Are churches safe? How to run church security: A conversation with John Mark Caton and Paul Cobb

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Are churches safe? How to run church security: A conversation with John Mark Caton and Paul Cobb

November 28, 2022 -

The Denison Forum Podcast discusses timely news and relevant topics with biblical insight. Hosted by Dr. Mark Turman and featuring Dr. Jim Denison, plus guests on occasion, this weekly, discussion-oriented podcast will help Christians further develop a biblical worldview on current events, equipping them to be salt and light for Christ.

The Denison Forum Podcast discusses timely news and relevant topics with biblical insight. Hosted by Dr. Mark Turman and featuring Dr. Jim Denison, plus guests on occasion, this weekly, discussion-oriented podcast will help Christians further develop a biblical worldview on current events, equipping them to be salt and light for Christ.

The Denison Forum Podcast discusses timely news and relevant topics with biblical insight. Hosted by Dr. Mark Turman and featuring Dr. Jim Denison, plus guests on occasion, this weekly, discussion-oriented podcast will help Christians further develop a biblical worldview on current events, equipping them to be salt and light for Christ.

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Dr. John Mark Caton, Paul Cobb, and Dr. Mark Turman discuss church safety, how to run a safety team with laypeople and specialists, and why church security is a hospitality ministry.  

Show notes:

Paul Cobb begins by addressing how we so often don’t think about safety at churches, and they explain what church safety should look like (2:23). They go over some stories of crime and medical emergencies that took place at their churches (6:25). Dr. Caton explains how he became aware as a pastor of the need for better church security (16:20). They go over the biblical foundation for smart church security (21:58). Cobb discusses the principle of victim avoidance and deescalation (33:43). They also point to the importance of churches having hospitable, friendly security teams (39:41). Cobb briefly talks about their firearm policy for churches, then they return to the importance of taking security seriously, and how lay people can be involved (50:16).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guests

John Mark Caton, Ph.D., is the Senior Pastor Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church for twenty-seven years and the author of several books. He received a Master of Theology from Criswell College, and a Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2001.

Paul Cobb consults with churches for their security and safety needs. He’s worked in corporate America, serving in the banking industry, data centers, and specializes in project management. He serves as an elder at Crosspoint Church in McKinney, Texas.


Transcribed by


Mark Turman  00:10

Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, the executive director at Denison Forum. Thank you for joining us for this conversation. Today, we’re going to have an interesting conversation about church safety and security. I’m joined today by two of my good friends, my fellow Pastor John Mark Caton, who serves at Cottonwood Creek Church in the Dallas area. John Mark, say hello. Hello. We’re glad to have you, John Mark has been there. 28 years Correct?


John Mark Caton  00:38

Yeah, almost almost 27 and a half 27 and a half. We kind of round up. Yeah, asters like to round up. We never round down. So almost 28 years married to Gina for how long? That is? 32 years. I do know that one. All right. Tell us about your kids.


Mark Turman  00:54

You know, we’ve got four kids, three of them have now graduated from college and gotten married, married three kids off in the last 15 months. And that was an expensive endeavor, but a good journey. My they all live in the area, which is a great thing. Then the one we do have quasi at home is our sophomore in college, our youngest year. So four kids, two boys, two girls, three of them now married, have jobs pay in their own way a good thing. Don’t you love that balloon payment called a wedding at the end of college? There is one there is once a fun thing. We also have with us, my good friend, longtime elder at the church that I served in the Dallas area, Paul Cobb. Paul is originally from Round Rock, and has a background in a number of different careers. Haven’t found one that you like to stick with yet, have you Paul?


Paul Cobb  01:43

Well, variety is the spice of life.


Mark Turman  01:45

But Paul works in corporate America has served several banks, major banking areas, ran data centers, and does project management all over the state of Texas and the region, in fact, working in a number of different areas. But today, he’s going to help us John Mark is going to help us with the conversation about church security and about church safety. And we know that this is happening all around the world all around the country. But I want to just start off by asking both of you do you think church is a safe place?


Paul Cobb  02:23

I think it should be and it’s as safe as we make it. I’m just I’m repeatedly surprised that church is the one place that you turn your normal brain off when it comes to safety and security issues. I mean, the things that you would go through your checklist in your brain before you drop your child off at a movie theater, or to walk through in a mall. Somehow you don’t apply that when you go to church. I mean, the standard standard sequences, you get up and you get the kids ready. And then you have a fight with one of the kids on the way. And then you have the argument with the wife and the truck on the way to church. And then you get there desperately looking for peace. And you put your blinders on and you walk through the doors and you hope for the best. And hopefully there’s an environment where you can have an experience with the living God of the universe. But safety, security, just normal prudence just never enters into your line of thinking when you go to church.


John Mark Caton  03:16

Yeah. And you know, and as I think about now being the pastor for 27 and a half years go back to the early days back in Fairview which is now Cottonwood Creek. That was the furthest furthest thing from my mind, you know that you just thought, hey, let’s come to worship God, everything, this should be a safe place. It should be a place that even those who are sinful or corrupt would never consider bringing harm to a place. And so we did think about simple things, small things like how can we make the playground more safe? How can we make this swingset safe? How can we do those things, but over the years, you know, just being honest and evaluating churches and what can happen in a church at multiple different different levels, just accidents, medical emergencies, or security issues. I’ve really had to come have had to come a long way in this area, Paul and Mark, just to come to a place that we are today.


Mark Turman  04:14

Well, we’ll talk a little bit about that. From standpoint, we are talking about something now that’s more than simply you know, playground landing pads and people being courteous in the parking lot not not getting too fast and they are turning on the alarm system when everybody’s leaving the building at night. What are we really talking about when we try to put a frame around what we mean by church security and safety?


Paul Cobb  04:36

Well, I mean, understand foundationally broad strokes. What is the church right is a place for corporate worship. It is a place for the equipping of the saints to go out and carry out the Great Commission, but it’s also a hospital for battered souls. And as such, you know, the the the miracle is really the number of incidents that don’t happen given that hurting people hurt people. All right. And people come to churches also the the taboo has been lifted. Right? What are you talking about the United States as a nation now being a target for terrorism? Are you talking about criminals who would come and perpetrate crimes at a church that used to be just kind of taboo? Right, you would just it would never crossed anyone’s mode of thinking. But now, they’ve discovered that it’s a soft target. And, you know, we get a lot of domestic violence spillover, where you’ve got personal conflicts that, hey, you know, somebody goes home, and they can lock the doors, and they can turn on their home alarm. And then they go to the office, and they’re behind, you know, access controlled security monitoring doors at the office. But churches like the one place where, you know, if you’re a church person, people know where you’re going to be, when you’re going to be there, and that it’s open to everybody. And so, you know, how do you how do you gear that protection environment to an environment by design that has to be open and welcoming to not just everybody, but especially those that are hurting and are needing help? is a particular challenge that we’re facing tonight, and today in very significant ways,


Mark Turman  06:14

some are in the last three, four or five years? What are just some examples of the kinds of stuff that’s happened at your church that in some way relates to security and safety? Yeah, well,


John Mark Caton  06:25

obviously, not not just the accidental problems, we’ve, you know, medical emergencies, but we’ve now had spouses that have come, you know, the ex that has come looking for, you know, their mate, or the child or something like that we’ve had those kinds of incidences, we’ve had people come into our facility, who are broken people, and the reality is are broken people that have created a high level of concern that they either Paul or someone else on our late team who operates in our security team has had to address and deal with and move beyond, we’ve had to go to the place of, of even calling law enforcement on people. And part of what we need is at that point, you need a staff member that says we need this person to leave the premises. So we’ve had all of those things and more. And so sadly, you know, we’re not immune to it.


Paul Cobb  07:23

Fights on the volleyball courts,


John Mark Caton  07:24

we’ve had fights on the volleyball courts, where we had to call the police, we’ve got sand volleyball courts we’ve had in the last couple of years, not not too too long ago, it actually didn’t just happen our church. But people, this would be more of, you know, basically stealing TVs, we had someone break into a room one day, in one of our glass windows, just walked around our building took all of our all of our big screen TVs off off the wall, and then just piled in a car and left. And it must have been Super Bowl weekend. That’s exactly right. Interestingly enough, they hit about four or five churches in a row and eventually got caught. But you know, if people are willing to do that, and come into the church are also willing to harm people. And that’s what we always want to be careful of, especially on in a facility like ours, we’re we’re open seven days a week, every night, you can walk into our facility, and there’s a crowd of people doing something there. And so to have security available to them, and for them, it is something that’s important.


Mark Turman  08:23

So you guys work together on this point, you and I kind of took this journey together going back 10 or 15 years ago, you kind of walked into this as a volunteer, just in the context of the church that you and I are part of, kind of tell that story a little bit about how you started syncing the need and how, like for both of you to kind of comment about how you see this, not simply as a function like having the lights on or the make sure that the plumbing works, right. But seeing this as a ministry to the congregation. But Paul, kind of tell the story about how this kind of emerged over the last 1015 years for you.


Paul Cobb  09:01

Let’s start as a minor incident on a Wednesday night, you know, choir practice, late at night, some locals at case the parking lot marked the vehicles in the parking lot that had high value, high portability items, went back to the corner. Notice that no one had noticed. And then just did a smash and grab through multiple vehicles. And then they were gone in two minutes. And so we got there. And of course, you know, as things went, they called me at home and said, hey, somebody’s broken some cars up here at church, and I’m like going well, do you call the police and said, No, we called you.


Mark Turman  09:35

And there’s a whole background of that story. But we


John Mark Caton  09:38

don’t have time. Did they respect you?


Paul Cobb  09:40

I’ll bring the police with me.


Mark Turman  09:42

Yeah. Well, you’re the first suspect. Yeah. I think John Mark is on something there. And so


Paul Cobb  09:46

it turns out that you know, we got we activated a mobile phone that had been stolen. We could hear that they were driving we heard a radar detector go off in the background. Another you know, husband was up there saying hey, the only place that happens is over at Skaggs on Virginia. And so McKinney’s sent some elements over there, sure enough caught the guys behind Albertsons splitting up the loot. So it was b asically a non incident, you know, that they were caught, we recovered the property and all that. But it started a conversation at the elder board that we need to put together a more comprehensive security and safety program before something more substantial happens. And I went out there to do that thinking that surely there’s got to be a half dozen, these can programs for church security, let’s just go out there and survey them figure out which one meets our budget needs the best. present that back to the elder board, hey, you know, here’s, here’s three options. Here’s the one I kind of leaned towards, but you pick and there was nothing. There was nothing. And so it’s like on, well, crud. Let’s go build one. So we researched every incident of violence on church property in North America. And then that became a turn for the surreal, where, you know, we kind of expected to see the, you know, Mom drops Johnny off at Sunday school, the estranged, you know, spouse picks Johnny up now we got hysterical mother missing Johnny. But there’s some great off the shelf technology, things that is available for that now. But this whole thing since 99, of the active shooter, was really the 3000 pound elephant in the room that no one had an answer for. And so we studied all of these incidents about what is going on, and how did they happen? What are some common threads? And what can we learn? And how can we prepare? And you know, is there anything we can do? And we found two significant themes through it. One is that, you know, we alluded to it earlier, when people come to church, no one’s looking. Right, no one’s looking for trouble. And so when trouble comes, it seems to not hit anybody’s radar when it walks on in. And the other significant theme that we discovered was what we call granny in the Zoom bag, and you know who your grandmother is. And zoom bag is a military flight. So you’ve seen them on movies and stuff like that. But if your grandmother walks through the door of your church, wearing a military flightsuit, those things are so disassociative, that your brain just does not process that efficiently and effectively. And the net result is we’re doing these after action interviews where these horrible, tragic things happen. And it’s like, Did no one see the guy walking across the parking lot with a rifle? It’s like, Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, we had multiple witnesses. As I said, they, they saw the, the guy with the rifle for 300 feet, and didn’t think there would be a problem until shots ring out. And then it’s like, Oh, my goodness, what, what’s going on? And we asked them, well, what were you? What were you thinking? Well, you know, we thought, well, the Men’s Ministry was advertising a dove hunt, or the youth department was running a skit. I go, has the youth department or the Men’s Ministry ever brought rifles into the church building? No. But see, that’s where your your brain goes, just that dissonance because the disk, right? And so we’re like, going, Okay, first and foremost, we’ve got to get some people that are looking for the trouble, and then teach them what to do if they find it. And so that that’s where it all started. And then your depth and breadth of the program is, well, you know, what do you need to meet medical emergencies? What do you need to meet, you know, we get, we get a lot of missing persons. And that sounds worse than it really is. But Johnny goes to the bathroom. But Johnny doesn’t come back to a Sunday school class after he goes to the bathroom. Now we’ve got a missing kid, do you have a process and a procedure for how you look? And where you look? And who do you engage to help with the search? And Where’s Johnny usually at? And so and then up to an including this thing called an active shooter? Do you have the tools, the talent, the training, and the tactics to combat that sort of threat, because it’s out there. And if your police departments will be the first one to tell you that whatever was going to happen, will have happened by the time they get there. And so whatever you do, just just keep that in mind. And so, you know, as long as we’re, we’re busting bubbles here, I mean, let’s go ahead and acknowledge that there’s no such thing as crime prevention. There’s only victim avoidance. You know, if somebody needs to steal something to fund a lifestyle choice, and your garage door in your neighborhood is closed and locked in your neighbor’s is open and unattended. Where does the criminal go? Goes to the open garage now? Has a crime been prevented? Or did you just avoid being the victim because you are more prudent than your neighbor was? Right. And then the second thing is, you know, the police do not exist for your personal protection. The police exists for the protection of the community protection protection of the city, the state And they do that and crimes happen. They come up, they investigate, they figure out who did it, they arrest him, they prosecute him, they incarcerate them, and thus protect the community. But there’s no protection for that original victim. Right? And so the police don’t exist for your personal protection, the two things that every dead victim of violent crime scream out from beyond the grave. Our I wish I’d had more choices than I had, at the moment of my demise, and to the police are not there for their personal protection. So if you understand those foundational things, and then go, Okay, if those are the realities that are driving the dynamic, what do we need to do in the form of countermeasures to protect our congregation, our staff, our reputation and witness in the community of our local church?


Mark Turman  15:54

Jamar? Explain a little bit how this has played out in your mind and for your congregation in the last number of years. Was it was there a time 10 years ago, 15 years ago, where you might not have had anybody charged with quote unquote, security functions when your congregation gathered? Maybe there was a time when you hired a few off duty police officers and called it good. How’s this evolved for you and for your church?


John Mark Caton  16:20

You know, it’s? That’s, that’s a great question. Because if you had gone back 1015 years, we wouldn’t have had much, we wouldn’t had much at all, we knew that we had police officers on campus, they were members of our church, but we had no organizational structure to it. The good news is, is back long before I met Paul, what really happened is, we had a guy who was secret service agent and an FBI agent, just decide that this is gonna be our church, we’re gonna fix this problem. And I can still to this day, remember them setting an appointment with me meeting me in the in my office saying we’ve got to fix this. And because they knew of the statistics, they knew what was going on. We’re a church right there on a major thoroughfare, we could be an easy target, and they were like, pastoral. All it takes is for you to give us the blessing. And they will start organizing this ministry for you. And they were not talking about heavily paid for ministry they were so let us develop the people that are already in our church, who already have a security background, already have an awareness, have an understanding, maybe a military background, we can coordinate with them, and just get eyeballs on everybody. And so early on in the philosophy was that we want to be medical. But we also you know, we want security, legitimate security. And then they really started the idea I can clearly remember from that point on, it starts with us in the parking lot. You know, talking to your people who have volunteered to be your parking attendants get eyes on as you describe someone, someone that doesn’t look right, then give them the ability to communicate with somebody who’s opening the doors, we have people opening the doors in our church, well, all right, one person passes someone off to another, another off to someone else. And then we also have on the weekends. And by the way, that’s the easiest one to handle. From my perspective. The weekend is the easiest one to handle, because we now develop volunteers, and paid security agents or paid police officers on Sunday on Saturday. Because that’s where we have so many people that have joined us, but it’s easy to then take someone who’s already skilled and gifted in a certain area of security, or medical, and then get them to serve use those talents, skills and abilities at church. And so it is fully developed over the years I embraced it when those two guys sat down in my, in my office. Over the years as security as developed at our church, there have been times that I wanted to put a pause on it or put a slowdown on it, because it still is it pastor just doesn’t seem right to me that someone would want to walk into a church and hurt innocent people, right? It doesn’t. I understand sin. I understand all those things. So there were times that I would say let me think on that for a minute. And typically what they would do, Paul is they say why you’re thinking on it. Let us provide you some statistics. And I learned real quickly that I’m going to trust the people that know. And so interestingly enough, both of those guys just because of their jobs have now been transferred to other places, but they were the ones that birthed our security ministry. Now we’ve got a bunch of other guys that are in our church that want to see this ministry thrive but they also want to make sure that our people are protected. And that’s my that’s my great desire. So years ago when the open carry thing, you know, happened people were like, well, what are we going to do? With that, and are we going to allow people to carry in here? Or are we going to let lay people carry in our church? Are we going to hire Allen police officer? So we’re in Allen, are we going to have other P other agencies? And the answer became pretty quickly? Yes, yes. No, yes, yeah. When we started doing it, we want the people who are equipped to do it, to do it. And so that’s how I developed two guys. And so if there’s someone who’s listened to this podcast out there, and you’re in a church that does not have a security team, I want to encourage you to be one of those two guys, walk in and sit down with your pastor, and provide the statistics. And I cared enough about my people to say, man, we’re going to begin this process. And, you know, over the years, we’ve had a lot of things that happen. The best part so far, is that a lot of times when someone gets concerned in the parking lot, and then they see them at the door, the one thing we’ve trained at now, it’s all of our deacons. By the way, they’re not on our security team. But they’re on our greeting team, that no one our desires, no one walks in to our church, that someone doesn’t look him in the eye, shake their hand and greet them, especially if there’s something suspicious about him. No one just comes and stands over at the corner. That’s what we want. And so communication is important that element of coordination, a lot of coordination, a lot of earpieces in, right? And so that’s our, that’s how it’s developed over the years. And a lot of this is because I’ve let the people who are smart in this area do their jobs. Now you take it off the weekend, that’s when we, you know, we have lots of things going on there seven days a week, well, we don’t have all those volunteers, right on Tuesday night, Wednesday, night, Thursday, that’s when we go with Paul and his company and say, Listen, it is your job, to now make sure we’re safe.


Mark Turman  21:58

Right. So this is obviously an evolving kind of ministry, but want to go back, come back in a minute to the idea of training and the idea that, you know, you you really can’t hire enough police officers to do this. And so the opportunity of ministry, and the importance of training starts to come in here. But we’d like both of you to kind of get to this idea of maybe we should have started with this, which is the biblical foundation for this ministry and function within a congregation. Again, we’ve talked about just the general dissonance of we don’t go to church expecting that there’s danger there, we glad for that. And we don’t want through this podcast or through anything that a security ministry would do to alarm people. But sometimes when you come to to a place we know today is the first day of school in Uvalde, Texas, and that whole community and really our whole state, and even a larger circle than that is trying to just work their way through what it means for children in that community to go back into to a school session after what they experienced just a few months ago. Any place that has experienced that kind of violence, and that kind of terror, would would resonate with that. We don’t want people to be panicked. We don’t want them to be scared to come to worship or to Bible study, or to other gatherings at a church or anywhere else, or schooling or anywhere else like that. But let’s talk about the theological biblical foundation for this. Many people would say some people would say, I guess, well, we just need to trust God, we just need to trust God to keep us safe. And and regardless of what you know, Paul would oftentimes disturbed me when I was pastoring, our church and he would send me a Monday morning email with a these five things, these 15 things happened, you probably aren’t going to see them in the news. The only ones of certain scale usually end up in the news. But these things happen. And one of the things that, you know, Paul, and I have laughed about in some ways over the years is a lot of what he has done in his career. He’s he’s been paid to make sure bad things didn’t happen. And that’s the way success got measured. But this this list that I would get from him, and these Monday morning emails would would include bad things that did happen and bad things that almost happened but worse prevented by a safety protocol. Let’s talk a little bit about what do you think the Bible says in this area about why we should be doing these kinds of things when our congregations gather? You’re the theologian, doctor.


Paul Cobb  24:42

I can go first if you lie. Well.


John Mark Caton  24:45

Here’s the way I look at it is do I want to do it? No. Do I think it’s a responsibility for us as a church to have security? I do. I do. Sadly, because the world that we lived in, I wish this wasn’t the world we live in, but to reality we are we live in a world where bad people do bad things. When we come to church, you talked about Paul, as we have a tendency to check our brains at the door, we can’t. Because part of what church is, is a gathering of vulnerable people. And as a gathering of vulnerable, vulnerable people, one of my jobs as a pastor, whether someone is struggling with a marriage, or emotional or, you know, some sort of hurt, or hang up, or heartache, or whatever part of my job is to protect them. All right, same thing happens with someone’s physical safety, in my opinion, is I need to make sure that as best I can, and I’ll never be able to do it perfectly. When people come to our worship services, and our life groups and our children and our students are coming, that we have a measure and a level of security, that will protect them to a point as best as we can. Because some churches are small, and I didn’t have this ability that I have today. 27 years ago, but I need to be better today than it was 27 years ago. And so that’s where we are as a church, a collection of vulnerable people. And at the same point, I have people in my church who are gifted and skilled at bringing security to others, why not allow those people who are gifted and talented for security issues, to protect my vulnerable people? And that just seems like a no brainer to me. Oh,


Paul Cobb  26:35

yeah, my three go twos and Proverbs 22 talks about the prudency danger and take refuge but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. In John 1633, I’ve told you these things so that enemy you may have peace in this world, you will have trouble. And then down in Luke 22. Jesus talking to His disciples preparing them for the day that that he is not going to physically be with them anymore. And he’s like going Hey, before I sent you without a purse bag sandals, did you like anything? Nothing the answer, but he said to him, but now if you but now it’s the key phrase here. But now, if you have a purse, take it and also a bag. And if you don’t have a sword, so your cloak and buy one the disciples and said, see Lord, here, we have two swords, and he says that’s enough. Right? It was important for him to be be armed, if you will, not to overthrow the Roman government. But to protect themselves from wild beast and highwayman that were so prevalent back in the day and culture, it’s like, hey, you know, we’re not going to be pulling coins out of fish anymore, you’re going to have to provision yourself moving forward. And so those are kind of the three foundational biblical mandates that we use as the foundation of our program. And then you touched on the philosophical basis and, and something that at the risk of waxing philosophical for a moment. But if if bad stuff only happened to bad people who are doing bad things at the time, would we still call it bad?


Mark Turman  28:15

Well, I have to get our resident theologians


Paul Cobb  28:18

laugh, because it’s funny, but you laugh because it’s true. I mean, my favorite example is, you know, the guy who built the bombs that he was going to set off on the New York subway, and he just wasn’t very good at it. Right? He built these pipe bombs had a whole bag of them, and one of them goes off in his lap, before he gets a chance to set him. Now, he was horribly disfigured, but lived. No one else was injured. Did anyone mourn for him? Or is everyone going? Yeah, finally, somebody got what they deserved, got blown up with his own right. And so, for the meat, the actual father of the definition of bad bad things have to happen to good people. Bad things have to happen to elderly people, bad things have to happen to defenseless people, bad things have to happen to children. And so to the extent that that we can protect our own congregations from simply being the fodder for the definition of bad, I’m all in right we know that Satan roams to and fro on the earth looking for whom he can destroy and whom he can devour. And what does devoured look like? Well devoured looks like a kid that takes a gun to an elementary school and shoots people. Right? That’s what devoured looks like. And so until the Second Coming that is out there. And can we truly be shepherds of our flocks and have no no semblance or no thought whatsoever given to how we’re going to protect that flock until the Second Coming?


John Mark Caton  29:53

That’s right. And yeah, and even even within that, we we certainly want to avoid that still from our safety. Security team and our medical team. Still the vast majority of our calls are one of our elderly people don’t feel well. I a child fell off the young wheat. So we have a medical person that is ready to go render aid and determine at that point do we need to call 911? Or do we not need to do that? But you’re exactly right, Paul, I mean, in, in everything I do, just take non church world. If I’m going to go to a Dallas Cowboys game, I have an expectation now that there are bad people out there that would love to do something to a collection of people. So what do I want I want the Dallas Cowboys to at least in I understand they can insure it perfectly, but I want them to take some security measures. If I go to a Mavericks game, if I go to a high school football stadium right now, which which I do every weekend, I have an expectation that they’re at least taking some precautions to make sure that that I am protected, and my family’s protected, and my kids are protected. Why would we as leaders of churches not also want to provide some semblance of the same protection for our congregants? And that would be my thought,


Mark Turman  31:13

right? And in Unfortunately, the reality of our day, right, is that it’s becoming almost standard, that you have to be aware of these issues. And, Paul, maybe you can give some framework to this, but we’ve seen it, you know, we we kind of grew to have an understanding of okay, airports, we’re gonna see security there, especially in the wake of 911 that we’ll remember this month, that, okay, now we now we change things because of 911. There’s a whole different reality to the security of a cockpit door and every airplane these days, and we all know you just plan more time when you go to the airport because it takes longer to get through security. We’re adjusting and have adjusted for more than two decades to that. Now we have become pretty accustomed to having school resource officers at high schools. But now we’re now we’re wondering, I’m sure because of things like you’ve already do. Okay, now, are we going to need to have metal detectors and armed guards at elementary schools we know at sporting events, but it almost feels like the buffalo grocery store shooting, it almost feels like you almost can’t go anywhere. I was thinking getting ready for this podcast. I guess the only place I’m not going to see an armed security officer is when the three of us go have a hamburger somewhere. And maybe that will change. I was walking out of the grocery store on Saturday with my wife and out came a tall Texan cowboy hat at all with his sidearm on his belt. And my wife made a coffin comment about that. And Paul, speak to us a little bit because of your background you like said you walked into this particularly in the church context. And now you do consult with churches on a regular basis. I want to get to that in a moment. But before that, what’s what should be the average person’s perspective when they go out into the world relative to their own personal safety?


Paul Cobb  33:20

I think John Mark hit on him when he goes to the to the football stadium, right? Is there are people who are looking for victims. Right? But I mean, don’t go crazy, right? Don’t don’t build yourself a house in a cave and never go outside for fear of a lightning strike.


Mark Turman  33:40

Don’t Don’t be panicked. And don’t wait, don’t run for a deserted island


Paul Cobb  33:43

that is not salt and light. Right. But what what is reasonable prudence when you’re going out in public. And what I would say is just have a plan. Have a plan. So that something happens, you know how that you are going to get you and yours out? Right? You know, my my brother in law and sister will be out to dinner. And so my sister go, Hey, some guy comes in there. And Rob’s the place are you going to get him? I said, Nope, I’m going to show you how to run through the back of the kitchen.


Mark Turman  34:17

I’ll tell you the way.


Paul Cobb  34:19

It’s like, just be smart and have a plan and where do you go? And that can be as simple as words and where are the doors? And it can be as complicated as I mean, you both were at an event at the courthouse one day and you know, you saw my ops plan and this is how you do something that’s very complicated and how we’re going to get a certain number of people into a safe spot. If things go bad for us, but it’s just be smart. Understand that until the Second Coming evil exist. And there’s no such thing as as crime prevention. Right. It’s just victim avoidance. You know, I would love to get a conversation with the Alan Prince. done Plano, Frisco and McKinney police chief at the same time, because they all have opposing objectives. They all want it easier for crime to happen in everyone else’s city than their own.


Mark Turman  35:12

The garage door principle. Yes, right is the garage door.


Paul Cobb  35:16

I mean, they all know that they can’t in crime. But if they can just make it convenient for it to happen in Plano versus McKinney, that’s a win. Right? Right. But you know, that doesn’t sound as good as protecting serve on the side of the police cars, making crime more convenient in Plano since 1982.


Mark Turman  35:34

Yeah, I don’t think. So. But both talked, we’ve talked about this a number of times over the years. And people don’t when they think about their own safety in any environment. They don’t think about what it means to depart. But the Bible says flee the devil and he will, he will flee from your flee from him, that’s part of our strategy is to get away to depart things. And we’ve talked about, wise people de escalate, rather than try to accelerate a conflict situation, talk a little bit about that just as a personal principle that our audience can grab ahold of, look, it’s sometimes the smartest thing to do most of the time, is to just get out of the situation, get you and yours out, and to do everything you can to calm the situation down to de escalate a situation. And sometimes the thing that’s most called for for you to do that, it’s just to leave yourself. So talk a little bit about that principle.


Paul Cobb  36:36

Right. And so I would suggest that the only win and a conflict is the one you don’t have, right? That that’s the only win, right? And so your primary mission, whenever you find yourself in potential conflict, whether you get behind the person at the express line at the grocery store that’s got the 15 items and the checkbook and the coupons. And you’re just going, Are you a math major that can’t read or an English major that can’t add? I just don’t get it. Or, or, you know, there’s a traffic conflict. And, and people have varying views as to who’s at fault. And there’s conflict. I mean, there’s a million ways to get into conflict. But the two objectives that you have, are suck the energy out of the room, and slow things down. Right, it’s not about being right. It’s not about being wrong. I mean, I had a fender bender on the way to church one morning, and the guy just was going off the rails about, you know, how he thought it was my fault. And I’m like going, there’s just absolutely no profit. To us even having this conversation, the insurance executives are going to sort all this out. We don’t even have to talk about, you know, I’m going to go to church, and I would encourage you to go to church to and, you know, this little fender bender thing, there’s going to be some experts that are going to come in and solve all these questions for us. And we still need to go there. Right, but it’s all about, you know, bringing the volume down, bringing the energy out of the the interaction and engagement and slowing things down. Because man, the fast and quick response is rarely the best one. Because that’s typically the most emotionally driven. And it’s like, hey, we call it domino thinking. And this is where we spend so much time training our security teams is like going, Hey, I want you to tell me that you thought about where the last domino would fall before you push that first domino over. Right? Where is this likely to end? And how and is that a 90%? Good, 10% bad or is that 90%? Bad? 10%? Good. But we need to teach you to use your brain in a way that you’ve maybe never actually been forced to do it. But it’s, you know, because we’re so conditioned to winning. Right? It was just the American culture. It’s all about winning the McKinney, Allen culture is all about winning. It’s about achievement. And you know, but is it about people? Right? And people that are coming at you have it, you know, we’ve heard the phrase, it’s not the dogs barking, right? They’re coming at you hard and heavy. And it’s like, Hey, can I be emotionally detached enough, long enough to just say, let me suck the energy out of this engagement and slow things down and see if we can’t point this in a people honoring if not God honoring direction. Does that make that makes sense?


Mark Turman  39:41

Because so many things, especially if you encounter these at church, you know, you and I’ve lived through experiences where spouses that were in conflict with each other decide that the church is going to be the ground in which they’re going to carry out their conflict, particularly if their children are involved and but almost all of these were It’s sand volleyball court on a Tuesday night or something, there’s almost always a lot of emotion that is built up in the situations that that ultimately bring about the potential if not the reality of actual physical violence, which is obviously one of the fundamental things that we’re trying to avoid. And if we can learn those skills, especially have people available, who have the skill, of de escalating that emotion, and getting people to kind of at least go to their neutral corners, if not leave the property altogether and follow up in a more effective way. But getting that emotion under control, because that’s just oftentimes where things get out of hand, that’s where the trigger comes. And if it’s two people that are having marital trouble, or relational trouble, in some context, if there’s a child involved, that accelerates the emotion of it. And those are things that people have to be, they have to be helped through those kinds of situations. And we’re not even talking about what you mentioned earlier, which is hurting people hurt people, we also have big issues of mental illness. We’ve had the occasion at the church that I pastored in McKinney, where we had a person that was mentally ill, but was yelling in very vulgar terms at the top of his lungs in the middle of the lobby one Sunday. And that’s not something you can easily avoid when you’re trying to gather a group of people for worship. And what do you do about that and recognizing that this person has some mental illness that they’re really working with? Paul, this is kind of grown from, hey, let’s go see if we can work to make a few things better to now you actually have kind of a side gig besides your full time job consulting with churches. Tell us a little bit about how when you get called by church, Hey, Paul, come talk to us about this. We’re not doing anything but we’re worried or we’re concerned. You can pull me into this about, you know, kind of like John Mark said a moment ago, some of this made me go wait a minute, do we have to do all that? Do we have to go that far you want that kind of budget for this? Talk a little bit about when you go and sit down with a church for the first time. What are you experiencing? What what are you encountering among those kinds of conversations when you start trying to consult with a congregation?


Paul Cobb  42:20

A is shocked and surprised, right? I never anticipated being here. This was this was not part of the plan. It was hey, we need something for our church. And we put it together and then people would hear about it and say hey, what are you guys doing? How you doing that? Hey, can you come talk to us about us doing that? And then that church talked to cottonwood and cottonwood talk to Christ fellowship and Creighton, you know, and Crosspointe talk to Preston ridge and you know, it just grows and grows and grows. But it’s, it’s about it’s about quality and approaching it from a ministry first. Right. We don’t take new church people and and train them and to being ministers. We take ministers and teach them security skills. Right. We’re ministers we’re greeters. We’re ushers. We’re churchman. Right. And women. Great term


Mark Turman  43:18

that doesn’t get used enough? Yeah, certainly for a few decades now. But


Paul Cobb  43:23

churchmen first, were ministers first, and we approach issues from a ministry perspective first. Right. You know, are we concerned about the safety? Well, yeah, because that’s our family in that church. Right. Those are our kids. That’s our spouse that’s in there. And so if there was a security incident that occurred, there’s no question that we would respond. But do we have the tools and the talent and the training and the tactics to respond effectively and efficiently? But it’s just hey, where are you at? where you’re going? And the first question is, where’s your church leadership on this? And where are you with submission to that? Right? Because, you know, when we decided to launch our program, it was unanimous in the elder board and the staff, they were all to a person. Yes, we think this is the way to go. And we started on this journey together. But you know, for the folks that are that are out there listening to this that they want to but they’re getting resistance from their pastors or their church leadership. Let’s talk about submission. Right, let’s talk about God has that person in that position, for a reason and you need to submit to that leadership. That doesn’t mean you need to give up on it. That doesn’t mean you need to get frustrated when they need to think on it and pray on it and read the stats on it or or just mull it over some. That means, you know, be steadfast have godly perseverance, but submit to the leadership of your church. So it’s always a where the leadership of the church want to go. And how many members of the church leadership are going to actually participate in the ministry. And if that’s, oh, y’all can do whatever you want to do, but I’m out. I’m out, right? Because it is absolutely imperative for any ministry, safety and security be no exception, that there be no variance between them and the church leadership that they are always in lockstep together, and going in the same direction. Because when when there starts to generate some separation there, bad things happen. You know, personalities get involved in egos get involved in words, like right and wrong, get thrown around pretty recklessly, in church circles.


John Mark Caton  45:50

You know, as you as you’re talking that, Paul, just for someone, and I want you to continue in that vein that thought, if someone’s out there fixing to approach a pastor or minister, you mentioned personalities get involved, and that is a reality. And maybe this is a pastor that’s out there, I will tell you, my church has not become less friendly. Because we have a security team. If anything, we continue to preach eye contact and handshakes, eye contact and handshakes. Now, we’ll also say this, that part of the help and the process was so for the person you’re speaking to, to go to the pastor, the two guys that walked into my office, were two servants in our church, with gentle spirits. You don’t necessarily think of FBI and secret services being those kind of guys, but that’s what they were right. They were not caustic individuals that made everybody they shook hands with angry they, they, they they were not looking to create a space that was unfriendly and not looking for a fight. And they were not looking for a fight. They don’t want to fight. They want to prevent the fight, just as you said. So I would just say as you’re talking through, and you’re you’re connecting with and you should be connected with laypeople who may need to approach their pastor or church leadership, make sure that when you approach them that, first of all, be likable. How about that? And because it does good, there are people that, that I don’t want them serving and other ministries in my church. So why should all of a sudden let them be the person no one likes in the security ministry of our church. What I like about the people throughout the week that Paulson’s over, I walked by those guys shake their hand, they got smiles on their face, they’re, they’re my paid security guys. And they’re not standing in a corner, just eyeballing everybody,


Mark Turman  47:42

hide behind dark sunglasses.


John Mark Caton  47:44

Exactly. That’s not what you want. So I want I want the pastor out there to know or the lay person out there to know that my church has a pretty well developed security apparatus now. But it hasn’t made us less friendly. And I will tell you, as a pastor, I don’t want a less friendly church. And I would not want a security ministry that made my church less friendly. And so that’s part of the way you approach it. And so I’m gonna let you continue to go. But that is a resistance of pastors out there, especially if the wrong person comes down. There have and so to the pastor, there have been several people join our security team that we ran off of our security team, because they wanted to be a power trip. And this is not about a power trip. This is about safety and love of our people,


Mark Turman  48:36

which is yeah, very, watch Paul do this in our church and other contexts, picking very careful about who he picks and recruits into this kind of ministry. Want to turn the conversation we have just a few more minutes. But Paul wanted to kind of turn the conversation. Obviously, guns and gun control is a big, big issue in our world. We’ve had a number of conversations over the years about guns at church guns being visible, not visible at church. Uniform security versus not uniform security. I imagine everybody listening to this would be Hey, I’m all about church being safe. I’m all about having having medical professionals ready to go if somebody has a medical crisis at church, that’s all great. I think we ought to have a security system that we set at night we it’d be good to have cameras in certain places of the church just particularly to keep people safe and and have that kind of going thing. But guns is another thing. We all for guards. We’re all for people, you know, being wise and for the church taking wise but having guns at church for some people is a challenging topic. How have you worked with that? How how do you approach that topic? You and I’ve had some great times going to the gun range together and so you know where we live. This is here in Texas, where you are in the world where you are in the country, this country procession goes a lot of different directions as it relates to firearms. But how do you think about that? How do you train people when it comes to helping oversee a congregation relative to weapons, especially guns?


Paul Cobb  50:16

Well, one, I am absolutely opposed to visible firearms in non uniformed security officer capacity, right? Because we’re coming to the house of the Lord that experience the Spirit of God. Right. And anything that’s a distraction to that is a distraction to that, right. It’s counter to what we’re trying to accomplish on a Sunday morning worship service. And so I don’t want to see people with guns right? Now, if if we do you know, I don’t run up and smack him in the head. It’s like going, Hey, can you do me a favor and either conceal that or put it back in your car, and I said, we have a policy about No, no visible firearms here in the church. Now, from a broader perspective, you know, I don’t have a 10 day period go by without somebody in the church going, hey, hey, hey, I’m a licensed to carry, is it? Okay? Is it okay? If I carry in when I when I come to church? And, of course, I’ve evolved this, but I wouldn’t. But now it’s like, you know, sure. Do whatever you think is best for you and your family, just understand these dynamics, that in the event of an event, we’ve got a security tree, we got a security team that is going to take care of the threat before the fifth thought. And so the first thought is, what was that second thought is danger, third thought protect my family, fourth thoughts protect myself. Fifth thought is should I get involved in this. And so all of the security professionals are trained to eliminate the threat before the fifth thought. If you step up and have a gun in your hand, it might not go well for you. Just know that, regardless of your personal inclinations, there’s a trained professional security team that’s going to be tasked with solving the problem. Don’t become a part of that. Right? And then put it back in their their lap, it’s okay. I’m not going to jump up, I’m just going to I’m going to call it a day at protecting my family. Right. And other people are going to going to address the threat.


Mark Turman  52:27

Right. Good word. And, you know, there are occasions, we’ve typically gone at our church along the lines of scale, when you get to certain scale, or particularly if you’re having an outdoor event might be wise to have uniform. What’s the benefit of uniformed security?


Paul Cobb  52:45

So we have a matrix system that kind of goes based on how many people do we have on campus? And what’s the mix? Right? Is it all known people? Or is it an outreach event where there’s a lot of unknown people, you know, did we rent out the church for a concert that we have no idea who’s coming. And so the more people we have that are unknown, the more we go for a uniformed deterrent presence. And then if it’s an you know, a church picnic, where we’re all at Hawaiian falls, then we’ll have non uniform people there for that kind of thing. Now that they still have all the hardware is just not going to be visible, right. But there’s times that we move for more visible deterrence based on the number of people on campus and the mix, being more heavily weighted towards people that we don’t know that aren’t necessarily part of the congregation versus an internal event.


Mark Turman  53:38

So last question, to wrap up for both of you. So Delmark, how important is this for the average local church, Pastor or church leader that’s listening to this person, you kind of spoke to him a little while ago, the guy that’s maybe listen to this on his way to work and think I need to go have that conversation with my pastor. From your perspective, how important is this in the in the environment of a local congregation?


John Mark Caton  54:05

Well, it’s not as important as salvation or doing church. But I will tell you in today’s environment, I think if a church does not have a security team that is developing or developed, I think they’re missing the mark, that, that I would I would rate this as a high value ministry. And I still we still call it a ministry in our church, a high value ministry and why is it such a high value? Because it is what is going to help protect our children and our students and our seniors and our elderly, those who are most vulnerable because here’s what we do know that if a significant event happens in a church or a church facility and there’s not an adequate response, that place will probably never be trusted again. So I would say it’s an absolute necessity. City, that wherever the person is it was listening to this if you are the pastor, you better be open to it. If you are a laborer lay person who has a heart for this ministry, go help develop ministry. So I think it’s important,


Mark Turman  55:13

when you get some indication of that, you know, we’re, unfortunately, just when we see the examples of mass shootings, particularly, you know, this grocery store that was serving this community in Buffalo is likely never to open again, there’s a strong call in Uvalde, that we’re just going to tear this school down. And you apply that to a church, you could see how a church could possibly be just put out of business. Even even if the incident is handled, well, it could still happen that way. Paul, where would you encourage a church in church leaders, people that attend church to talk to their pastor about this, where’s a good place to start? And what’s a framework of expectation, particularly in these last few minutes, talk a little bit about the importance of really quality training, when people get involved in this most of the time they’re going to be volunteers. And there’ll be a hopefully a leader, there needs to be a primary owner that says this is going to be my ministry to lead. But frame out a little bit of expectation and practicality in terms of where where can a Christian Where can a church start with this? And then what are some expectations, particularly around people and training and even budget?


Paul Cobb  56:28

So the first step is always with church leadership, right where you are. And John Mark alluded this, if you’re, if you’re the if you’re the guy who has this on your heart, this could be God calling you to this, don’t ignore this, go talk to your church leadership about it and see where they’re at. There are a ton of resources that are available now that were not available. When we were starting this thing out. 15 years ago, right, we’ve got the national association called the faith based security network is out there now. And there’s such a thing. Oh, and they are a tremendous resource. And they have these roundtables on Saturday morning, where they just pick a topic like door locks, you know, what kind of doors to have, what kind of doors to try and avoid and how do you secure certain types of doors and certain to, I mean, to access control systems to fire alarm systems to practices and policies. Century one consulting is, is led by a guy named Paul Lake and he’s here in the Metroplex, and he’s a giant in this space, about talking churches through how to get started, you know, he’s got, you know, fill in the blank process and procedure manuals and emergency response plans, which, you know, big advocate, every church should have one gets tornadoes, bomb threats, firing, I mean, just normal stuff. Do you know what to do? And do the people that are in charge of doing it, know how to do it? Right? Basic stuff, start with that to pastors and church leaders, I’d say, Hey, if you’re going to commission, some of your lay people to do this, give them the support and the budget, they need to actually get it accomplished. Right, it you know, always want to see somebody in lay leadership, at least as the executive sponsor of the security ministry. And then there’s a team leader. And these people are or seasoned people in your church that have a long tenure of have a servant’s heart, that you know, what their tenor and demeanor is that they’re, they’re a good fit for this. Right? That they have that emotional capital with you when they come and sit down with you and say, Hey, I’ve got a concern. You listen because you know their heart, you know, what, what their investment is in the church as far as servant and getting things done, and spreading the gospel. And so you know, pastors if this direction you go, make sure you not only give them the leadership capital, but give them a budget that they can actually get it done with and start with an eyes and ears group that are watching for things and then get him some communication so they can communicate one with another and then get him some force multipliers like a video surveillance system. So they can you know, one person can see lots of areas of the church and you don’t need as many people and you know, our we have 10 training cycles that our core curriculum, it’s emergency response plans, is dealing with difficult parents that that one comes you ever had one of them just a few. Every now and then, you know handling how to move a disruptive person out of your congregation when they don’t want to move, right. Advanced first aid, combat medicine, spotting abuse, children’s spotting child abusers and patterns and target softening that they do. You know, our teams have three shooting qualifications a year and then once a year, we red team, right? We bring in it’s hysterical and humiliating all at the same time. We bring in a team of actors that they come in with scripts and they just pound your security team on Sunday. Aereo after scenario after scenario that they hit cold, and then they do what they do. And then you critique what they did well, and what didn’t go so well. Right. And but it’s very experiential learning. And so this is how your volunteer teams get experience. Right? And then you you see people, right? You know, how, how do people interact? You see the guys? Are they standing in the corner with crossed arms? Are they out there shaking hands and greeting people and saying hello, and they know your staff members names, and they, they know your your lay leaders names, and they interact with folks, and they know what looks right. And they know what doesn’t look, right. They’re an extension of your hospitality staff. Right, if done correctly, right. You know, sure, we can fix booboos. And we can handle major emergencies. And we can work cameras, and those are the bulk of the calls, right? Yeah. Can they take care of business? Yes, they know how to do that, too. But that’s, that’s not what people see. That’s, that’s not what they do most of the time, but they have that capability. I mean, one of the things that’s happened at both of your churches is that you were able to get the right people in place so that your congregations adopted a culture of security. And so now when they see it, you know, when they, they see a uniformed, you know, security officer out there opening the doors for the ladies, you know, dinner Gala. They look forward to him being there, they expect them to be there. They appreciate seeing them. And they know their name, and they say hi, and they have a good time. And it’s a part of the tapestry of the infrastructure of of what we call church. Right.


Mark Turman  1:01:41

And this Yeah, and works well and is evolving reality for sure. Well, guys, thank you for your time today and thank you for what you do. Thank you for who you are and for how this is going to help a number of churches think through this issue in a big way. Thank you for listening to today’s episode of the Denison Forum Podcast. If this has been helpful to you, please rate and review us and pass this on to someone that can be used. The data will find it useful as well. Thanks for being a part today.


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