Church shootings—relatively unthinkable just a generation ago—now preoccupy the minds of many faith leaders nationwide.
But has this anxiousness unintentionally overshadowed other, more common risks confronting churches? The statistical probabilities of a shooting at a church remain remarkably low. By contrast, the chances of an abuse allegation or personal injury claim are much higher.
“The likelihood (of a shooting) is extremely rare,” said Kevin Robertson, a former law enforcement officer who heads security for Saddleback Church and its multiple locations throughout Southern California.
Yet experts like Robertson still note the threat of gun violence against churches cannot be ignored, either. “Don’t bury your heads in the sand,” he tells churches. “But don’t micro-focus on it, either.”
The desire to “micro-focus” is understandable. Shootings generating widespread media attention have hit schools, retailers, music concerts, and movie theaters in recent years, not to mention faith communities. For instance:
- A man fueled by a hatred of Christians launched separate attacks on the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and a Youth With a Mission (YWAM) training center in suburban Denver (5 killed, 5 injured).
- A man driven by racial hatred opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina (9 killed, 2 wounded).
- A man motivated by a “domestic situation” stormed the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas (26 killed, 20 hurt).
- A man reportedly expressing a desire to “kill Jews” attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh (11 killed, 6 injured).
The ripple effects from these acts of violence have been felt. Attorney and ChurchLawAndTax.com senior editor Richard Hammar said one large church insurer’s general counsel recently told him the top question his legal department receives from churches each year pertains to active shooters and armed security.
On a larger scale, uneasiness is visibly evident—as demonstrated by two separate, nationwide polls, conducted in the spring of 2019, that were focused on church security and shootings. In one, 12 percent of the 2,001 adults polled said they did not feel safe in a house of worship, and their top concern was an armed intruder. In the other, which surveyed an undisclosed number of evangelical Christian leaders, 71 percent said they increased security at worship services in recent years due to mass shootings.