In December 2007, Matthew Murray walked into New Life Ministries in Colorado Springs, Colo., with Armageddon on this mind. Armed with a semi-automatic rifle, two handguns, and plenty of ammunition, he walked into the front foyer of the church and started shooting. He killed two teenage sisters and wounded three other congregation members before he was shot and wounded by a security volunteer carrying her own concealed handgun. He then took his own life.

Later it was discovered that, during the previous night, Murray had tried to gain entry into a youth mission center in Arvada, Colo. When he was refused, he shot four people, killing two of them, before he fled. He had been planning his anti-Christian rampage for some time.

This nightmare scenario is rare, but all places of worship must be aware that at some point, for any reason, they could become of the target of any number of threats, from deranged or disgruntled individuals to thieves and vandals. In 2008, 30% of faith-based organizations suffered some sort of security threat. Seventy-five percent of those had no security measures in place.

The Uncertain Line Between Open and Safe

Faith-based organizations must walk a careful line between being open, welcoming places that can bring hope to society’s “lost” and the moral and legal necessity to protect their congregations. Thanks to President Glenn Burrell’s experience on the security detail for Britain’s Royal Family, Sunstates Security knows how to strike that balance between accessibility and safety. Sunstates Security has accumulated more than a quarter-million hours of experience providing security for faith-based organizations.

Large faith-based organizations are often more likely targets and, since they have larger budgets, are more likely to put real security in place, either security officers or trained congregation volunteers. For open worship centers, Burrell stresses a soft approach that includes security officers, threat identification, and employee education and vigilance. Burrell says, “Very rarely does a serious threat show up out of the blue. Matthew Murray is a perfect example.”

Burrell says, “A security team in any place of worship should start with a thorough review of security contingency procedures, then establish some best practices and adhering to them. The time to look at these things is not after the fact.”

  • Team Composition. Identify and install a security director and thoroughly screen security team members. Train them to handle communication, evacuation, and emergency response. Include medical professionals along with law enforcement or security officers on your team. Consider building a security team of volunteers from experts within the congregation, including doctors, EMTs, FBI, Secret Service or other law enforcement professionals.
  • Medical Training. Assemble a comprehensive and fully stocked first aid room on-site. Train your safety team in first aid and CPR and instruct them to look for emergency medical ID cards.
  • Attack Response. Develop contingency plans or lockdown procedures, and have them in place in the event of an attack. Implement evacuation and emergency drills. Communicate your security procedures to your congregation, employees, and volunteers.
  • Equipment and Access. Use security equipment such as cameras, alarms, and panic buttons. Limit access to certain areas, such as classrooms or children’s centers.
  • Firearms. Every place of worship must decide for itself whether to allow its security team to carry weapons. If so, ensure that the team members are licensed (if required) and thoroughly trained to use any issued weapons properly. Educate your security team to use conflict resolution methods before resorting to weapon use.

Sunstates Security can help your place of worship develop and maintain effective security plans, including site vulnerability assessments, training, and personnel. Contact us today to find out how.


BBC News, “US church gunman killed himself”, December 12, 2007 —
New York Times, “Gunman Kills 2 at Missionary Center Near Denver”, December 9, 2007 —