A recent report by the Family Research Council (FRC) shows that hostile acts against American houses of worship increased by 800% over the past six years, and more than doubled from 2022 to 2023. Though still statistically rare, the recent incidents at Houston’s Lakewood Church and Park Valley Church in Haymarket, Virginia highlight a growing trend, the varying motivations that can drive a potential assailant to act against religious groups, and—most importantly—the value of having a preparedness plan in place.

With incidents on the rise, what kinds of threats are U.S. houses of worship facing, who is being targeted, and what can America’s faithful do to prepare for and prevent violence in their churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues?



Accelerating Hostilities

While the FRC report focused on varying types of hostile acts or attempted acts—including vandalism, arson, and bomb threats—a number of other studies have specifically highlighted a spike in physical attacks. One such study by the A-Mark Foundation shows that violent acts are also increasing, with nearly 60 attacks targeting congregants, clergy, or staff at American houses of worship over an 11-year period between January 2012 and December 2022. Similarly to the FRC study, this research showed an additional uptick in violent attacks beginning in 2018.

However, the FRC’s research appears to address only incidents involving churches within the Christian faith (Catholic or Protestant denominations). A-Mark’s study suggests that when other faiths are targeted—particularly Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques—motivations change and the odds of a violent physical attack increase greatly.

More than a quarter of the time (28%), motives in these incidents were unknown; but when a motive could be identified, more than two-thirds of the perpetrators were driven by racial, ethnic, or religious hatred. While 18% of violent attacks against Christian churches could be categorized as hate crimes, “attacks targeting Jewish (93%) and Muslim (83%) houses of worship were overwhelmingly motivated by antisemitic or Islamophobic hate.”

Notably, just under 4% of congregations across the U.S. worship in synagogues or mosques—but they were targeted in nearly 40% of the violent attacks detailed in the A-Mark report.

A Light in the Darkness

Regardless of faith, it’s clear that houses of worship across all sects have seen an increase in threats ranging from disgruntled congregants to violent opportunists. In any serious scenario, religious targets tend to be highly vulnerable, somewhat soft targets with a large number of people gathered together in facilities that often possess multiple entry points and minimal security. Considering these factors in total, it’s vital that houses of worship make security a priority, and work with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to leverage resources and share information. 

If there are positives that can be gleaned from recent incidents, it’s that identifiable patterns can be leveraged to gain a security advantage. For example, an understanding of behavioral indicators shows us that changes to a churchgoer’s emotional state, clothing (that could conceal a weapon), social media activity, even general attendance can all portend an individual under mental stress and potentially on the pathway to violence. 

But utilizing these lessons requires action, and the importance of training and planning cannot be understated. As the country’s faithful mark another week of holy celebration, it’s time for people of all sects to take note of the rising risks and commit to greater preparedness.

With expertise including Run-Hide-Fight, active shooter preparedness and response, situational awareness, de-escalation techniques, and more, The Power of Preparedness provides critical guidance that can save lives. Contact us to learn more.