Several Nebraska churches have strengthened security around weekend worship services, and some have even added armed guards, because of worries about church shootings that have happened elsewhere.
Church leaders say they are taking precautions and aren't responding to any specific threats.
"The worst fear of any church now is an active shooter," said Jim Nichols, security director at King of Kings in west Omaha. "You have to take care of yourself."
At King of Kings, security team members wear uniforms and an armed guard stands near the back of the worship hall. Another volunteer monitors security cameras.
Shootings in recent years give church leaders reason to be wary. In 2007, a gunman killed four people in shootings at an evangelical ministry and a church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And in 2012, a gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. More recently, nine people were killed at a South Carolina church last year.
Harold Gillens, president of the International Association of Security Professionals, said the South Carolina shooting was especially concerning for churches.
"Churches realize they are somewhat of a soft target," he said.
About three years ago, the Midwest Church Security Coalition was created to help churches improve their security with training and advice. The group has about 70 members, mostly in Nebraska but also some in western Iowa and South Dakota.
Some Omaha congregations, including Lifegate and Brookside churches, have organized teams of volunteers who wear handguns during services after receiving special training.
"We want them to experience the Lord here — and be safe," said Mike Martin, who oversees security at Lifegate, which draws about 2,000 every weekend.
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Lifegate also increased the number of security cameras it has on its main campus when it drafted a formal security plan four years ago.
At King of Kings, church member Kathy Rosene said she feels safer knowing that the security guards are there.
"Jesus told us to protect ourselves from evil," she said.
The security concerns also affect worship centers of other faiths. The Islamic Center of Omaha has been vandalized several times in the past few years, so more surveillance cameras have been added at the mosque.
"We need to provide a secure and safe place for (members) to worship," said Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for the mosque.
Security concerns also helped shape the design of the new Jewish Temple that was built in west Omaha in 2013. Instead of multiple entrances, the new facility has only one secure entry.
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