Keep Out the Fire Bugs

Reduce the Threat of Arson

Christian organizations often are targets of arson. An arsonist’s motives are varied—he or she may be triggered into action by compulsion, hate or revenge, to commit insurance fraud, or to cover up another crime, like a burglary. The resulting property damage and loss of valuable resources leaves a religious community feeling uneasy and unsafe.

Alarming Stats

From 2008 to 2017, intentional fires ranked second in causes of fires for educational institutions.1 Only cooking fires ranked higher.

  • Elementary schools have a high rate of arson fires, especially in the summer.2 
  • College campuses are not immune to arson— from 2016 to 2018, more than 700 intentional fires were reported nationwide.3

But the biggest threat of arson is, by far, to churches. Since 2000, houses of worship averaged 103 arson fires per year4 and resulted in $28 million in property damage.5

While ministries may feel vulnerable to arsonists, they are by no means powerless. The U.S. Fire Administration says that arson often is a crime of opportunity;6 that means religious organizations have the opportunity to prevent occurrences.

To help strengthen your security and decrease opportunity, consider the following steps:

  • Limit key access to all buildings, including sheds and outbuildings; keep an up-to-date list of who holds keys.
  • Lock up all flammables and restrict who has permission to use the materials.
  • Install motion sensor lighting on the outside and inside of your building. Mount fixtures out of reach of people who might disable the lights to avoid detection.
  • Keep garbage containers well away from the building and empty wastebaskets daily.
  • Involve ministry leaders or security team members in neighborhood watch programs. 
  • Install central station fire and burglar alarm systems that result in the deployment of law and fire enforcement officials.
  • Whenever possible, landscape buildings to eliminate hiding areas close to the building. This is most important near windows and doors that provide points of access to the building.
  • Secure windows, basement entries, and external stairways.
  • Be alert to people who may be disgruntled and likely to retaliate by damaging church property.
  • Ask local police to patrol your property as often as possible during the evening hours. You might also ask local law and fire enforcement officials to inspect your premises and give advice on how to thoroughly secure your building.
  • Compile a list of individuals who have access to church keys. Limit the number of people on the list and recalibrate locks if any keys are lost or stolen.


1 “Nonresidential Building Fire Trends 2008-2017.” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Fire Administration, National Fire Data Center, May 2019. https://www.usfa.fema. gov/downloads/pdf/statistics/nonres_bldg_fire_estimates. pdf.

2 “School Building Fires (2009–2011).” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Fire Administration, Topical Fire Report Series Volume 14, Issue 14 / April 2014. https://www.

3 U.S. Department of Education, Campus Safety and Security. All Institutions, 2016–2018, Fire Statics, Detailed Fire Data. Accessed 26 February 2020.

4 “Protecting Houses of Worship Against Arson.” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Fire Administration. download. Accessed 26 February 2020.

5 Campbell, Richard. “U.S. Structure Fires in Religious and Funeral Properties.” National Fire Protection Association, June 2013. 6 “Protecting Homes Against Arson.” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Fire Administration, April 2013, protecting_homes_against_arson_print.pdf.

More Resources

Posted 2018. Updated July 2021.

The information provided on this page is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.