Is Your Church Vulnerable to Vandalism?

by Bob Dasal

As a boy I attended a church that never locked its doors. Today that church has double locks on the doors. What happened? Vandalism. It's a problem churches across the county are facing. It could happen to your church. You need to understand the steps to take to help protect your church's property and buildings.                     

These stories are recent samples of what's happening across the country:

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>In Cincinnati, Ohio, a man broke into the Church of God on Straight Street and did more than $40,000 in damage. He was charged with two felony counts: breaking and entering and vandalism.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Coming to church before Sunday morning services, the pastor of the Union Church of Cupertino, California, found himself sloshing around in several inches of water. Sometime during the night someone had put a garden hose through the mail slot in the office door and turned on the water, causing severe water damage to the church's main office, pastor's office, and a conference room. In addition to the floors, carpets and walls in the offices, the furniture was damaged and had to be replaced. Because the damage was covered on an insurance policy, the incident ended up costing the church "only" the $1,000 deductible exclusion.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>In Charlotte, North Carolina, vandals caused extensive damage to the Liberty Baptist Church. The church suffered an estimated $25,000 in damages that included broken windows, water fountains knocked off walls, holes in walls, and fire extinguishers discharged.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>In Dayton, Ohio, Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church experienced several vandalism incidents within a few months. Artwork and other property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were vandalized, and the church had to pay for the repairs each time.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>The Sequoyah Baptist Tabernacle in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was vandalized when satanic symbols were painted on one of the church entrances. The crime remains unsolved two years later.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>And finally, remember the church burnings of the late 1990s.

In the past the term vandalism was mainly associated with teenagers. A closer look shows vandalism has evolved into more than just an activity for teens. More and more church vandalism is associated with prejudice, gangs, racial supremacy, and satanic rituals. And as our examples show it involves much more than just graffiti on walls and can result in extensive damage or even total destruction of church property. Every church is a potential target for vandals.

The good news is that churches can do something to minimize the threat. Here are some ways churches can make it less likely they will be victimized:

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>What is good security against street crimes, parking lot crime, and burglary is also good protection against vandalism. Measures you could take include adequate door and windows locks and well-lighted parking lots. Another measure-and every month more and more churches are doing this-is to equip your property with intrusion detection devices. With the cost of technology coming down and the marked improvement of the equipment, this is both affordable and effective.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Proper exterior lighting of the church complex is essential. You can be certain that vandals don't like to be in the spotlight, so motion lights and dusk-to-dawn lights are helpful deterrents. Criminal activity flourishes in dimly lighted areas.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Limit access to church property. People should not be able to go behind the church, out of sight, when the church building is not in use. If left open it could provide "cover" for criminal activity. Remember, in Florida, the body of a missing teenage girl was found behind a church.

Every church should adopt a crime prevention plan. The plan should include:

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>A policy allowing no one in the church building(s) alone.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>A complete inventory, with photographs, of all valuables in the building.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>A "Church Watch" program with neighbors to help keep an eye on the facility when there are no church functions going on.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Church vehicles should be kept in a well-lighted area and parked far enough apart so trespassers can be spotted. Vandals intending to paint graffiti will feel very uncomfortable and probably won't stay.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>The people responsible for securing the building after services or activities should make sure they check out every area. If certain areas are not to be used they should be locked, thus denying potential vandals a place to hide.

"Be on your guard" (Luke 21:36) is a pronouncement church leaders should heed. If you believe it won't happen in your church, you increase the likelihood of its occurrence by ignoring the potential. More than ever, churches must be watchful and take precautions to protect what God has so graciously entrusted to their care.

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