Black and white Sound Cloud icon Black and white YouTube icon Black and white LinkedIn icon Black and white Facebook icon

The Judas Syndrome

Theft in the Church

picture of one hundred US dollar bills spread out through image

This article is based on the Safety Member Certification training module “Safety Team Fundamentals.”[1]

From the Bible

This [Judas] said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein (John 12:6 - KJV). [in the ESV it reads, "... and he used to help himself to what was put into it."]


As we can see from John's account, embezzlement is an old problem. It's even older than that.

Today, as throughout history, individuals, businesses, and organizations are victims of thieves. This includes churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other places of worship. No one is automatically exempt. Therefore, we need to take measures to minimize the risks of several kinds of theft: embezzlement, theft from persons, burglary, vehicle theft (including contents), fraud, etc.

In the News

New Philadelphia, Ohio, April 17, 2024 - A woman who had been an employee of a church in New Philadelphia, pled guilty to grand larceny. She was charged with embezzling about $41,000 from the church. Sentencing is scheduled in May.[2]

Tonawanda, New York, February 11, 2024 - Police were seeking to arrest a woman accused of embezzling over $400,000 from a church. She had previously served time in prison for other church thefts. She used a different last name when she applied for work at this church. In March, she was arrested by U.S. Marshals in North Carolina where she was working as a nanny under a totally different name.[3][4]

New York City, Dallas, and Houston, March 7, 2024 - Police released surveillance footage of a man who stole about $900 from the rectory apartment of a priest in New York City. The suspect looks like the suspect in similar thefts in Dallas and Houston. He gained access by posing as a priest from Rome.[5]

Los Angeles, California, Early March 2024 - In a short period of time, thieves stole from three churches in Los Angeles.

Lubbock, Texas, November 18, 2021 - A former employee of a church was sentenced to federal prison for embezzlement. This was done through misuse of church credit cards. The federal charges were for bank fraud.[7]

Map of the United States

Baltimore, Maryland, January 7, 2024 - After the Sunday morning service in a Baltimore church, members discovered that cars in the parking lot had been broken into. If that wasn't enough, one vehicle was stolen.[8]

Houston, Texas, June 23, 2023 - Two men broke into a church and stole the safe. According to exterior surveillance video, it only took a few minutes. Besides money, the safe also held church documents.[9]

Broomfield, Colorado, April 12, 2015 - A woman stole a wallet from a church office and drove away with an accomplice. She later made purchases with cards from the wallet. Her image was captured by surveillance cameras.[10]

Smithton, Pennsylvania, March 10, 2024 - Credit cards were stolen from a preacher's wallet. He discovered it after he finished his message. Two suspects were arrested after using them in stores.[11]

Buffalo, New York, March 20, 2024 - A volunteer at a Buffalo church was arraigned on third degree larceny. He allegedly stole thousands of dollars by tampering with collection bags and taking donated cash from the offerings.[12]

Houston, Texas, November 10, 2021 - In the Lakewood Church, a plumber found bags of money in a wall (cash, checks, money orders) worth about $600,000 dollars. This is believed to be money that was stolen in 2014.[13]

Erie. Pennsylvania, November 18, 2019 - A church in Erie almost fell for a phone scam. A caller claiming to be from the power company said their electricity would be turned off that day if they did not pay an overdue $300. He gave a number to call to arrange the payment. The staff was ready to send the money, but the chief deacon said, "Wait." He called the number on the power company's bill and found out that they did not owe the money.[14]

Where Thieves Break in and Steal

Jesus advised us to put our treasure in heavenly places, not just "where thieves break through and steal" (Matt. 6:19-20). We could take up a lot of space telling how to do that. However, many Christians tithe and give offerings with the expectation that these will further the work of the church and guide many souls to Heaven. With this expectation comes the obligation of the church to use it wisely and to safeguard it against theft or misuse. For example, Jehoiada separated money for repairing the Temple from payments to the priests and Levites (2 Kings 12:4-15).

As happened in Baltimore and Los Angeles, the thievery is not always inside the church, but may be in the parking lot or elsewhere on the church campus. And the church can become victim to fraud generated from outside.

So, how are we to safeguard the church from theft? The "Safety Team Fundamentals" class addresses some of these ways.

Churches can be victims of fraud. It pays to be vigilant and watchful when requests or demands for money come in. Also, church members can be defrauded. Some scams are elaborate and initially believable.

There are also ways to guard against embezzlement. This is extremely important, since an embezzler may take enough money to cripple the church. It also happens at district and denominational levels. For instance, misuse of pension fund money can leave little or nothing for retiring pastors.

Protect Collections

church offering plate with money on it

This year a man in Buffalo was charged with theft of over $3,000 from offerings. He did this by tampering with collection bags so he could pocket cash (offerings in that church were put into open bags on handles, not plates or baskets).[12]

Safety team members should watch the collection of offerings (sometimes persons in the pew dip into the plate or basket), escort the persons taking them to the office or counting room, watch the counting of the money, and see it put into the safe. Deposits should be put into locked bank bags, taken to the bank by someone without a key (the bank has a key). The amount counted at the bank should be compared with the recorded amount put in the bag.

Since the pandemic, many churches now have accounts. Encourage church members to use this online platform for their giving to reduce the opportunity for theft. If your church has a account, a link to it will be on the church's website.

Safe Access

open safe with cash inside

A safe is so-called because it is to be a safe place for valuables. It can be opened only by a key, a combination, or the two together. The best safe is a floor safe or a vault that cannot be removed, as happened in Houston. The safest way for offering counters to put the money into the safe is through a slot. That way no one has to open the safe.[9]

Access to the safe is to be restricted to a very few. Each time the safe is opened it should be entered onto a safe log with the date, the time, and the names of the persons opening it. No one should open the safe alone. This is a key location for a camera, along with the counting room and the office.

Vendor Money

This may seem tacky, but when snacks or beverages are for sale, payment is expected. How safe is that money? Stay aware of activity at snack bars in the foyer. They should also be in view of a camera so that if there are any questions the footage can be reviewed. The footage should be reviewed every time the snack bars have been open.

Sticky Fingers

Petty theft is a crime of opportunity, and many thieves actively seek the opportunities. This includes pocket browsing on the coat rack and looking for unattended purses, bags, briefcases, or wallets. Also, pickpockets may visit a church, alert to bulging pockets and easy-picking purses (such as on a long strap hanging behind the user). The best deterrence is visible security constantly watching. The member monitoring cameras may spot a potential theft.

Vehicle Theft

robber using a tool to break into a car

Church parking lots are viewed by thieves as shopping places during services or events. The simplest way is looking for unlocked vehicles with valuables inside. Some thieves break into vehicles, especially if they see booty in open view. Others may strip out stereos, etc. Then, as in Baltimore, some vehicles may be stolen.[8]

How do we prevent and stop this?

Fraud Watch

Other than fraudulent requests for charity, fraud is a subject often overlooked by churches. Much of the fraud is a form of embezzlement, but outsiders can also defraud a church or another religious institution.

A common means of defrauding businesses has been bogus bills. Office staff should verify the validity of every bill that comes in. If a message supposedly from a utility demands immediate payment to avoid service disruption, that is a red flag. Most utilities go through a process working with the customer. That is what the electric company told the deacon of the church in Erie.[14] There is an almost endless list of ways scammers target businesses and organizations, including churches, so church staff must be ever vigilant.

Accounting Accountability

Embezzlement robs churches of more money than any other form of theft. This is especially true if it continues for a long time. Many times massive embezzlement starts small: Take a little, with the intent of repaying it. If the person is financially stressed, it may not be repaid. Then more is taken. If in small amounts for a long time it adds up. Often, the amounts grow, with more being taken at a time. Then it becomes systematic, a regular income flow for the embezzler. Many embezzlers use stolen funds to benefit family and friends. This sounds like a charitable motive, but it is often a justification for the theft.

Means of embezzlement extend beyond just taking cash. Most often it is by check writing, account manipulation, and misuse of church credit and debit cards. This is where the amounts taken add up to tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. For instance, the embezzlement in New Philadelphia was over $41,000, and the alleged amount in Tonawanda was more than ten times that.

The way to prevent embezzlement, or stop it in its beginning, is following accounting safeguards and holding persons accountable.

Vetting -

calculator and pen on top of accounting documents

The first line in preventing embezzlement is vetting those who have access to the church's finances before hiring them. Some of the red flags that would disqualify a candidate for one of these positions are high debt, poor credit rating history, bankruptcy, and conviction(s) for theft.

When doing a background check, look for aliases. The alleged embezzler in Tonawanda, NY had prior convictions for embezzlement. She was convicted under one last name, but applied for work at the church with another. Sometimes she used both names together.

Always verify previous employment and check with those employers.

Use a vetting service, such as Protect My Ministry. They can check for aliases and use other information from the application to refine their search.[15]

Check Writing -

All church checks should require two signatures. For staff and volunteers procuring supplies for the church and its ministries, Bento for Business recommends issuing church debit cards limited to the expected amount of the purchases, maybe even limited as to the payee (the seller). Some of these can be reloaded as needed.[16]

Distributed Authority -

Don't put all the authority for finance into one person. Distribute that responsibility to two or more unrelated people.

Account Auditing -

Keep a thumb on the books. Staying up-to-date in knowing what's going on with the church's finances discourages irregularities and finds them sooner if something is wrong.


As stewards of God's property, do what you can to prevent theft.

Training Resources

Sheepdog Church Security has resources for training the Safety Team and other relevant staff and volunteers. Ushers, church leaders, and office staff (including bookkeepers and accountants) need training in aspects of preventing theft.

Safety Member Certification

"Safety Team Fundamentals" is the first of eight Safety Member Certification training modules (classes). Each safety team member needs to be certified through this program. Have the church leaders participate in the "Fundamentals" class so they at least know what the Safety Ministry is doing. That will help with understanding and cooperation.

Training is available in two formats, Self-Paced Training (individual online instruction) and Online Events (live Zoom classes). A student can use either format all the way through or mix them. The Self-Paced Training can be done at any time, while the Online Events classes are scheduled, four quarters in a year. When enrolled, a student has a year to complete the training and be certified for two years. Here is the remaining schedule for this year:






Training Module


Mar 24

Sep 8

Nov 3

Safety Team Fundamentals


Apr 7

Sep 15

Nov 10

Active Shooter Response


Apr 14

Sep 22

Nov 17

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Apr 21

Sep 29

Nov 24

Protecting Children from Abuse


Apr 28

Oct 6

Dec 15

Basic Use of Force Laws


May 5

Oct 13

Jan 5

Arson and Fire Safety


May 19

Oct 20

Jan 12

Storms and Disasters


Jun 2

Oct 27

Jan 19

Mass Trauma Emergencies

Safety Teams can get group discounts. The amount depends on the number of members to be enrolled.


1 Team Member     -   Save $10



8 Team Members   - Save $160


2 Team Members   -   Save $30



9 Team Members   - Save $180


3 Team Members   -   Save $45



10 Team Members - Save $200


4 Team Members   -   Save $60



11 Team Members - Save $275


5 Team Members   -   Save $75



12 Team Members - Save $300


6 Team Members   - Save $120



13 Team Members - Save $325


7 Team Members   - Save $140



14 Team Members - Save $350


Other Resources

Overviews of church security subjects are found in the Church Security Guide and Safety Ministry Training Articles.[17][18]

Church Security Guide -

Safety Ministry Training Articles - 


  1. Kris Moloney, "Safety Team Fundamentals," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Court Reporter, "Former employee admits to stealing more than $40k from New Phila church," WJER, April 17, 2024 [].
  3. Dan Herbeck and Jay Tokasz, "Woman accused of stealing $465K from church had served prison time after previous thefts," The Buffalo News, February 11, 2024 [].
  4. Taylor Epps, "'We're collateral damage': North Carolina family reacts to finding out their nanny is a WNY fugitive," WKBW ABC7, March 11, 2024 [].
  5. Anon, "Man accused of stealing cash while posing as priest may be suspect in similar Texas cases: Police," ABC13 KTRK-TV, March 7, 2024 [].
  6. Josh DuBose, "Thieves steal from 3 Southern California churches," KTLA 5, March 17, 2024 [].
  7. Staff, "Church Employee Sentenced to 5 ½ Years for Embezzlement," United States Attorney's Office, Northern District of Texas, November 18, 2021 [].
  8. Megan Rodgers, "Church-goers leave to find their cars stolen and broken into, say police," WBFF Fox 45 Baltimore, January 7, 2024 [].
  9. Matt Dougherty, "A Houston pastor is asking for help catching thieves who stole his church's safe," KHOU, June 27, 2023 [].
  10. News Staff, "Woman Suspected Of Stealing Wallet From Church," CBS News Colorado, May 8, 2015 [].
  11. Madeline Bartos, "Debit cards stolen from Pittsburgh-area pastor's wallet while he was preaching, police say," KDKA - CBS Pittsburgh, April 10, 2024 [].
  12. Anon, "Buffalo man accused of stealing $3,000 from Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary," WKBW, March 20, 2024, updated March 21, 2024 [].
  13. John Wright, "Police may have discovered source of the ‘bags and bags' of money in wall of Joel Osteen's church," Salon (originally posted on Raw Story), December 4, 2021 [].
  14. Tiarra Braddock, "Saint Paul Church almost falls victim to scam,", November 18, 2019 [].
  15. Sheepdog Church Security sign-up link, Protect My Ministry, 2021 [].
  16. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [].
  17. Kris Moloney, Safety Ministry Training Articles, Sheepdog Church Security, 2024 [].