How Door Hardening Helps Improve Church Safety in Your Church Building

There are many areas of a church design that can include hardening to increase safety. The outside of your church building can be “hardened” with the use of attractive and functional bollards to control access to your exterior building perimeter. We’ve discussed the ways interior windows and walls can also be hardened to resist intrusion, especially when applied to protect children’s areas of your church building. Another church safety element to consider is door hardening.

Church Safety through Door Hardening

Most residential doors have a hollow core and easily penetrated. In contrast, there are commercial solid-core wood door options that make good sense for a church building where safety is a priority. Metal doors are another option for improving church safety. In addition to the doors themselves, the door frames can be upgraded from wood to metal to present a stronger defense in case of intrusion.

Modern doors, especially in children’s areas of your church building, can also be installed with an emergency lockdown feature, like those found in many public schools. These allow someone to push a button and have the doors immediately and automatically close and lock. Especially when there is also ballistic film installed over any windows in the doors or walls, humans will find it very difficult to get into one of these well-protected rooms in your church building.

Integrating Lockdown Hardware and Shades into Your Church Design

Another option for securing doors that lead to sensitive areas of your church building, like church offices and children’s classrooms, involves lockdown hardware that is manually engaged. As you can see in these photos, lockdown hardware at the bottom of a door can slide into a specially reinforced section of the floor, keeping the door from opening. There are also sleeves that can be installed over a door closer, preventing a door from being opened until the sleeve is removed.

In addition to door hardware, window shades can prove an effective deterrent to intruders. Simply release the Velcro, let the window shade close, turn off the lights, and it will now appear from outside that the room is dark, empty, and unused, since nothing can be seen inside the room.

Putting Together the Church Safety Pieces

There are clearly a number of interior elements to the church safety picture. In our next post, we will put them all together to give you a good sense of how best to keep the interior children’s areas of your church building safe. Each of these elements was discussed in detail, with illustrations, in one of our free i3 webinars. To keep apprised of the latest ideas, insights, and innovations in church safety and church design, we encourage you to sign up for our upcoming church building webinars.

2020-02-18T20:08:18+00:00 February 18th, 2020|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Church Safety Tips for Integrating Interior Hardening into Your Church Design

Continuing our series on church safety and security, we recently addressed ways to harden the outside of a church building. Now we shift indoors to highlight various ways you can integrate “interior hardening” into your church design to keep people, especially children, safe.

Understanding How Ballistic Film Can Increase Church Safety

One of the more interesting safety products available these days is ballistic film. This material is not bulletproof but puncture resistant. The film is applied to windows and anchored in the window frame. It will resist bigger items that might be used to break glass, such as a block, brick, rock or even an ax.

How is this possible? When a rock is thrown at a window or a glass door that has ballistic film, the glass will shatter. However, the ballistic film holds the shattered glass in place, so it doesn’t fall out. Instead, the glass stays stuck to the film, which is anchored in the window frame. This delays potential intruders for many minutes, and even longer. You can find examples of ballistic film being tested on the Internet, and we have recently helped some churches install it on interior windows in their church buildings.

Should You Consider Bulletproof Windows for Your Church Design?

Some church leaders may want to consider upgrading from ballistic film to acrylic bulletproof windows. This option is available but is rarely implemented.

Bulletproof windows aren’t frequently used for interior church safety due to their expense, and because in order for them to be effective, you must “harden” the rest of the area you’re protecting; whether it’s your children’s spaces, church offices, or other sensitive areas of your church building. Otherwise, an intruder can simply move to the side of your bulletproof window and kick a hole in the drywall next to it, and then gain entrance to that area of your church building.

Hardening Walls in Your Church Design

There is, of course, a solution to this problem. To harden an entire area of your church building, you can invest in wall hardening as well. Wall hardening can involve selecting stronger building materials like concrete block, or installing plywood behind drywall, or even steel plates or similar types of bulletproof barriers behind drywall. This prevents anyone from quickly penetrating an interior wall and gaining access to a secured space.

There are many elements of your church design that must be considered in maximizing church safety. In the next installment of our church safety series, we will discuss how you can lock down doors in sensitive areas of your church building. Meanwhile, see what church design ideas we’re discussing now by checking out our free upcoming i3 webinars.

2020-02-11T19:52:46+00:00 February 11th, 2020|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Supporting Church Safety with Modern Access Technology

Modern technology, like video doorbells and keyless entry, is no longer just for home security. Technology like this can also significantly increase church safety and provide appropriate access to your church building. In this post, we continue our discussion on church design safety and security features by focusing on church building access.

Challenges and Solutions for Deliveries to Your Church Building

Not long ago, a standard technology available for controlling access to your church building was a push-button audio system. This allowed delivery drivers or other visitors to push a button, announce their presence, and be admitted into the building. The problem with this system was the lack of visual confirmation. Without a direct view or video view, anyone could walk up, push the button, saying they had a delivery—and get into the building to do mischief or cause serious problems.

Fortunately, modern technology has provided video solutions to this issue. Those same smart video doorbells used in many homes, as well as larger-scale business technology solutions, can be installed in your church building. This allows church staff members or security teams to view exactly who is at the door and what they’re carrying, before allowing anyone to be admitted into your church building.

The Church Safety Advantages of RFID Products

Another significant technological advance is the use of RFID in church security. RFID stands for Radio-Frequency Identification and it is the technology used in wireless key fobs on most cars these days, as well as the access cards used for most hotel rooms and office buildings. RFID has many advantages over traditional entrance methods. Each RFID card or fob is unique and can be programmed to allow access to specific areas of your church building, for specific individuals, and at certain times.

For example, you can set times for individuals or teams of people (such as children’s teams, worship teams, or security teams) to be granted access to certain parts of your church building. Such individualized access also gives you the ability to track the entry and exit of each person, which can be helpful for establishing patterns or addressing situations that might arise.

Another option in access control is magnetic locks, commonly referred to as maglocks.  These provide the security of locked doors, but also have other benefits including lock-down capability.  Doors with maglocks can be secured with one touch of a button in the event of a security threat.  Also, maglocks can be controlled remotely from a office computer or mobile device, or follow a preset locking and unlocking schedule.  Maglocks can also be controlled with an RFID card or fob from the exterior, and usually include motion sensors on the interior to allow free exiting.

Integrating Security and Church Design in Your Public Spaces

We think a lot about security when creating the public spaces in any church design. The key idea here is transparency—keeping public spaces easy and comfortable to use, especially for guests. For example, you want to place restroom doors in very public locations, both for ease of use and to make it more difficult to enter a restroom without being seen. Including welcome counters in your church design with authorized security team members present will go a long way toward helping guests and attendees relax and focus on worship.

As you can see, we think a lot about church safety. In our next article, we look at building hardening from the inside. Meanwhile, click here to learn more about the many church building topics we will cover in our upcoming i3 webinars.

2020-02-04T17:08:33+00:00 February 4th, 2020|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Building Hardening and Why It Should Be Part of a Church Design

There are many perspectives that need to be considered in the development of an effective and inspired church design. In this post, we continue our series on the need to include church safety and security needs in your church building.

What is Building Hardening?

All architects complete continuing education, including Philip Tipton, Vice President of Architecture at The McKnight Group. One of the topics he has studied is how to integrate some aspects of governmental level security into church design.

Building hardening is a term used to describe ways that buildings can be designed to include security features like perimeter protection, forced-entry projection, bullet resistance, and blast resistance, among other threats. Early detection of threats is always the first line of defense, but when it comes to physical building design, perimeter controls are the first line of defense. This is usually accomplished using physical barriers that prevent a vehicle from getting close enough to a church building to do catastrophic damage—whether it’s targeting pedestrians, breaching a secure entry point, or transporting weapons or an explosive device of some type. With perimeter controls, any possible assailant would be forced to get out of their vehicle and walk up to the church building rather than drive close enough to do significant damage.

Incorporating Perimeter Controls into Your Church Design

The most common type of perimeter control is a bollard, a short, vertical post. A series of bollards can be installed in front of any building to prevent vehicles from driving closer. You’ve likely seen bollards, whether metal or concrete, round or square, in front of all sorts of buildings today – airports, office buildings, shopping malls, arenas, governmental buildings, etc. Between partial-height walls, which can enclose some terraced landscaping (it is also impossible to drive upon), and bollards in front of the entrance, you can easily create a hardened perimeter around your church building if needed.

Integrating Beauty, Functionality and Church Safety

The good news is that bollards and other church perimeter controls don’t have to be ugly. As you can see here, bollards can have lights, thereby serving multiple functions. In addition to preventing vehicles from getting too close to your church building, they provide helpful lighting for evening events and draw attention to your church building.

Bollards can also take many other forms, beyond simple posts. These concrete spheres are more than decorative. They are secured into the ground with deep foundations. They are designed to resist a direct impact from a car or a truck. Even though they appear to be decorative only, those spheres are not going anywhere—but they don’t leave the first impression of church safety, and they can be incorporated into an overall exterior design for your church.

Finally, architects have gotten creative about bollards in other ways. In the last example (the image on the lower right), these bollards make attractive, and still very strong, planters. Despite their beauty, these function as more than just planters. Like the concrete spheres, they are anchored to deep foundations in the ground and are designed to resist a direct impact by a vehicle.

As you can see, incorporating church safety into your church design doesn’t have to be conspicuous. Building hardening, and perimeter controls specifically, can also provide a reassuring welcome to any guests who recognize bollards as church safety elements. Those guests will know that you care about the security of all who visit your church building.

Over the course of each year, we share our church building experience and new trends through our free i3 webinars. Sign up today to keep informed!


2020-01-28T21:12:11+00:00 January 28th, 2020|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Church Safety Elements to Include in the Exterior of Your Church Design

We’ve discussed the need for safety and security with topics such as types of security needs, deadly force, and emergency response times. We’re now going to focus on incorporating specific safety elements into your church design.

There are many safety components to include in the exterior features of your church building and property, so we will begin with these:

Safety Elements for Parking Areas and Exterior Features of Your Church Building

Key safety church design elements for parking areas and outdoor portions of your church building are good lighting and cameras. Attaching photocells to your exterior lighting gives you the ability to turn lights on and off based on the time of day or current weather. Another option is timers, which can keep lights on until a certain time at night when you know all activities at your church building should be finished. Motion detectors are also an option for exterior lighting. These will trigger lights to come on if somebody drives onto your property, or past a certain area of your building.

Cameras and recording devices are also critical for churches today. It’s a good idea to install them at every building entry point—including emergency exits. Cover other strategic locations as well, including parking lots, playgrounds, and athletic fields. Also, having church security teams be visible and alert during church events will help keep everyone safe.

Integrating Church Safety into Playgrounds and Athletic Fields

Church safety must extend to all areas where people gather on your church property. All playgrounds should have fall-safe surfaces for playground equipment and appropriate fencing for the age level of the children that use each playground.

Athletics area designs should include fencing that prevents younger children from entering the sporting areas and keeps spectators safe from flying balls or bats. We recommend that you include safe storage for sports and ground keeping equipment in your church design to minimize the chances of accidents.

Church Design Factors for the Exterior of Your Church Building

Here at The McKnight Group, we focus a lot of attention on door and window location and design for every church building. Church safety includes ensuring that everyone can exit every building safely, and also making it difficult for unwelcome guests to enter your church building easily. We focus attention on making sure it’s difficult for them to enter your building through ground-floor windows without triggering alarms, and also by using window materials that make entry difficult.

Additionally—and it’s unfortunate—we’re beginning to discuss with some church leaders the elements of embassy design that can make your church building safer. These include vehicle barriers, which don’t allow vehicles to get close enough to your church building to cause any damage in the event of a car bomb or a shooting. There is also something called building hardening, which we will discuss in more detail in our next post.

As you can see, there are many useful ways to integrate church safety into your church design. To learn more about many different aspects of church design, register today for our upcoming free i3 webinars.

2020-01-21T13:01:41+00:00 January 21st, 2020|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Maintaining a Safe Church Building with Church Safety and Security Teams

Every church leader wants their church building and entire campus to be a safe haven, both for guests and regular attendees. And while we are church building experts rather than church safety and security professionals, we are sharing some information to help church leaders be prepared, and to increase awareness of the importance of integrating church safety into a church design. In this post, we focus on the value of church safety and security teams.

Church Building Risk Assessment

One key reason to have a church safety and/or security team is to assess risks within and beyond your church building. This involves reviewing your entire church property and your church building for weaknesses, threats, and opportunities that could be exploited by those with bad intent. The advantage of having a security or safety team is that it will intentionally be looking for weaknesses and thinking about how to address them, in order to make your church building a safer place for everyone. It’s critical to have background checks performed on every member of your church safety and security team (as well as all who work in children’s ministries).

Training and Visibility for Church Safety Teams

When you’ve got your church safety team in place, it’s important for them to understand what they’re expected to do in every situation. Comprehensive and ongoing training is essential. While we might think about the need to counter the deadly use of force, it’s much more likely that team members will be called to address a medical emergency. This is why it’s a good idea to have team members who are trained in CPR, in using an automated external defibrillator or AED, in general first aid, and who also can recognize the onset of a violent incident.

The visibility of church safety team members can also go a long way toward preventing violence. Parking lot attendants are a good example. Having someone keeping watch can deter many who might be looking for an easy target. The same is true in your foyers, and even in your worship center.

Critical Communication to Keep Your Team Safe

Clear assignments and communication with safety and security staff are critical. Some churches like to use professionals and may even hire sheriff’s deputies or police officers to be on the property and in the church building at certain times. Volunteer teams are the more common alternative, but it’s critical to make certain there is no conflict between volunteers and on- or off-duty first responders (police, firefighters, EMTs, or even professional medical staff, such as nurses and doctors).

It’s important for your security teams and volunteers to clearly understand who’s in charge in case of an emergency. Most volunteers would defer to a medical professional, but complexity can quickly arise during other kinds of situations. Circumstances involving concealed-carry laws, which vary greatly by state, would be one example.

This information on church safety and security teams comes from one of our free 2019 i3 webinars. Stay tuned for our next post, where we will detail our i3 webinar series for 2020.

2020-01-07T17:48:34+00:00 January 7th, 2020|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Church Safety: Why Churches End Up in Court

Sometimes churches will find themselves involved in a court case. In this post, we will share some statistics about why churches do end up in court and suggest what can be done to improve the odds your church is not one of them as we continue to look at church safety and security.

Again, while The McKnight Group does not profess to be safety experts, we do pay attention to the issues that churches encounter. We can share with you the importance of considering safety and security in your church design and we can recommend modifications to your church building that will help support and promote church safety.

The Top Five Reasons Churches End Up in Court

There is consistency in why churches do end up in court. In four out of the five years from 2014–2018, the number one reason for court cases involving a church was sexual abuse of a minor. Other top reasons include property disputes and personal injury (commonly called “slip and fall”) cases.

Sexual assaults are not just the most common reason for court cases against churches and religious organizations. With 73% of lawsuits against churches involving sexual assault, these cases are the overwhelming majority.

Incorporating Church Safety in Your Church Design

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of sexual assaults in your church building. To avoid church-related assaults, incorporate safety and security features into your church design. We talk a lot about visibility and transparency in church design, and it’s also important to limit access to children’s spaces. We’ve written before about keeping children secure in your church building, and we’ve discussed the importance of keeping your church building and property well-maintained and safe, especially in winter.

Another way to decrease the likelihood of a lawsuit is to have very well-defined church safety and security policies and have a safety and security team to communicate and enforce those policies. This way, volunteers and staff will be aware of what’s expected as well as supervised to make sure the policies are followed.

Recognizing that Church Safety Extends Beyond Your Church Building

One surprising statistic is where church-related assaults occur. 50% take place on church property or in a church building. This means 50% of church-related assaults don’t happen at the church. Instead, they occur on mission trips or youth retreats, or in homes and other places where church-sponsored events take place. This is another reason why a clear policy and a strong security presence are critically important for the safety and well-being of all the people in your church community.

As a New Year begins, we wish you the best and safest one ahead. Stay tuned for the unveiling of our 2020 lineup of free i3 webinars, and for the next in our church safety series, which will focus on church safety planning and commitment.

2019-12-31T18:16:12+00:00 December 31st, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Why Emergency Response Time Matters for When Considering Church Safety

As we continue looking at integrating church safety and security in to your church design, we present some statistics we’ve seen on the most common types of emergencies that occur in churches, and the time it takes for first responders to arrive. Again, we present this information not as experts on safety but because we want to help church leaders prepare with church designs that meet the needs of various safety situations that could and do occur.

Average Emergency Response Times for Cities and Rural Areas

We found research on average police response times in ten large American cities (where data was readily available). What it shows is troubling. The city with the quickest average response time was San Francisco, with less than 5½ minutes (5.46 minutes, to be exact). Houston was not far behind, at 5.51, but the numbers go up from there, with Los Angeles at 6.1 and New York City at 6.69. Seattle had an average response time of 9 minutes and Fort Worth was 9.5. A lot can happen in almost ten minutes if there’s an active shooter or other criminal activity occurring.

Looking at medical emergencies, the average overall EMT response time we saw was 7 minutes, but the stats went as high as 30 minutes in rural areas. This is because many rural emergency services (firefighters, EMTs) are volunteers, so when a call goes out, they have to leave their home, or work, go to the fire house, get in the emergency vehicle, and from there navigate to the church that is facing the crisis.

The Most Common Emergencies in Your Church Building

Most emergencies in your church building will be medical in nature. In fact, the yearly stats for emergencies in all locations nationwide (not just churches) show that strokes and heart attacks are the most frequent. There are 790,000 heart attacks in the US each year, and roughly half, or almost 400,000, of those result in full cardiac arrest.

Part of the reason is the time it takes for EMS help to arrive. Therefore, we always encourage church leaders to have a team of people who know CPR and can use an automated external defibrillator or AED. If you install AEDs in your church building and train people to use them, you have a much-improved chance of saving lives.

Planning for Multiple Emergencies in Your Church Building

Finally, it’s important to recognize that while relatively rare, emergencies caused by violence can occur, often with multiple victims. While it’s easier to focus on CPR and AEDs, your church safety team should also be prepared to handle other emergency situations that could arise.

Personal injuries (slipping and falling on ice, for example) are another of the most common emergencies, and a reason that churches end up in court. We’ll have more on how the legal system impacts church safety in our next post. Stay tuned for that, and for our list of free 2020 i3 webinars, which will be revealed soon.

2019-12-17T17:19:53+00:00 December 17th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Church Building Security and Some Realities of Deadly Force

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.

2019-12-11T15:33:17+00:00 December 10th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|

Understanding the Types of Security Needs for Your Church Building

In recent posts, we’ve discussed the issue of safety in your church design and what that entails. Security is one element of overall safety considerations, but it’s so important that it requires special attention of its own.

While we have discussed security in the children’s areas of a church building, here is a broader perspective of security issues church leaders need to consider when developing a church design or planning your new church building project. We offer this advice not as security experts but based on our extensive experience designing and building churches.

What Does Church Building Security Entail?

Security is a broad term that includes many potential threats. Some threats, such as fraud, and financial and online security breaches go beyond our scope since they do not involve church design (although they do require consideration).

Within the purview of church design, we address the following types of security threats:


Burglary is “breaking and entering,” when the church is closed and locked, for the purpose of stealing what’s inside. This is different from theft. Over the past 20 years, an average of 4,700 burglaries have occurred in American churches each year, and common items taken include audio-visual equipment and other valuable electronics.


Theft involves persons in the church taking things that do not belong to them and occurs when the church is open and occupied. Examples of this might include purses left in a meeting room or a tablet left on a desk while its owner ran down the hall to get a cup of coffee. Over the past 20 years, an average of 7,400 thefts have been reported in churches each year. This count is likely lower than the actual number, since not all thefts are reported to authorities. The average church-related theft loss is $2,000.


This is a difficult but necessary subject. Physical, sexual, verbal, and even neglect within a classroom are all examples of abuse. Churches with daycare and school programs are more likely to experience these types of security issues, which is why we have specific recommendations about the best types of windows and doors to install in your classroom wings.

Terrorism, Random Violence, and Domestic Disputes

These types of security issues are less common but still important to consider when drafting a secure church design. Domestic disputes can spill over into churches with random acts of violence, while domestic terrorists have proven in recent years that churches are not off limits from their intentional acts of violence. There are measures that church leaders can put in place to minimize the effects of these possibilities.

Thinking Ahead to Address Church Security

In upcoming posts, we will focus on these security threats and how they can be addressed in more detail. Stay tuned for those, and for an upcoming announcement of our 2020 lineup of free i3 webinars, where we address such complex issues as church security so that you can build the safest possible church building for your community.

2019-12-03T18:05:49+00:00 December 3rd, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|