The theft of $600,000 from the donation plates at Pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Mega church in Houston has raised new questions about the security at churches, where the need for tight controls over finances and the people who control them sometimes run afoul of church teachings about trust and charity, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Police in Houston say $200,000 in cash and $400,000 in checks were stolen from a safe at the church sometime between 2:30PM Sunday and 6:30AM on Monday. The receipts were the produce of offerings at two Lakewood church services over the past weekend.
Chuck Chadwick, who heads the Texas-based Christian Security Institute, tells 1200 WOAI's Michael Board that the need for strict security and scrutiny over large amounts of cash, which would be second nature at any other type of business, sometimes are seen as inappropriate in a church setting.
"We certainly hope that churches would always take it seriously, but sometimes it takes an incident like this," he said.
Chadwick says another problem is that today's churches are designed to look more like shopping malls than the traditional church, in an effort to be less intimidating and more welcoming. They have coffee shops, bookstores, playgrounds, and meeting rooms for all sorts of activities, with people frequently moving between rooms.
"It's like a workout gym and a rock concert all at the same time, and that brings out a very diverse crowd, just like any other venue."
He says another problem is that churches are headed frequently by pastors who are called to that profession because they try to bring out the best in people, and that is not conducive to the sorts of trust that is needed to keep cash safe.
"Until the time it happens in their own church, they often have the idea that 'it can never happen in my church'," because pastors naturally want to think the best of their flock.
Also, the duties of handling cash are often given to elders or deacons, not to people with backgrounds in security or banking. And add to that that frequently church offerings are made in cash, which is easier to steal and a lot harder to trace.
Experts suggest that churches hand over duties to cash management to people who are trained in that task, and adopt the same levels of security that would be found at any other cash-heavy business.