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|

Safety and Security: Building Code Storm Shelter Requirements

When planning a new or remodeled church building that includes a school, church leaders should be aware of the requirements for storm shelters. Building codes have become quite stringent about what must be built into educational facilities to protect against the weather, but there are some exceptions that apply to church buildings.

Do the New Storm Shelter Requirements Apply to Your Church Building?

In 2015, then again in 2018, International Building Code (IBC) storm shelter requirements were updated for all Group II Educational Occupancies. IBC codes are the most widely accepted building codes in America, which means that most municipalities are requiring these new rules. Whether or not these Group II regulations apply to your church design depends on what type of educational spaces you have in your church building.

There are two exceptions to the Group II code requirements. The first is for daycare facilities and the second is for educational facilities that are “accessory to religious worship.” This means that your nursery and Sunday School classrooms (on Sunday morning, adjacent to your worship space) are exempt. But if you have plans to include any other kind of school in your new church building or remodel project, even if it’s religious, you must follow the updated IBC codes.

What New Storm Shelter Requirements Must Be Part of Your Church Design?

If a non-exempt Group II school is part of your plans for your new or remodeled church building, here’s what’s involved. It must be big enough to hold all the occupants of your building. That includes not just all your students, but also all the teachers, all the administrators, and other staff, including the cooking and cleaning staff in your kitchen.

This storm shelter space will have increased roof and wall/structural design requirements to withstand tornado- and hurricane-strength winds. You will need to include multiple exits and fire separation from the rest of the church building in your church design. You must have emergency power for both light and ventilation, and adequate restrooms for all the people that use your storm shelter. There must also be access to first aid supplies among other requirements.

Making an Opportunity Out of This Storm Shelter Requirement

So how can you embrace the requirement to construct what will feel like a concrete bunker type of space on your church property? Schools are typically combining storm shelters with other large spaces they will want, like auditoriums, cafeterias or gymnasiums. In this way, you’re creating a multi-ministry church design that will keep everyone in your church school safe, as well as providing an indoor gathering space that can be used in other helpful ways.

Some churches are taking this one step further and publicizing the existence of their storm shelter to the local community. That way people know that, outside of school hours, their church building is a safe haven in case of tornado, hurricane, fire, or flood. While building a storm shelter can add to the expense of your church building project, it may well be a step worth taking if it supports your vision for ministry in your community.

These updated IBC storm shelter codes were discussed in one of our free i3 webinars. Sign up for these educational webinars to learn more about the church building process. Our list of topics for 2020 will be posted soon!

2019-11-27T19:09:06+00:00 November 27th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Safety|

Church Building Safety and Building Codes

Safety is one area that must be considered when creating a church design for a new or remodeled church building. Recently we offered a free i3 webinar covering the topic, and we are sharing some of the highlights here. In this post we will cover areas of safety that are addressed through building codes.

One quick reminder: Our expertise is church building. We are not safety and security experts, but our nearly 50 years of creating designs for churches brings with it much experience and insight which allows us to help church leaders integrate safety and security features into their new or remodeled church building.

IBC, Building Codes, and Church Building Safety

IBC stands for International Building Code, and it’s the standard template for building codes followed by most municipalities in the USA. The IBC provides minimum requirements that affect church design in the areas of safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, and many other areas.

Within the area of safety, there are many types of requirements in the IBC. Fire safety requirements, for example, can include automatic sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, firewalls, fire doors, appropriate types of windows, and various kinds of fire ratings and fire separations for different parts of your church building. Another section of the building code covers emergency egress or exits. This includes exit signs, emergency lights, battery backups, panic door hardware, and other items with the purpose of getting people out of your church building quickly and safely in the event of an emergency within the building.

Incorporating Structural, Environmental, and Wellness Safety into Your Church Design

Some sections of the building code address less obvious components of your church design. There are structural codes that must be met if your church building could be exposed to high winds, specifically hurricanes or tornadoes, and extreme roof load requirements if your area gets major winter storms.

Environmental safety building codes address how to store and handle hazardous materials. While hazardous materials aren’t commonly found in most churches, there must be exhaust systems where fumes can arise, including hoods over cooking equipment in your church kitchen. Related to these are health and wellness requirements, usually connected with fresh air and natural daylight for classrooms and other church building spaces, and hand-washing regulations for kitchens and caregiving spaces.

There are cases where churches are exempt from some of these requirements, based on the size and structure of your church building and its various approved uses. Churches may also voluntarily install more safety equipment than is required, including automatic sprinkler systems. While this is a relatively expensive proposition, some church leaders have felt the added safety is worth the investment.

Do You Want Your Church Building to Be a Storm Shelter?

One interesting development in recent years is that some churches have decided to become voluntary storm shelters as part of their vision for ministry in the community. This involves part of your church building being designated to serve as a shelter from a weather event, such as a tornado, hurricane, or winter storm. Additional building code requirements must be followed if you choose to use your church building for this purpose.

In our next post in this series, we will address recent changes in the building codes for storm shelters, for those churches that may be pondering this possibility. All this information comes from one of our recent free i3 webinars, which cover helpful trends on a variety of topics. We will be sharing our 2020 i3 webinar lineup soon!

2019-11-25T18:58:42+00:00 November 25th, 2019|Church Building, Church Design, Safety, Security|