Experts lead church security conference at Willow Creek

Chicago-area church leaders gathered Friday in South Barrington to gain knowledge on how to increase safety in houses of worship at a conference led by law-enforcement experts.

Tim Miller, a former Secret Service special agent whose LionHeart Services International Group is leading the two-day seminar, said churches should know how to recognize the possibility of violence and identify potential child predators. Willow Creek Community Church is hosting the conference, which concludes Saturday.

“It’s really important that the church has a plan to protect its people,” said Miller, security director for the 35,000-member Christ Fellowship Church with seven campuses in south Florida.

Miller said shootings and other violence at churches across the country demonstrate a need for security. In the most recent incident, a masked man with two guns opened fire at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Nashville, where authorities said one person was killed and six wounded before he was subdued.

Representatives from at least 35 churches involved in security attended Friday’s session at Willow Creek. The topics included child protection, developing a security plan, terrorism and active violence training.

In a segment on church security in a changing world, Miller said a warrior mindset is needed. He said ushers, parking lot attendants, pastors and others involved in a worship service need to observe, orient, decide and act.

Miller said those in churches must become masters at identifying body language and be observant for details that could signal an imminent threat and know how to defuse it. The former Secret Service firearms instructor said good security is about training minds and not necessarily weapon use.

“If you’re carrying a weapon and you’re not training with that weapon, you’re actually dangerous,” Miller said. “Let me say that again. If you’re carrying a weapon and you’re not training with that weapon, you’re dangerous. Don’t think for a second that a weapon is going to be what saves the day.”

John Jones of Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Milo Range Training Systems, also was part of Friday’s conference to provide virtual reality training for a crisis in a church setting. Milo has developed 12 scenarios for tense situations that could arise in a church.

“The simulator is going to put them in the situations they’ll be in,” Jones said. “So, even if they’re (church) volunteers or even professionals, you still need that training on what to do. You say, ‘Hey, I want to volunteer to work the parking lot.’ Well, you’re not just to walk out there and work the parking lot. You want to be trained on what you need to do.”

Mark Lundgren, who retired as a supervisory FBI special agent in 2016, spoke about terrorism. He reminded the crowd about an ISIS propaganda video that surfaced in August threatening Pope Francis and how it could reach into local churches.

“The Catholic Church is really a target because the pope is such an iconic symbol,” Lundgren said.

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