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Lightning Protection Systems for Religious Buildings

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that lightning is responsible for an alarming 20 percent of fire damage to religious buildings.

Lightning Protection Systems for Churches & Religious Buildings

Special Risk Factors:

Lightning protection systems for churches & religious buildings are just as important. In addition to the lightning risks typical of all structures, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other houses of worship are especially vulnerable to lightning damage due to:

  • HEIGHT: Steeples, crosses, minarets, and other symbols of faith are frequently the tallest structures in a neighborhood. Their height increases the likelihood of being struck by lightning.
  • OCCUPANCY: Sanctuaries and community halls are places of assembly that require additional protection against lightning. The daycares, schools, and shelters found in many religious facilities also warrant extra protection.
  • ELECTRONICS: The expensive A/V and other electronic gear many congregations use in worship and ministry can be damaged by power surges caused by lightning.
  • RESILIENCE: Religious buildings play an important role in their communities. Many are landmarks or historic buildings that anchor neighborhoods. Others are places of refuge that must remain open in times of crises.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that lightning is responsible for an alarming 20 percent of fire damage to religious buildings.

National Cathedral - Dillon Lightning Protection

National Cathedral - Dillon Lightning Protection

Examples of Lightning Damage:

First Baptist Church of Wakefield, MA

"Historic Wakefield church will be torn down after devastating fire."

Shove Memorial Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO

Had the lightning strike occurred just moments earlier, large pieces of falling masonry could have injured people below who were gathering for a wedding rehearsal. Previous lightning strikes had caused electrical damage to the church's computers, phones, and invaluable Welte-Tripp organ.

Photo: Mr. Lightning

Nauvoo Temple, Nauvoo, IL:

"Nauvoo Temple Struck by Lightning - Moroni Statue Damaged."

Trinity Missionary Baptist Temple, Hinsdale, GA:

“It’s gone. It’s gone. The church is gone,' says Hinesville pastor, Church destroyed by fire."

Christ Church, Brooklyn, NY:

While damage from a lightning strike was still being repaired, the building was struck a second time. Falling debris from the incident killed a pedestrian on the sidewalk below. 

Photo: Jim Henderson via CC0 1.0

Does your building require lightning protection?

Design and Installation Considerations:

It is not enough to put just one lightning rod on top of the steeple; a complete lightning protection system must protect the entire building.

The system should comply with nationally-recognized standards, including LPI 175NFPA 780, and UL 96.

The standards require multiple paths to safely conduct lightning's intense electrical surge between the sky to the earth. This includes strategically located air terminals (lightning rods) at high points and on the roof, ground electrodes, and a network of heavy-duty lightning conductors to safely conduct current between them.

To equalize electrical potential throughout the building, the building’s plumbing, HVAC, structure, and other systems must be bonded to the lightning protection system, and the lightning protection grounding must be interconnected to the building’s groundings for the electrical and other systems. In addition, surge protective devices must be added to telephone, power, and other services entering the building.

Design and installation should be performed by individuals certified by the Lightning Protection Institute. For added assurance, installations should be certified by the LPI-Inspection Program to assure it functions as required. To make sure your lightning protection system remains in working order, have it inspected by a qualified lightning protection specialist every two to five years.

Case Studies:

Final Thought:

“While some church boards have faith that their building will be divinely protected from lightning, they should heed the words of St. Augustine: “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.”


Further Information:

  • "Religious Buildings and Lightning Protection System,"

    Sacred Places Magazine

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