Lightning: Don't Let it Strike Fear 

Follow These Tips to Protect Your Church From Lightning Strikes

Did you know lightning can produce temperatures five times greater than the sun? Lightning may be fascinating to watch, but don’t be misled. It’s extremely dangerous, unpredictable, and destructive.

One Massachusetts church experienced the power of lightning during a summer storm. A direct strike took down its 70-year-old steeple. A large portion of the church’s ceiling collapsed in the blaze, but the majority of the building was spared. Unfortunately, church plans to install lightning protection had not yet been implemented.

Even in an era when skyscrapers and cell towers overshadow the tallest church steeple, it’s crucial for churches to be intentional about lightning protection.

Suit Up for Storms

Not only can a single lightning strike sear church roofs and steeples, it can also ruin computers, sound systems, alarms, and other electronics. Consider the damage lightning can cause:

  • Fires. Thirty percent of church fires are caused by direct strikes to the building.

  • Explosions. When lightning penetrates through a chimney or steeple, an explosion can also trigger a fire. 

  • Structural damage. A single strike is powerful enough to break through structural brick or concrete. Roofs and windows in lightning’s path can tear away or shatter.

“Many times churches don’t realize they could be affected a great deal by lightning. We usually see churches install a device after they've been hit," says Brock Bell, senior manager, risk control, at Brotherhood Mutual. "That’s why we recommend churches invest in a lightning protection system, but sooner rather than later. It almost entirely removes the risk.”

Hire a Lightning Professional

When it comes to lightning protection, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Installers design a protection system unique to each building, based on lightning frequency, the size of the structure and its contents.

To ensure that your lightning protection system meets safety standards, hire a professional electrical contractor to install it. The Lightning Protection Institute can help you locate a qualified installer in your area.

After you have a system, it’s important to maintain it. Stay on top of the installer’s recommendations for inspections to keep your equipment up to date. As with any electrical system, regular inspections will help you get the most out of your investment.

Your Electronics are at Greater Risk

Not only can lightning harness incredible temperatures, but it also packs a lot of power. One lightning strike can carry enough electricity to power 10 million homes for one month. Plus, it’s fast. The average lightning bolt can span 3,700 miles in one second. That’s more than the distance from New York to California.

Lightning is far more likely to damage your ministry’s electrical equipment than cause a fire, and it doesn’t have to strike your building to wreak havoc. It can travel through a nearby power source into the building. With the use of technology so widespread, this is a significant concern during storm season.

Two things commonly result when lightning hits a power source:

  • Power surgeThe first is an electrical current, or surge, that is significantly above the 220 volts your computers and copier are used to receiving. A surge caused by a lightning strike can immediately overwhelm your appliances and electronics.

  • Brownouts. The second is a brownout, or a significant decrease in electricity. Too little electricity can keep your electronics from functioning normally, eventually causing them to fail. Both surges and brownouts can harm electrical equipment, including computers, copiers, printers, phone lines, sound systems, HVAC systems, and more.

While ordinary circuits and fuses are not able to handle the effects of a lightning strike, a good surge protector is designed to protect your technological investments. A surge protector directs excess power away from electronics and regulates power in the case of a brownout. 

If you experience damage to your equipment because of lightning, contact an electrician to prevent any further problems and your insurance agent to report any claims. 

The Right Coverage

Lightning causes about 80 church fires a year, and the property damage is covered as by most basic insurance policies. But, your ministry may wish to consider additional coverage to help pay for repairs or replace equipment that may be damaged by electrical surges or mechanical failures not caused by lightning.

Brotherhood Mutual offers Equipment Breakdown Coverage for such items as:

  • Organs and sound systems
  • Office and kitchen equipment
  • Electrical systems
  • Air conditioning units
  • Boiler and pressure vessels

Talk to your Brotherhood Mutual agent to learn more about this unique insurance protection. Need an agent? Find one here.

Download our Fire Safety Checklist for more tips on fire prevention.

Related Resources

Updated August 2023

The information provided in this article 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.