Lessons Learned from Easter Eve Shooting at Rented Church Facility

timdayWhat would you do if there was a shooting at the theater that you rent for your church on a Saturday evening? What if it was the night before Easter? Today we have a guest post from Tim Day, the senior pastor of The Meeting House in Toronto. The Meeting House is a 15 campus multisite church that you need to get to know more about. Tim Day works in partnership with Bruxy Cavey to lead The Meeting House. He is married to Liz and has three children, Nathan, Rachel and Josh. Tim enjoys creative writing and playing basketball. I’ve added a bit of my own commentary that bottom of this post in italics.

Get to know Tim: Follow him on Twitter. Read his blog.

yorkdaleshootingOn the Saturday night before Easter, a man was shot outside of a mall where in its theatres one of our sites meets. The story instantly became headline news. The mall immediately became a crime scene. By 11 pm that evening we had confirmed the theatre we were using for our site would still allow us to have services. By 7 am we were informed by the police that all entrances to the mall were going to be closed because abandoned cars still in the parking lot and their need to do a controlled investigation. Here are the lessons we learned:

  • Keep communicating with the police – These kinds of events rarely happen and so the police do not have a policy. At first they were going to close the parking lot entirely. With 30 minutes to go to our service time, they decided to open up some limited parking. They wanted to be cooperative but they are sorting it out as they go.
  • Get solutions to keep the site open immediately so that can be communicated – We were able to bring a van and set up a shuttle from a nearby parking lot. Our local and central staff pulled this together within an hour on Easter Sunday.
  • Be ready to speak to the media – We had a stream of media come through that morning. We had three staff ready to go for interviews. It allowed us to share hope in the midst of tragedy.
  • People may stay away – We had people drive up and leave. Our numbers were down by about 30% that morning.
  • Mobilize central support but also allow your local staff and volunteers to shine – Local staff and volunteers need support but they don’t need to be overtaken. This is their moment and it can be an incredible team building experience for them as they work together to respond to this unexpected situation.

In the end, we believe that God turned a tragedy into a chance to share with thousands and thousands the hope we have as believers.

Some lessons that I picked up as I watched this situation unfold …

  • Social Media as Communication Channel // In times of emergencies your social media channels are perfectly suited for immediate communication like this. Our people are looking to those tools for up to date information and The Meeting House leveraged it well. Developing effective social channels is insurance for smooth communication when emergency situations of any kind arise.
  • Biggest Media Moments are Surprises // This reminded me again that we need to work to build positive relationships with the media outlets in our community. That groundwork will pay off when a moment comes along that is unexpected and you need to simply respond to their questions. How can you communicate with the traditional media more this year?
  • We will open. // I love the determination to still host services. The church is a beacon of light even in the midst of the darkest times in our community. It would have been “reasonable” for The Meeting House to cancel services but I’m glad they didn’t.



  1. RIch, I agree with everything you and Tim say in this post, but as the person who was first on the scene Sunday morning (I am the Weekend Service Producer for the affected site, and am required to be first in and last out), a few other takeaways:

    -we knew about the shooting from an all-news station email alert. (I have since added the equivalent alerts from the other media outlets, as well as a Google news alert for our venue.) This allowed us to be pro-active in contacting the theater (I will use American spellings/terminology).

    -be pro-active. Once I confirmed that the theater was available, I approached the police officers at our regular entrance and explained who we were and what our expectations were. They explained their position and we came to the remote parking/shuttle solution, and they agreed that we could unload our truck on the street and walk the bins in. Similarly, mall security were approached and agreed that we could use a different elevator than the one we usually use.

    -I love the way Tim phrased his points in the “mobilize central support” bullet point. There was no doubt on that day that the cross-regional support staff were there to support us, and they deferred to us on decision-making; their attitude (sometimes explicitly, always at least implicitly) was “how can we support you to effect the decisions you’ve made?”

    -once the work that has to be done is taken care of, memorialize what has gone on. There are some great pictures on our local campus’s Facebook page of the team right after we repacked the truck. Many who helped were not (yet) regular volunteers, and others were stepping into unfamiliar roles, but there was a desire to do what needed doing — loved it!

    Lessons learned for next time:
    -I now have cell phone numbers for every one of our volunteers who has a cell phone, on my phone, and in a distribution list for instant, simultaneous communication by text message of such an event.

    -we had a great esprit de corps before this happened; it was reinforced and enhanced.

    Really proud of how our people responded to this situation, and I feel sorry for the 30% who can only hear about it second-hand.

    1. I agree with Russ’ takeaways and must say that he was a total SUPERSTAR with all that was going on that day! I’m on staff as as our Site Support Pastor (central support) and was helping to drive the “shuttle” for parking that day. There were two other key things I found helpful that day…

      1) Have a plan… any plan! Someone asked me that day, “Did the church have a plan for what to do when this happened?” I responded, “No, the church didn’t have a plan for a possible shooting in a parking lot that would result in only the parking lot being closed and the site itself being open… But we DID have a snow plan!” Our snow plan dictates our communication plan to get the word out to as many as possible, as fast as possible if we need to close a site. It says who makes the final calls, who is responsible to post things online, on social media, on our app, send out emails, etc. We followed this plan and within 30 minutes of determining the parking situation we posted through every online resource we had and directly emailed every member of the site with specific parking instructions. We also emailed every staff member at every site so they knew what was going on and could pray.

      2) Stay calm… Okay, I’m not a naturally calm person, but Russ is! His level head helped us make calm, clear, and direct decisions on the ground that day.

      The whole experience was a team building event and I walked away so thankful for the resources of a multi-site church and the leaders I serve alongside!

      1. Love it!

        The insight about modifying an existing communication plan is a good one. What a great resource to draw on!

        Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting!

        – Rich

  2. “Biggest Media Moments are Surprises // This reminded me again that we need to work to build positive relationships with the media outlets in our community. That groundwork will pay off when a moment comes along that is unexpected and you need to simply respond to their questions. How can you communicate with the traditional media more this year?”

    Rich and the Un Seminary Team I read this post and Riches Comments and it reminded me about a conversation we had in our life group 6 months ago about Church ENGAGING the Media. Im a Marketing guy and I get it but you will run into several people from more conservative backgrounds that view the Media as Satan. Sad to see this in this day and age. The cool thing Rich is if you build the relationship in “quiet peaceful Times” If and When an Emergency happens you gain a right to speak with them. Media people are people They want good Fresh content Why not tell them about all the Good We do as a Church.. That’s not showboating that’s Communication and dare I say Evangelism .

    1. John!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Well said … one of the things I’ve found as we’ve worked with the media is that we become more comfortable with it and so we’re able to relax and make sure we’re “on message”. Every church has got to start working with their local media today for sure!

      Thanks again!

      – Rich

  3. Rich, there is another, unmentioned – but just as important lesson from the shooting incident story.


    Before you send ANYONE out to speak to the media, make sure they’re providing the same, basic message. Its important to get your staff together and work out the main points of your message BEFORE they get asked any questions by those of us (I used to be a journalist) in the media.

    I always cringed when I had to do a story involving a church because I knew most of them would shoot “off the cuff” and not be thoughtful about the message they were conveying concerning the news event or story.

    If you work all week on preparing a message to communicate God’s great message to your people, why wouldn’t you spend AT LEAST 30 minutes working together with your staff on the message you want to convey from and about your congregation to the lost and dying world. The wrong word said at the wrong time on the wrong radio or TV station, newspaper or online blog could do TREMENDOUS harm to the work of that local church in the future.

    It also doesn’t hurt to take a lesson from the Boy Scouts of America and “be prepared.” As you can, begin to work on a Media Relations Policy Manual. Know ahead of time who will be the “face” of the church in certain matters. The cool thing about this effort is, when newsworthy events break out in your community, if you have a Media Relations Policy Manual that includes basic outlines of responses to certain events – say a statewide breakout of tornadoes that kills over 200 in one day (April 27, 2011 in Alabama for instance) – you’re able to contact the media FIRST, knowing that they will be looking for new, different angles on the story and you’ve just provided them a great angle on the story – how the church is responding to the need.

    1. Phil …. great insights. It’s worth doing even just a little bit of “media role playing” … have someone pretend they are a journalist and someone else be the person being questioned.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

      – Rich

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.