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Dialing Down the Heat

Dealing with Disruption

Angry adult men in a fiery conflict and a pacemaker between them trying to mediate and stop the argument.
An article in the series De-Escalating Disruptive Persons

From the Bible

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God (Matthew 5:9).

When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7).


You're walking down the road. An object is thrown out the window of a passing vehicle and lands in dry grass. You see that it is a still-burning cigarette butt, so you put it out. You may have prevented a wildfire.

You're in the church lobby. You see a heated conversation beginning to escalate. Can you prevent this from igniting into violence?

In the News

Manchester, New Jersey, May 24, 2021 - Two police officers responding to a report of a woman wielding a knife took her into custody without any injuries. One officer began talking with her. The other officer was able to take the knife from her. The police chief credited training in de-escalation for the peaceful outcome.[1]

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 26, 2021 - Police were called about a woman with a loaded handgun threatening suicide. Responding officers talked to the woman, who dropped the gun and hugged one officer. The Harrisburg Police Department credited this to the Stepping Up initiative by Dauphin County, which trained law enforcement officers in handling personal crisis and mental illness cases.[2]

Reading, Massachussetts, September 7-10, 2021 - Police de-escalated two dangerous situations. The first, at 6:30 pm, ended with the subject taken to a hospital for mental evaluation. The same individual was involved in another incident at 2:43 the next morning. This individual was later identified in and arrested for break-ins, thefts, arson, and destruction of property about the times of the two incidents.[3]

Special Resources

In November, our free download is Responding to Behavioral Emergencies, the applicable training module is Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4, and additional training is available through the Worship Security Association. Extensive information on the subject is in the article "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation" in the Church Security Guide.

Free Download

Responding to Behavioral Emergencies is this month's free downloadable resource. It is a brief discussion of the subject with information from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and (An American Addiction Centers Resource). Click *HERE* to get it.[4]

Training Module

This series is based on Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4, a training module in the Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy, which is the basis of the Safety Member Certification program.[5]

Additional Training

You can get additional training through Sheepdog Church Security's affiliation with the Worship Security Association. The training videos are created for Church Safety Directors and church leaders, but are informational for team members. One series is on Verbal De-Escalation. See the trailer HERE.[6]

What is Verbal De-Escalation?

Verbal de-escalation is using words to calm a disruptive individual to prevent violence. In some cases, even violence can be stopped through conversation to keep it from becoming worse. This is the recommended course of action for dealing with distraught or disruptive persons. As can be seen in the news stories, police have used it to preclude violence in several situations. It is also taught to security guards, correctional officers, teachers, and healthcare workers.

A related skill, Conflict Resolution, is taught in industrial and office workplaces. Part of the motivation for this is preventing workplace violence.

Factors Leading to Disruptive Behavior

There are several factors which lead to disruptive behavior in the church which may turn violent.

Before considering other factors, let's acknowledge that a large percentage of disruptive behavior in the church is an extension of abuse elsewhere, especially in the home. For instance, mental illness and domestic violence together account for most church shootings. We consider them together since many times it is a combination of the two.

Disruptive youth may be experiencing abuse at home. They may also encounter it, often with bullying, at school, in the neighborhood, or in youth activities (clubs and sports). Sadly, some may experience abuse by those in the church.

A personal crisis often causes a person to act out. The most common areas are Family Problems, Financial Problems, Substance Abuse, Medical Conditions, and Mental Illness. Another stressor is death of a loved one.

Family Problems

There are many kinds of personal problems in homes which affect someone's disposition. This is expected, since being so close tends to emphasize our differences. Parents may have trouble with their children. Children may have overbearing or abusive parents. On the other hand, some children may be or feel neglected, at least emotionally. Spouses have disagreements which can turn into arguments. Then there are the in-law problems (if you have no problems with in-laws, count yourself blessed).

An abused person coming to church can be unsettled and easily upset, especially right after a bad incident at home. The abuser can come looking for their spouse (or for the in-laws). Verbal de-escalation of an abused person should lead to getting them help. If the abuser himself gets help and changes, so much the better. On the other hand, this could alert church leadership and the Safety Team to the potential of violence or child abduction.

Financial Problems

A job loss (for whatever reason), or the stress of a threat of job loss, can make a person irritable and/or depressed. Part of this (especially for men) is the loss of self-worth. Primarily, this is a financial stress. How can they support their family? Some persons may be suicidal.

Other causes of financial distress are bankruptcy, foreclosure on the house, repossession of a needed vehicle, medical bills, student loan payments, business problems, credit card debt, etc. For renters, the rent could have been raised beyond their ability to pay, or the property has changed hands and all renters are out. Some people may have been displaced by a fire or a disaster.

Substance Abuse

There have always been people with substance abuse, mostly with alcohol. Some natural drugs have been a problem, such as opium, hallucinogenic mushrooms, peyote, and marijuana. Over the past century, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of addictive drugs, some (such as opiates) refined from natural substances and many manufactured chemically. Besides harming the users, most of these substances change the persons' behavior, distort their perception of reality, and cripple their reasoning. For instance, long-term, heavy marijuana use can lead to paranoia.

Medical Conditions

A person's medical condition can negatively impact their disposition. Pain can contribute to irritability. The person may become depressed. Some medical conditions lead to cognitive disability and confusion. Then there are the effects of medications for these conditions. We may include often-misunderstood developmental problems which impact behavior, such as autism and attention deficit disorder, and others.

Mental Illness

Mental illness can range from mild to severe. Three of these are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and chronic depression. Not exactly mental illnesses, but also of concern, are a variety of personality disorders, including, among others, sociopathy, psychopathy, and oppositional-defiant disorder.


When de-escalating disruption, it helps to understand what leads to it, because that helps us to understand the person we're dealing with.

There Is More

There are four more articles in November: "The 2007 Neosho First Congregational Church Shooting" (Lesson Learned), "On the Radar" (Warnings of Disruption), "A Calming Conversation" (Conversational Engagement with a Disrupter), and "The 2007 New Life Church Shooting" (Lesson Learned).


  1. Chris Lundy, "Officers Praised For De-Escalating Dangerous Situation," Jersey Shore Online, May 26, 2021 [].
  2. Harri Leigh, "Harrisburg police successfully de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation," Fox43, May 27, 2021 [].
  3. Chief David Clark, "Reading Police Charge Man After Officers De-Escalate Two Potentially Dangerous Situations," John Guilfoil Public Relations, LLC, September 10, 2021 [].
  4. Kris Moloney, "Responding to Behavioral Emergencies," Sheepdog Church Security, © 2019 [].
  5. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2021 [].
  6. Simon Osamoh, Worship Security Association (Sheepdog Church Security affiliate link), 2021 [].