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Why Reality Training Needs to Feel Real

By Craig Cable

The first radio call came in from our church administrator.

“There’s a man fighting with the pastor in his office!”

As another security team member and I were running up the stairs toward our church offices, we heard the second broadcast.

“He’s attacking him!”

I was in the lead and the first to see a man coming down the hall toward me with his hand in his sweatshirt pocket. Just as I was giving him verbal commands to stop and show his hands, the man pulled a large knife from concealment. I immediately drew my weapon and fired three well-placed shots. The attacker crumpled to the floor about 15 feet away from me.

That’s when I heard, “End scenario!”


As a church security team leader and reserve deputy sheriff, one thing I’ve learned is that the most memorable and effective trainings are the ones that get my adrenaline up and blood pumping. And there are very few things that get the juices flowing like reality-based scenario training.

While most church security teams understand the importance of reality training in principle, you’d be surprised by how few churches put it into practice, perhaps because it takes so much time and effort. But in my opinion, you can’t afford not to. Here’s why…

Plans always seem to work perfectly on a whiteboard, PowerPoint presentation, or spelled out in a manual. But the truth is that plans often fall apart when put to the test.

For example, back when I was in the sheriff’s reserve academy, I recall spending several days in the classroom learning about use-of-force policies, active-shooter response, room-clearing tactics, and mindset—all very good stuff.

But it was a whole new ballgame when one evening we were asked to show up for training at a dark, abandoned building and were informed by the training sergeant that there were members of our SWAT team in the building randomly shooting innocent people. Our final exam was to enter the building, find the shooters, and eliminate the threat. Oh, and not get killed in the process.

Believe me, our well thought out “plans” didn’t at all resemble what actually happened that night.

I think the great philosopher Mike Tyson said it best:

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Unless you want to stand like a deer in headlights and get punched again, it’s critical that you keep your wits about you and begin adapting on the fly. Freezing isn’t an option.

The only way you can train for action is to put participants through a level of stress induced by failure. That’s where the real learning kicks in. Not only do your people get an important lesson in problem solving, but you’re also given an opportunity to reevaluate your plans, processes, and procedures after they’re put to the test.

In fact, I believe so strongly in reality training, I dedicate half of our Shepherd’s Watch® church security regional training events to role-playing scenarios, such as a domestic argument in the parking lot, a medical emergency in the sanctuary, or a noncustodial parent demanding access to their child.

We’ve also loaded two DVDs with scenario training exercises in our new Safe and Secure Church training kit. They challenge security teams to problem-solve a variety of security and medical issues that churches are likely to face—no need to reinvent the wheel or create scenarios from scratch. See what I mean here.

To close with Tyson’s wisdom once again—scenario training doesn’t send church security teams into a fight with only a plan. Instead, it sends them into the practice ring, letting them swing punches, take a few hits, and get better. Then when they face a real crisis, they’re better prepared.

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Why Reality Training Needs to Feel Real

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