The same gang is thought to be behind a theft of lead worth almost £80,000 from four churches in Leicestershire.
At one church police were called while the thieves were nearby but officers did not arrive until two days later.
A force spokesman said all the thefts were linked and admitted their response to the first theft had been below "what we would expect".
The gang is also thought to be behind a fifth theft at a church in Welford, Northamptonshire in October.
The first theft at a church was reported at Husbands Bosworth, Leicestershire, on 8 November, with others in Loughborough, Barrow upon Soar and Cotesbach, near Lutterworth targeted a week later.
Diana Jones, church warden at All Saints Church in Husbands Bosworth, said the further thefts could have been prevented if officers had responded sooner.
"They might not have stopped the damage but they certainly could have prevented this," she said.
"We certainly might have been able to have the lead as salvage which would have helped towards the cost of repair."