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Issue Date:  December 21, 2007

Colorado shootings reflect big threats to big churches

With megachurches come mega crowds, mega money, and increasingly, mega security concerns.

The crowds -- anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 worshipers each weekend -- can be an attractive target for a deranged shooter. Overflowing offering plates are tempting to thieves, and well-known preachers can become high-profile targets.

The Dec. 9 shootings at New Life Church in Colorado Springs and a missionary training facility in Arvada, Colo. -- which left five people dead, including a gunman -- reflect the security nightmares facing some of the country’s largest churches. Many of those churches now employ armed guards to protect human, financial and physical “assets.”

Brady Boyd, the senior pastor at New Life Church, said an armed guard “probably saved over 100 lives” when she shot and killed the gunman just inside the doors of the Colorado church.

“That’s the reality of our world,” he told reporters Dec. 10. “I don’t think any of us grew up in churches where that was a reality, but today it is.”

Boyd said the volunteer guard was put in position after the church heard about the shootings in Arvada. The church has about 15 or 20 guards, some armed, and the guard who killed the gunman used her personal weapon, he said.

Violent crimes remain extremely rare at U.S. churches. Eric Spacek, a senior church risk manager for the GuideOne Center for Risk Management in West Des Moines, Iowa, said crime accounts for just 5 percent of all claims filed by the 40,000 churches insured by GuideOne.

Still, the growth of megachurches has spawned an entire industry devoted to protecting and securing crowds that can be larger than some towns or shopping malls.

Scott Thumma, a megachurch expert at Hartford Seminary and author of Beyond Megachurch Myths , said financial security is just one concern at a typical megachurch, where offerings can reach an annual average of $6 million.

“Think about it,” he said. “That’s $115,000 a week in income. Are you going to trust moving that much money around to folks without guns?”

At The Potter’s House in Dallas, where Bishop T.D. Jakes draws an average 15,000 worshipers on Sundays, the church employs plainclothes and uniformed security guards, said Sean Smith, director of Classic Security, which contracts with the church.

-- Religion News Service

National Catholic Reporter, December 21, 2007

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