- (Photo: AP Images / David Zentz)
An organization that specializes in helping churches and other Christian institutions to become safer and more secure is encouraging churches across America to begin planning for the holiday season by evaluating their security systems.
"With the significance of the holiday, added church attendance, and things like special programs and events, now is the time for church leaders to ensure that they are prepared for the increased risks that will come their way in a few short months" says Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network (CSN).
On its website, CSN tracks news on the latest crimes against churches, such as the recent string of church burglaries in Hart Hounty, Ga.; the attempted shooting at a Baptists church in Myrtle Beach, Calif., Monday night; and a fire that destroyed a historic rural church in Claiborne County, Tenn.
In this year alone, CSN says it has tracked over 800 crimes against Christian churches so far, including 28 violent incidents, 1 kidnapping, 1 attempted kidnapping, 76 arsons, and over 500 burglaries resulting in over $20 million in losses.
"Security is extremely misunderstood in the Christian community," says Hawkins.
Last month, Wedgwood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, marked the tenth anniversary of the tragic shooting that took place in its sanctuary and left seven people dead.
Though more congregations have taken measures to improve safety since then by adopting professional security standards – including the hiring of trained security guards, extensive use of surveillance cameras, and training of staff to engage anyone acting unusual - Hawkins claims that more than 75 percent of congregations in the United States are unprepared for a security emergency.
"Christian leaders really need to understand that incidents like this could happen in any congregation, but also, how easily – with the right information and planning – security can be integrated into their world," he says.
On a regular basis, CSN receives calls and e-mails from Christians who are frustrated that their church is not doing more to protect them and their loved ones.
According to a recent poll conducted by CSN, over 90 percent of those who attend church had worries about safety when they enter the church.
In an online poll earlier this year, the organization also found that over 63 percent of Christian church attendees do not feel that their church is prepared to handle an emergency situation.
"If church leaders think their congregations are not concerned about these incidents they are misinformed,” Hawkins stated.
Currently, as Hawkins points out, the U.S. State Department classifies faith-based organizations as one of the top five “at risk” groups in the world today.
In its mid-year report, released July, the Christian Security Network reported 17 shootings and similar incidences of violence against Christian organizations in America.