With churches across the country being forced to think deeply about security following the recent assault on a church in Texas that killed 26 people and the 2015 attack on a church in Charleston, the River at Tampa Bay Church has a sign posted on the front door that reads: “Welcome to The River at Tampa Bay Church - right of admission reserved - this is private property.”
The message, signed “The Pastors”, adds: “Please know this is not a gun free zone - we are heavily armed - any attempt will be dealt with deadly force - yes we are a church and will protect our people.”
Associate Pastor Allen Hawes told the Tampa Bay Times the sign had actually been in place for more than a year at the non-denominational church, which frequently live streams its services. However, it earned national attention after another pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, posted it on his Instagram account.
Mr Hawes has his own concealed-carry weapons permit, and said those armed during services that draw over 1,000 could include parishioners with concealed-carry permits, private plainclothes guards, or uniformed deputies hired for security.
“If you think you are going to come here and do that, this is a deterrent for you because it is everywhere, it's not like we hide these signs,” said Mr Hawes. “They're big signs, and it's going to tell these people, we will protect our people.”
He claimed the church officials were fulfilling a biblical teaching to look after those in their care.
“I believe, if you look at the teachings of Jesus, Matthew, and different places in the scriptures, we see it will get increasingly darker, wars, rumours of wars, and people with not good intentions are going to look for a way to make a statement,” he said.
A total of 26 people were killed and 20 more injured in a church shooting earlier this month in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The gunman, 26-year-old Devin Kelley, was later found dead after being shot at and pursued by members of the church.
In June 2015, nine African Americans were shot and killed by 21-year white supremacist, Dylan Roof, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.