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Church Security Guide

How to Conduct a Risk Assessment

Interior view of a church.

After developing a Church Safety Team we recommend assessing risk and safety. Assessments include six key components: identifying threats, developing goals and objectives, developing possible courses of action, planning, implementation and review (United States Department of Homeland Security et al. [DHS], 2013, p. 4.) This assessment should cover fire, natural disasters and crime prevention.

Before You Begin Your Risk Assessment

Start by forming a planning committee. We recommend teaming up with community resources providers:

  • Child Protective Services: checklist of how to assess children's areas and those working with children.
  • Law Enforcement: crime prevention officers love to work with the community.
  • The Fire Marshal: assistwithfire safety and evacuation planning.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): assess the safety of church working conditions.

Step 1: Risk Assessment

The assessment begins by listing all weather, natural and criminal events that could happen. For each, the committee should identify:

  • the likelihood of the threat occurring and frequency with which it might occur
  • the expected severity of the thread
  • the time available for warnings
  • how long the threat will last
  • any ongoing effects (DHS, 2013, p. 7)

Prioritize the list based on the likelihood and start Step 2 for those.

There are some mistakes we see that you should avoid. Do not:

  • ignore any risks including those most church members know about and avoid.
  • focus on one type of threat.
  • use the same assessment team each year.
  • accept risk on behalf of others.

Step 2: Develop Goals & Objectives

Distill each threat to one goal and objectives that align with those goals. A goal is a general statement on the threat like “prevent fires in the church” (DHS, 2013, p. 8).

An objective is a step taken to achieve a goal. You will likely have many objects for each goal. For the goal “prevent fires in the church” one objective would be “provide fire prevention training to all people who cook in the church) (p. 8).

Step 3: Develop Possible Courses of Action

Next, the team creates specific scenarios based on the prioritized threats. A church on the west coast, for example may prioritize earthquakes and vandalism whereas a church in an east coast urban center may prioritize flash floods and theft.

For each, determine the response time, decision maker and possible courses of actions. Be specific, using your objectives. Fire prevention, for example, should include all areas of the church, not just the kitchen where it is most likely.

Learn more about this topic and several others with our Certified Safety Member Course. It is available as an online video-based training that can be taken anytime and from anywhere using your own computer. Each section ends with a short test to demonstrate an understanding of the material. Once you've completed all 7 sections, you will be certified for 2-years with Sheepdog Church Security.

Step 4: Planning

After determining several courses of action for each threat, the team presents the plan to the church leader so she can approve it or request changes (DHS, 2013, p. 13).

Step 5: Implementation

The team should share the plan with emergency responders and community partners, post information throughout the building, train stakeholders, and hold practice drills.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is beneficial for preventing crime and general safety information.

CPTED (pronounced sep-ted) is the use of “physical design, citizen participation and law enforcement strategies in a comprehensive way to protect facilities or neighborhoods” (ACPI, 2012, p. 23).

There are six principles of CPTED (van Soomeren, n.d., p. 7).

Access Control

Access Control limits people’s ability to enter or leave unnoticed using “entrances, exits, signs, fencing, landscape and lighting (ACPI, 2012, p. 23). This can be difficult to achieve in churches because they are places that should be welcoming.

Image and Maintenance

Image and maintenance is based on the theory that a poorly-maintained space is more vulnerable to vandalism and theft. This often-overlooked aspect of safety is one of the easiest to implement.

Activity Support

Activity support encourages a broad mix of people to enjoy the property. A group that is solely young men is more dangerous than a group of all ages and both genders (van Soomeren, n.d., p. 8).


Surveillance comes in different forms. Residents observe activity, providing natural surveillance. Staff and contractors who regularly visit (ie. housekeeping, postal workers) who know the site offer semi-formal surveillance. Police and hired security services fall under the category of formal surveillance. Technology, like closed circuit television, monitors spaces using technical surveillance.


Territoriality establishes authority by identifying to whom a space belongs. Use signs, colors, building materials and gates. These are all ways to visually specify places as separate from the public (van Soomeren, n.d., p. 7). An example is using signs and landscaping to discourage people from walking across church property or using it for unsanctioned activities.

Target Hardening

Target hardening makes it “physically difficult for offenders by the use of locks, bolts, bars, doors, or gates: the medieval fortress approach” (van Soomeren, n.d., p. 8). The process includes making sure doors are not easily broken or removed from their frames and that windows only open from the inside (ACPI, 2012, p. 516). Additional examples include improving locks and using alarms.

Step 6: Review

Update the plan at least every two years and when there are changes to buildings, policies, or personnel (DHS, 2013, pp. 13-16).

Understanding Risk

Depending on their locations, churches are vulnerable to severe weather and natural disasters. Churches are also targeted by criminals. The American Crime Prevention Institute (ACPI, 2012) states, "Crime is the result of the desire or wish to commit the crime, the ability or knowledge how to commit the crime and the opportunity to commit the crime" (p. 7). A security assessment that starts by identifying risks limits opportunity.

Many people do not understand that churches are as likely to be criminally victimized as other locations but usually more vulnerable due to the false belief that criminals will not attack sacred spaces (ACPI 2012, pp. 513-514). A survey of 4000 churches in the last decade showed that nearly 80% of churches had not conducted a risk assessment, or developed security or emergency plans. Don’t be in that majority.

If you have questions about how to conduct a risk assessment please contact us.