Churches, by their nature, have an "open door" policy during worship services, so anyone willing to worship God and hear the good news of the gospel of Christ will be welcomed. But some who come to church may have different agendas.
Church leaders have a duty to provide protection from potentially dangerous people who may be on the premises, especially if they know ahead of time who these people are. There are two primary reasons churches need to have a plan to protect against these people. The first is the moral obligation to ensure the safety of worshipers, staff, and property. The second is to protect a church legally against lawsuits stemming from injury caused by a dangerous person.
A church cannot deal with the threat of dangerous people until it can first recognize the kinds of people who pose a threat. Someone panhandling near the church doors is probably a nuisance. A dangerous person is someone who poses—or threatens to pose— an actual danger to people or property. Dangerous types of people include:
- People with weapons.
- People who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
- The mentally ill who act out, including people who have not taken their medications.
- Aggressive homeless people and street people.
- People with grudges, including current and former church members and staff.
- Family members embroiled in bitter child custody battles.
- People with hatred based on their religious or political views, including those who actively hate the church and Christians in general.
On rare occasions, a person will confess to a pastor that they are dangerous or have committed a dangerous crime. In such an occurrence, pastors and churches need to be aware of the implications of the clergy-penitent privilege. Confidential communication to a minister, whether from a member of the church or not, is generally considered to be privileged and prevented from disclosure in court.
The privilege does not prevent a pastor from disclosing confidential communications to the police, who would consider the information as a tip only. The police must then conduct their own investigation and confirm the tip on their own. In cases of child abuse, however, pastors in many states are mandated to report these confessions to authorities and may face criminal and civil liability for failing to report them.
Church security staff should be trained to be vigilant not only for the types of people who may pose a threat, but also for certain kinds of behaviors that may indicate an imminent menace. These behaviors include: