Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

Barring the Doors with Good Intentions

“Why is the outside door to the fellowship hall locked?” I asked, within a few weeks of arriving at the church I served a number of years ago. The response: “Because people we don’t know might come in.”

To many first time visitors the fellowship hall door looked like the front door of the building. It was a glass double door that faced the parking lot off of the main road. Insiders knew that the actual front door was on the other side of the building that faced the parking lot off the less trafficked street.

I asked the obvious question, “Why don’t you want people you don’t know coming into the building? I thought you wanted to grow?” Then I learned that the ladies who came before church to set up for coffee hour would leave their purses in the kitchen when they went to worship. One Sunday someone came into the building while the congregation was in the sanctuary and stole the ladies’ purses. After that they took what seemed to be a reasonable precaution and locked the fellowship hall door. I suggested they lock their purses in my office, in their cars, or take them into worship with them. We would leave the fellowship hall door unlocked, put up signs showing the way to the sanctuary, and even have a greeter there on Sundays we expected more visitors.

The shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Texas make it tempting for churches to hunker down and be on the look out for folks who don’t quite belong. It’s important for churches to take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of those who enter our doors and participate in our ministries. But let’s not let vigilance replace hospitality, nor permit fear to thwart love.


  1. Larry Bauer

    A good commentary on a difficult topic that will likely plague us for years to come. Yet when you put yourself and your family in harm’s way because a mentally ill person with an attack gun decides to seek revenge against his in-laws (in church, no less), you begin to wonder what steps you should take to protect yourself. Not all of them will be viewed as welcoming, I’m sure.

    • admin

      And what is the cost of arming ourselves against the remote possibility that someone will come seeking to do real harm?

      • Larry Bauer

        It’s very high, and the statistics definitely favor your safety. But the severity of the terrorist attacks tends to cause paranoia, and human nature is what it is. I would expect to see more locked doors.

  2. admin

    Plus, our own unexamined biases will get triggered and we’ll see people we assume are out of place because they’re not exactly like us.

  3. Larry Bauer

    Yes, and then there is always the possibility that in some groups we’re viewed as those people. Ask your immigrant ancestors if they ever felt that way.

  4. Erin P. Gosser

    It’s always surprising to me that churches keep their doors unlocked. I’m always worried FOR them; what if something happens?! But I do see why a church, of all places, would want to have open doors.

    It actually reminds me of Jean Valjean stealing the silver candlesticks in Les Mis. And then the priest just gives them to him and asks him to go forth and do good with his life. It’s such a moment of grace. I guess that’s what the open doors represent.

    • admin

      This church was keeping the door locked on Sunday morning — sort of like a store having the door locked during business hours.

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