By Aaron Earls
After three fatal church shootings in 2017, none occurred in 2018 and 2019 until a gunman opened fire at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas on Dec. 29 last year.
Since the Columbine school shooting on April 20, 1999, there have been 19 fatal church shootings. The deadliest was the 2017 shooting at First Baptist Sutherland Springs in Texas, with 26 deaths including an unborn child.
The most church shootings, as well as the most recent (West Freeway Church of Christ) and most deadly (First Baptist Church Sutherland Springs) have taken place in Texas. Four church shootings have happened in Texas, while Georgia has had three.
World Changers Church in College Park, Georgia, has been the site of two incidents.
Here are the locations of all the fatal church shootings since Columbine.
- 1999 Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas
- 2001 Greater Oak Missionary Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky
- 2002 Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Lynbrook, New York
- 2003 Turner Monumental AME Church in Kirkwood, Georgia
- 2005 Living Church of God in Brookfield, Wisconsin
- 2005 World Changers Church in College Park, Georgia
- 2006 Zion Hope Missionary Baptist in Detroit, Michigan
- 2006 Ministry of Jesus Christ Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- 2007 First Presbyterian Church in Moscow, Idaho
- 2007 First Congregational Church in Neosho, Missouri
- 2007 New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado
- 2008 First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois
- 2009 Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas
- 2012 World Changers Church in College Park, Georgia
- 2015 Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina
- 2017 Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee
- 2017 First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas
- 2017 St. Alphonsus Church in Fresno, Texas
- 2019 West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas
In addition to these incidents at Christian churches, fatal shootings have happened at other religious sites, including at a Jewish synagogue, a Benedictine monastery, a Sikh temple, and an Amish school.
Deadly incidents are on the rise at churches, says Carl Chinn, a church security expert. According to his research, there had never been a mass murder (four or more killed) associated with a faith-based property before 1963. Since then, there have been 14 such incidents.
As of 2018, Chinn identified 623 people having been killed in deadly force incidents since 1999 at faith-based properties, including churches.
Currently, around 4 in 5 Protestant pastors (80%) say their church has some type of security measure in place when they gather for worship, according to a survey from Lifeway Research.
The most common form of preparation is making an intentional plan. Almost 2 in 3 pastors (62%) say their church has an intentional plan for an active shooter situation.
Still, Chinn says, “Most churches spend far more time and money training their choir than they do investing in the safety of their staff and guests.”
Chinn knows pastors often think the odds are in their favor and more than likely they’ll never have to deal with a serious security threat in their church.
“They are absolutely right,” he acknowledges. “Odds are their church will never face a serious threat. But if their congregation does face a serious threat, the odds won’t matter much.”
For those looking to become better prepared, Chinn advises churches to work with other leaders in the area.
“Work with your community first and foremost,” he says. “Know your law enforcement and fellow faith-based safety operators in your area on a first-name basis.”
Working with other safety professionals like those at area schools is also a good idea, according to Chinn. “Don’t be a silo of information,” he says.
For churches looking for simple steps to make themselves more secure, Chinn offers these nine guidelines.
- Confirm support from your church’s leadership team.
- Do a baseline readiness evaluation.
- Start with what you have, where you are.
- Keep it simple.
- Keep it legal.
- Know your insurance agent and policies.
- Network with your community.
- Train and drill.
- Develop policies and procedures.
Aaron Earls is senior writer/editor of LifewayResearch.com.