This is a troubling subject, but one that must be included in a discussion of church security and overall church safety. Violence and incidents of deadly force have been increasing in church buildings; church leaders should be aware of some of the statistics we’ve seen compiled by other sources. We share these stats, not as experts in safety (our expertise is designing and building churches), but to create awareness of the need to include security in church design.

Church-Related Deadly Force Incidents

There have been over 1,800 deadly force incidents connected with churches over the past 20 years (ending in 2018). In that same period, 479 of those incidents resulted in the death of one or more persons. We share these statistics not to scare you, but to help you realize that the potential for violence and deadly force exists, even though rare.

Awareness can help you prepare and address possible security issues. Therefore, we will share some details about the motives, methods, victims, timing, and location of these various incidents, and what they reveal about how you can, or sometimes can’t, be prepared for the eruption of violence.

Motives for Violence

While we cannot know the motive for every incident, the most common occurrence of deadly force is during a robbery. This is intuitive, and one reason why we suggest the installation of certain security features in your church building. The next most common motive is the spillover of domestic conflict into the church. Other motives include personal conflicts not related to immediate family, and violence resulting from mental illness, drug- and gang-related activity, and religious bias.

You may be surprised, and relieved, to know that religious bias is actually very far down on the list of motives. While mass shootings at churches tend to make the news and social media, deadly force incidents related to robbery and domestic violence are more often the cause.

Deadly Force Methods and Victims

The most common weapon used in deadly force incidents is, as might be expected, a gun. Other implements used in violent attacks include knives and even automobiles.

The victims of these violent incidents are more often men (65% male to 35% female). The number of staff or volunteers killed within a church ministry was listed as 68 from 1997–2017, along with 329 church-affiliated individuals, referring to members of the church, vendors, and people who are specifically related to your church or in your church building. The church denomination with the highest number of reported incidents of deadly force are Baptists, followed by Catholics and Methodists.

Violent Incidents May Not Happen at Your Church Building

While the choice of weapons used in deadly force incidents may not be surprising, the timing and location of most church-related deadly force incidents is. Only one quarter of deadly force incidents in the past 20 years occurred within a church building. Another quarter occurred on church property (in the parking lot, for example). Two-thirds of violent incidents took place when there was no official church event going on (during the workday, for example, or during a nighttime robbery).

These statistics are worth pondering. Many churches assign security teams to events within church buildings, which can be useful, but they won’t address the bulk of deadly force incidents. These statistics do point to the importance of assigning security teams anytime you have a church event away from your church building, and to have regular security drills for staff and volunteers in your church building.

There is much to understand and consider when addressing the real threat of church related violence and deadly force. It’s why we are not afraid to discuss even uncomfortable topics in our free i3 webinars. In our next post, we’ll look at emergency response times and how they impact security and safety. Stay tuned for that, and for our 2020 webinar lineup, which will be posted soon.