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Spark the holiday spirit without igniting your church

Three tips to keep celebrations safe

Christmas trees and manger scenes, garland and lights all create a beautiful backdrop for your church's holiday services. Yet when combined with an open flame, even the small flame of a candle can be a dangerous fire hazard.

While Advent candles and candlelight services are a worshipful way to celebrate the season, candles are also responsible for more than 70 fires and an average of $5.5 million in property damage in churches each year according to a report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

How can you prevent your church from adding to the statistic?

1. Make safety your first priority.

  • Check with your local and state fire marshal to ensure your decorations meet fire safety codes.
  • Meet with your decorating committee to discuss safety issues and what they should do if they see something that isn't safe.
  • During a candlelight service, ask adults to help children hold their candles.

2. Decorate with care.

  • Place candles at least one foot from decorations and other flammable objects.
  • Follow NFPA tips for candle safety. See article below.
  • Never use electrical decorations with exposed or frayed wires. Instead, cut off the plug and discard.
  • Don't overload outlets, extension cords or power strips. Follow manufacturer recommendations when linking lights.
  • Unplug or turn off all lighting when the building is vacant.
  • Use flame resistant artificial trees and garland.
3. Plan for emergency — just in case.

While it's preferable to have a written procedure for emergency situations, a safety plan doesn't have to be a big deal. Meet with your leadership to determine what emergency situations you need to be prepared for, then develop a plan of action.

  • Assign tasks to individual members of your leadership team.
  • Prepare and post floor plans with evacuation routes clearly marked. Be prepared to keep people calm and assist the evacuation. Determine how you will ensure that all people have been evacuated.
  • Make sure all fire extinguishers are maintained and that you know how to use them.

Tips for candle safety

According to the National Fire Protection Associations (NFPA), candles have been responsible for more than 70 church fires every year. If candles are used in your decorating or worship plans, use NFPA safety tips to keep your sanctuary safe.

Candle with care

  • Blow out all candles when you leave the room.
  • Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn.

If you do burn candles, make sure that you...

  • Use candle holders that are sturdy and won’t easily tip over.
  • Put candle holders on a sturdy, uncluttered surface.
  • Light candles carefully. Keep hair and loose clothing away from the flame.
  • Don't burn a candle all the way down — put it out before it gets too close to the holder or container.

Remember, your best emergency plan is prevention. You can make safety a priority without diminishing the reason for the season. In fact, when safety issues have been properly dealt with, you and your church are more likely to enjoy the holiday festivities.

To learn more about how you can protect your church, call the GuideStone Property and Casualty Program at 1-877-455-GSPC (1-877-455-4772).


This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice. Readers should use this article as a tool, along with best judgment and legal advice to determine appropriate use of suggestions.