Florida church warns visitors of 'heavily armed' worshippers

A church in Florida has gained online attention in the wake of the deadly Texas church shooting after its senior pastor posted a photo of its welcome sign on Instagram which warns visitors that their worshippers are "heavily armed."

(REUTERS / Rick Wilking)Chairs and roses mark where worshipers were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. November 13, 2017.

After 25 people and an unborn child were shot dead at a church in Texas earlier this month, The River at Tampa Bay Church Senior Pastor Rodney Howard Browne posted its welcome message on Instagram on Nov. 7. The sign, however, had been placed near all of its entrances for more than a year now, the New York Daily News reported.

"Welcome to The River at Tampa Bay Church - right of admission reserved — this is private property," the Florida church's now-famous sign read. "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 we will protect our people."

Associate Pastor Allen Hawes revealed to Fox 13 Tampa that he had a concealed-carry weapons permit. Although firing at active shooters was a divisive issue among Christians, the pastor believed that his church's decision to have armed security is justified by the "increasingly darker" situation.

Pastors at the Florida church acknowledged that the signs on their doors were a bit severe, but they also recognized the need to be prepared for mass shootings, which could happen anywhere. Hawes said arming their worshippers may prevent mass shootings from happening to them.

"Would I rather ruffle a few feathers or do I want to count bodies?" Hawes asked.

Meanwhile, 70 religious leaders in Texas gathered recently to learn from law enforcement how to respond to active shooter situations. The Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management said it had already planned the activity but the Texas mass shooting only moved up their time table, KXAN relayed.

Church leaders who attended the recent workshop were taught where to run, how to conduct an emergency evacuation, and how to go up against an active shooter. The county will also conduct similar activities across the country this year to help prepare people for other crises that may come up.