Unfortunately, no community or organization is exempt from the threat of crime – and this includes houses of worship. Thankfully, there are many steps you can take to help crime-proof your house of worship and prevent offenses from impacting your organization and the people you serve.
1) First things first: Find where you can improve
It can be difficult for house of worship leaders to decide where to focus their efforts if they’re unsure of where they stand at the start. In this spirit, it can be helpful to take a baseline evaluation of the current security measures and practices in place. From here, you can use this information to better pinpoint where efforts will be the most effective, and where security improvements are critical.
Our self-assessment checklist is a great place to start. It helps organizational leaders go over important elements including outside deterrents, internal security systems, access to the building and other assets, and more. Completing an assessment will help ensure that time and resources are well spent on the areas that require the most attention.
2) Prevent crime in the cover of darkness
As noted in the checklist, criminals will use darkness to their advantage, helping them to remain out of sight and cover their tracks. One easy way to prevent this is to deny them access to shadowy areas around your building and property.
Check out areas like front and side doorways, pathways and parking lots. If any of these areas are particularly dark in the evening or at night, consider adding security lights to illuminate entrances, exits and walkways. Putting these lights on a timer or motion sensor can help reduce added utility costs. Burglars and criminals will be less inclined to hang around if their actions are constantly visible.
Similarly, it can be helpful to prune back any large bushes, trees or shrubs in the area of the building or parking lot. Large bushes might provide curb appeal, but cutting back landscaping can also eliminate any potential hiding places that criminals may use to their advantage.
3) Label or mark property belonging to the house of worship
Even though your organization may be small, chances are good that you’ve invested in a few items to support worship services or other events. Whether these are religious pieces used during services – like ceremonial items or other sacred objects – or things like sound systems and computer equipment, they can all be targets for theft.
A tip list from the Springfield (Missouri) Police Department suggests marking valuables that belong to your religious organization. The more prominent the identification, the better. These labels can serve as simple deterrents for criminals, who will have a harder time selling items that have been obviously stolen from a house of worship.
4) Meet and greet with local law enforcement
Researcher and church security expert Carl Chinn told LifeWay that it’s particularly beneficial for house of worship leaders to reach out and meet local law enforcement. This might include the local police sergeant or a state officer assigned to patrol in the area of the house of worship. Whatever the case, forming a relationship and working with local police and security leaders can help your religious organization present a united front against crime in the area.
“Work with your community first and foremost,” Chinn advised. “Know your law enforcement and fellow faith-based safety operators in your area on a first-name basis.”
Getting to know these protection professionals can have other benefits, as well. Consider inviting law enforcement to your house of worship for an open discussion about community security, and ask for additional tips or ideas for how your organization can secure its property and do its part to support security in the community.
5) Educate congregation stakeholders and volunteers
As noted in this crime prevention guide from Jacksonville (North Carolina) Police, the best security programs don’t rely on the efforts of a single person, and instead bring others into the fold. For instance, it can be helpful to educate congregation greeters, deacons, assistant ministers or other house of worship members and have them help you with crime proofing. This training and education can include taking a look at the type of crime that impacts your specific area and working proactively to prevent it. In addition, greeters can learn to spot and report suspicious behavior, which can support an intervention before criminal activity takes place.
While crime-proofing is an ongoing effort, starting with small, simple steps is important for the safety of your house of worship, its members and the community.
The information contained in these materials is intended solely to provide general guidance on topics that may be of interest to you. While we have made reasonable efforts to present accurate and reliable information, Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I. disclaims all liability for any errors or omissions, or for any actions you take or fail to take based on these materials. The information provided may not apply to your particular facts or circumstances; therefore, you should seek professional advice prior to relying on any information that may be found in these materials.