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Be Aware

Use All Senses and Know what to Be Aware of

Man watching out the window with binoculars.

Based on the Safety Member Certification training modules “Safety Team Fundamentals” and “Protecting Children from Abuse”[1]

From the Bible

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2).

The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of (Matthew 24:50).

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).


A sign posted in the high school gym said, "Be alert. We need more lerts." This facetious notice served the purpose of catching students' attention and sticking in their memories, since it was often quoted.

Alertness is essential in almost everything in life except sleep. Even then, most of us are conditioned to respond to an alarm. We need to be aware of the road, signs, and other traffic when driving, and also alert for anything unusual. Our lives depend on it. Here is a previously used story to illustrate the role of awareness in safety:

Two persons leave Betty's Boutique and head down Market Street, first Meghan, then Lucy.

Meghan pockets her smart phone and keeps her head up while walking. She brushes her hair back with her hand, increasing her peripheral vision. Her eyes move side-to-side, and she turns her head frequently.

Jack Brown sees Meghan coming down the street and shrinks back into the shadows of an alley, remaining hidden until she has passed. Then he slips out of the alley onto the sidewalk behind her.

Walking past a store window, Meghan catches a glimpse of Jack behind her. Pulling her right hand into defensive readiness, she changes the grip on her purse with her left hand so it can be swung as a weapon as she moves her head first to the right, then to the left.

Jack sees Meghan's reaction and steps into a doorway. Half a minute later, he heads back to the alley.

When it is safe to do so, Meghan pulls out her phone and calls 911.

Now Lucy comes down the sidewalk, smart phone in hand. She is so engrossed with texting that she almost trips on a crack in the pavement. As she passes the alley, Jack slips in behind her. Lucy has a Black Belt in martial arts, but she never gets a chance to use it.

Lights off, a police car comes around the corner in response to a suspicious person report. The officers see Lucy down and Jack running from the scene. One officer tends to Lucy while the other chases Jack.

What was the awareness difference between the two women? What was Megan aware of, but not Lucy?

On the Web

Gardena, California, December 30, 2017 Two hooded teens tried to rob a convenience store. When they got into the store, one brandished a fake assault rifle. They got as far as cornering the cashier.

When the teens approached the store, an armed security guard took note of their attire, especially the bottoms of the hoods fastened up to hide their faces, so he watched them closely. When he saw them pull out the fake gun, he got out of the car and went in. He saw the "gun" pointed at the cashier, so he fired his weapon over the counter, disabling that teen. Then since the other may have had a weapon, he shot him in the arm. One of the wounded teens yelled, "The gun is fake." The guard said, "Mine is real."[1]

Abbeville, Louisiana, May 11, 2024 During a First Communion Mass for children at a church in Abbeville, a teen with a rifle tried to come in through a back door. Members of the church saw this. They stopped and disarmed the teen, holding him outside to wait for the police.

The church now plans to have police in uniform outside the church during masses.[2]

England, March 15, 2024 Two letters to The Guardian addressed the issue of frequent vandalism of churches in Britain. Claire Walker, Chief executive of the National Churches Trust, said that keeping churches open to the public throughout the week would deter vandals, since they were more likely to be seen.[3]

Washington, DC, December 15, 2022 The Family Research Council made available a report by Arielle Del Turco, "Hostility Against Churches Is on the Rise in the United States." Decline of reverence and respect for others' right to worship and to practice their religion is cited as a factor behind acts of desecration, vandalism, and destruction against churches. Driving motives for the hostility include conservative churches' stands against abortion and against deviation from traditional standards of sexuality.[4]

LinkedIn, September 30, 2021 In a LinkedIn post, "How church greeters can be an eagle eye in threat detection," Erin Vie noted how greeters can spot indications of threats and help in resolving them while still being warm and welcoming. While knowing what is normal for those entering the church (the "baseline"), they can also notice what is not normal (an "anomaly"). Trained greeters can then sharpen their focus and either take needed action or alert the safety team.

Among items of attention are clothing, newness (unfamiliar persons), and body language.[5]

Montgomery County, Maryland, July 9, 2022 Three churches in Montgomery County Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist were vandalized on the same night. Since they are close to each other, authorities believe that they are linked. Damages included toppled tombstones, destruction inside a sanctuary, general mischief, and attempted arson.[6]

Aware of What?

We have had several articles on the subject of situational awareness. This includes Cooper's Colors of Awareness. All five of our senses are involved in being aware. We can be alerted to safety and security concerns by sight, sound, smell/taste, and touch. Sight, sound, and smell are the obvious senses. As to taste, some things in the air can leave a taste in our mouths. As to touch, our hands may feel the texture of an item or an unseen bulge in an object, or our bodies may feel vibrations, shaking, or movement.

We should be alert to

  1. Specific indicators of a threat or need;
  2. General non-conformity to expected norms.

Specific indicators

Specific indicators may be outside, at the door, or inside the church.

"Look out" for us should include "Look outside." Specific indicators of an armed attack usually begin outside. These could be suspicious vehicles stopped on church property or on the street in front of the church. It could be someone pulling a weapon out of a car, especially if they are dressed for combat.

In the parking lot, someone could be moving from vehicle to vehicle, peering through the windows. This is especially suspicious after the service has begun. Send someone out to check on him. At least he'll know he's been noticed. If he's trying the doors, first call 911.

Also concerning is a figure sneaking toward the church, hiding behind vehicles as he comes. Call 911 and perform a lockout.

When someone seems grumpy or depressed, there is first a need for a friendly smile and greeting. The observable mood may be momentary, or the person may need more reassurance or help. If there is a real need and the person coming in shares it, the greeter or safety team member may take them to someone who can help them.

Along this line, be alert for signs of disruption, such as a loud, angry voice or one person shoving another or shaking a finger at him/her. This is a need for verbal de-escalation.

Other specific indicators are clues that there may be hidden weapons, such as bulges in clothing. It may be innocent, such as golf balls in a pocket (these are usually left in the car).

Some items may need to be checked. I don't know how you feel about bag checks, but Terry Berringer recommends them in his guest article "Today we will Dig into Bag Searches." Many of us have had to have our bags and lunch boxes checked while entering or leaving our workplace. Terry also recounts his experience with a suspicious package.[7][8]

Of course, we should be alert to indications of a fire, such as the smell of smoke. Be aware of the sounds of the weather also listen for a tornado siren or an alert on the weather radio. If your church is next to a busy highway, that shaking might be from a passing heavy truck, but it could be an earthquake, even if you're in Ohio or Virginia.

Members of a church security team or medical team should be aware of a developing medical emergency, such as a heart attack, a stroke, hypothermia, heat stress, allergic reaction, etc.

General non-conformity

In an interview with Kris Moloney, Simon Osamoh of Worship Security Academy stressed being aware of "violations of norms." What is normally expected in you church and in your community? Some of this depends on your denomination or congregation. Simon gave an example from some church shootings the shooters entered during the service and walked down to the front. The norm for those who enter late is to sit in the back.[9]

There are other norms which may be violated by a disruptive, hostile, larcenous, or predatory person. One concerning violation is disobeying obvious signage.

Loitering in the church is a non-conformity which should be checked out. Safety team members on patrol may encounter a loiterer, especially if they look into every corner and unlocked closet as they go. Kidnappers have waited near restrooms for victims to come. A loiterer with bad intentions will most likely leave if discovered.

Clothing which is out-of-place may indicate several things, especially when it is excess coverage for the weather. Most notorious are trench coats or overcoats in hot weather. Actually, unless it is exceptionally cold, most people today do not wear a long coat. Two examples covered in Lessons Learned articles are the 2019 West Freeway Church of Christ Shooting and the 2024 Lakewood Church Shooting. In each of these, the assailant hid a shotgun in the coat.[10][11]

Visitors to your church may be unaware of your congregation's expected attire, especially if they are from another social environment. If that is the case, it helps to be welcoming without making them feel conspicuous. Learn to notice without staring.


In church security, we need to be aware of many things. Stay alert for anything which may indicate that there is a threat or a need.

Training Resources

The mission of Sheepdog Church Security is to train members of church safety teams. The prime resource is the Safety Member Certification program. Other training resources are the Church Security Guide, articles, and videocasts.

Safety Member Certification

This program has eight training modules (classes). These can be taken in two formats: Self-Paced Training (individual online instructions) and Online Events (live Zoom classes). A member may use either format or mix the two.[12]

Online Events classes are held on Sunday afternoons at 3:00 Central Time. The classes for 2024-2025 are as follows (grayed dates have already been held):






Training Module


Mar 24

Sep 8

Nov 3

Safety Team Fundamentals


Apr 7

Sep 15

Nov 10

Active Shooter Response


Apr 14

Sep 22

Nov 17

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Apr 21

Sep 29

Nov 24

Protecting Children from Abuse


Apr 28

Oct 6

Dec 15

Basic Use of Force Laws


May 5

Oct 13

Jan 5

Arson and Fire Safety


May 19

Oct 20

Jan 12

Storms and Disasters


Jun 2

Oct 27

Jan 19

Mass Trauma Emergencies

Church Security Guide

The Church Security Guide has ten articles, These are also in the Sheepdog Articles with changes to most of the titles.[13]

Original articles

Sheepdog Articles

1. How to Start a Church Safety Ministry in 5 Simple Steps

1. How to Start a Church Safety Ministry in 5 Simple Steps!

2. Introduction to Church Safety and Security

2. Introduction to Church Safety and Security

3. How to Conduct a Risk Assessment

3. How to Conduct a Risk Assessment

4. Church Safety Team Basics

4. Safety Team | Mastering the Basics

5. Fire Safety in the Church

5. How to Handle Fire Safety in the Church

6. Preparing Your Church for Natural Disasters

6. Natural Disasters and How to Prepare Your Church

7. Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church

7. Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church

8. Self Defense Laws, Your Rights and Use of Force

8. Self Defense Laws, Your Rights and Use of Force

9. Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation

9. Mastering Verbal De-escalation for Peaceful Resolutions

10. Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training

10. Church Safety: Active Killer Response Strategies


There are weekly articles, such as this one, covering several church safety and security topics. Since December 2023, these have also been posted in the Sheepdog Articles as the Weekly Briefings.[14]

Also in the Sheepdog Articles are Guest Articles. These are "Insights shared by experienced voices in the field." Most are by Terry Berringer of Emergency Consulting. There are also other contributors.

One recurring feature in the weekly articles is the Lessons Learned series. These articles look at deadly-force attacks in places of worship to learn from them how to better protect our churches.


Originally the Church Security Roll Call videocasts featured Kris's insights on the subjects of weekly articles. They also include interviews Kris has with several experts. Now the new postings are shorts, each one focusing on a key point in church safety and security.


  1. Anon, "Security guard opens fire on robbery suspects at Gardena 7-Eleven," Fox 11, Los Angeles (FoxLA), January 19, 2018 [].
  2. Patrick Smith, "Parishioners stopped teen with a rifle from entering church with 60 children inside," NBC News, May 11, 2024 [].
  3. Claire Walker and Michael Heaton, "Keep churches open to curb vandalism," The Guardian, March 15, 2024 [].
  4. FRC Staff, "Attacks on U.S. Churches Since 2018," Family Research Council, December 15, 2022 [], based on "Hostility Against Churches Is on the Rise in the United States" by Arielle Del Turco []; This has been updated on April 2023 [] and February 2024 [].
  5. Erin Vie, "How church greeters can be an eagle eye in threat detection," LinkedIn, September 30, 2021 [].
  6. David Collins, "Cleanup continues at 3 Montgomery County churches after recent vandalism," WBAL TV, July 11, 2022 [].
  7. Terry Berringer, "Today we will Dig into Bag Searches," Sheepdog Church Security, Safety Ministry Training, Sheepdog Articles, January 30, 2024 [].
  8. Terry Berringer. "Church Security: Lessons Learned from Suspicious Package," Sheepdog Church Security, Safety Ministry Training, Sheepdog Articles, May 2, 2024 [].
  9. WGV, "2019 West Freeway Church of Christ Shooting," Sheepdog Church Security, September 6, 2022 [].
  10. WGV, "Lakewood Church Shooting, 2024," Sheepdog Church Security, May 7, 2024 [].
  11. Kris Moloney with Simon Osamoh, "Interview with Simon Osamoh WSA | Church Security Roll Call 373," Sheepdog Church Security Academy, October 3, 2023 [].
  12. Kris Moloney, Certification, Sheepdog Church Security Academy, © 2021 [].
  13. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [].
  14. Kris Moloney, et al, Sheepdog Articles, Safety Ministry Training, © 2024 [].