system, however, has less to do with arms and more to do with the body. It doesn’t just have a security team. It has a security ministry. And it’s not something you can sign up for on a clipboard in the back of the sanctuary. Instead, it is managed with a sense of Christian vocation and gifting.

Members have military and law-enforcement backgrounds, but the church doesn’t confuse vocation with profession: not everyone with security experience serves on the security ministry. Those who are selected are carefully screened, as news reports covering the shooting have demonstrated. And many members were essentially reservists, called upon only during heightened danger. It makes similar use of parishioners with backgrounds in emergency medicine, risk assessment, and other fields.

While the principles here should be broadly applied—have a security plan, make use of members’ gifts, work with local law enforcement to assess risk—few churches in America will have the resources to build a security ministry like New Life’s. But frankly, few need a security ministry like New Life’s. The churches most likely to be the site of a Columbine-style shooting are also those most likely to have the resources to minimize the violence.

As former New Life staffer Patton Dodd wrote for Beliefnet, “No one who has attended there for any considerable amount of time would be surprised to find it the target of a violent attack—not because of any official New Life positions, but just because the place is big and visible and Christian, and some people hate that stuff. And more randomly, some people are just driven to senseless rage.”

Churches can never be completely safe from violent rampages, and the questions people are asking won’t stop all future attacks. Nothing we learned about the deaths of Tiffany Johnson, Philip Crouse, and Stephanie and Rachael Works, for example, would have saved Gabriela Parasca, who died at a Phoenix church shooting three days later when her estranged husband attacked her at a church-run preschool. We can take measures to limit the effects of violence, but only in the age to come will the lion lie down with the lamb.

This editorial article first appeared in the February 2008 issue of Christianity Today magazine.

To learn more about protecting your congregation, purchase the downloadable resource Confronting Gun Violence at Church, available on

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