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Church security: are you concerned?

Church security: are you concerned?

In the wake of the shooting at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston and other acts of violence in churches, discussions are ongoing about safety for staff and parishioners on Sunday and during the week.

From the Winfield, KS Daily Courier:

Security was an important issue at local churches even before last month’s church shooting in Charleston, S.C. While the possibility of a similar incident here may seem remote, pastors from several local churches who spoke with the Courier said there is a need to have such policies to do what they can to prevent something from happening….

Buzzer systems, security cameras, locked doors are under consideration. Has your church thought about possible violence in your building and how to prevent it? Is it possible to be completely safe? How far should security rule community life?




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Eric Bonetti

Hi Bill. Your point is well taken, but security for a house of worship involves much more than issues of deadly force. For example, churches lose more to embezzlement than they give to missions. Source:

Similarly, it is a best practice to restrict access to unused portions of your facility, in order to deny privacy to those who might engage in sexual misconduct.

So, lots of ways to make your church safer.

Bill Simpson

To put it another way, “deadly force deaths” associated with churches average about 16 per year. According to NOAA on average 51 Americans dies from lightning strikes every year.

Bill Simpson

Americans tend not to think clearly about allocation of risk.

In 2013 there were 32,719 deaths from traffic accidents in the United States.

Since 1999 there have been 549 “deadly force deaths” (homicides, suicides) associated with faith-based institutions. (The three top triggers were Domestic violence, personal conflict, and robbery.)

Suggestion: less concern about mad gunmen and more attention to crosswalks.


Eric Bonetti

We also need to be mindful of the need to care for the “least among us,” including our children, the elderly, those with disabilities and others. Not only do we have an ethical obligation to protect those who cannot do so for themselves, but as a practical matter, a vandalism, arson, or violent crime can be devastating for parishioners. And many times, what is lost is irreplaceable; consider the situation of St. Thomas’ in Dupont Circle, DC. Not only were priceless works of art lost, but last I heard, the church had yet to rebuild.

So, yes, things can be taken too far, but what passes for security in many houses of worship is laughable.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I provide security consulting services to houses of worship, but do so on a non-profit basis.)

Adam Bond

A church in my diocese was recently ransacked: doors taken off hinges, the offices turned over, the nave spray painted with obscenities, the tabernacle violated, the vessels stolen, and the body of christ strewn across the floor and trampled. Following this desecration, there were several people in the diocese who scolded and shamed the parish for not having installed a security system (cameras, alarms, etc.). An “I told you so” atmosphere prevailed in several quarters, although there was admittedly as much if not more unrepentant outrage (possibly misplaced) and shows of solidarity, sympathy, and support. I work in a parish that has security cameras aimed at every entrance and which has a zoned alarm system. I sit in the office peering at a monitor which alerts me when some unassuming passerby dares walk by the church or when the shadow cast from a passing car filters through the window. The doors remaine locked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, briefly unlocked for a few hours Sunday morning. While this is the parishes policy and I respect it, understanding the “practical” concerns of security, both for the property and the personnel (really just myself), something about The Church of Fort Knox troubles me deeply. The scriptures recurrently remind us to “Be not afraid” and it is our fear, our fear of the other and the outsider, that leads us to take what are, frankly, rather extreme measures to protect things that have no value save as places that remain open and available as oases, sactuaries of prayer and service. I think we are called to fools for Christ, to be so mindnumbingly and, yea, irrationally open that our first instinct is to be unafraid, to extend the benefit of the doubt to the very ends of the earth. If we cannot extend trust, first and forement, to our neigbhors, how can we expect them to trust us? It’s my highly fugitive opinion that we have a responsibility first to that, and second to the security of our property and our selves. It is a necessary risk, that in encountering broken human beings in a real way that allows god’s grace to flow abundantly in our midst, we might forsake our goods, our safety, even, although it is to be hoped against, our lives. That is not to say that I think security measures are wrong or that they shouldn’t be used, but that we should seriously question how great a hindrance they are to our serving god and our neighbor. Just my tuppence.

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