What Can I Do in My Local Church?
Who is currently responsible for making decisions about your building and grounds? What policies currently exist at your church about environmental stewardship? Does your church already have a Green Team? Is your local United Methodist Women interested in establishing a stronger environmental ministry at your church? Is your church connected to a local, state or area-wide affiliate of Interfaith Power & Light?
Investigate what, if anything, already has been done, or is in the works at your church. Find local experts and allies in your congregation or community who might be helpful. Marshaling a small group of interested volunteers, or strengthening an existing one, is a crucial first step to success.
Inspire and inform
The United Methodist bishops’ pastoral letter can be a helpful source of inspiration and education. The bishops have asked that it be read from the pulpit during a worship service. Has it been read at your church? If not, talk with your minister about doing this. The accompanying study materials could also be used in an adult Sunday school class or as a way to energize young adults in your congregation or nearby campus. Get some buzz going and deepen your congregation’s awareness of what it can do.
Tip: The Virginia Annual Conference’s Creation Care Ministry works to form Green Teams in local United Methodist churches. Their manual outlines steps a congregation can take to lower its carbon footprint and take other stewardship actions.
Calculate your church’s carbon footprint
Use the carbon footprint calculator available from Interfaith Power & Light
Conduct an audit and develop a plan of action: You may be able to find a knowledgeable volunteer to do this. Sometimes power companies will do this for free. Some states, counties and cities give rebates on energy audit costs. There are many professional firms that can conduct an energy audit and make cost-benefit recommendations that are appropriate for your situation. Your nearest Interfaith Power & Light affiliate should be able to provide you with leads on reputable auditors. A local environmental organization, such as the Sierra Club, may be another source for leads.
Tip: The National Council of Churches has two reference reports that can provide a good background on the “how” and “why” of audits. You can read them on interfaithpowerandlight.org.
Change the lights
One of the easiest things to do with immediate impact is to switch to compact fluorescent (CFL) or other energy-saving bulbs. Next step: switch to energy-saving light fixtures, programmable thermostats and appliances.
- The Environmental Protection Agency offers free technical advice through its Energy Star Congregation program.
- Interfaith Power & Light offers discounts on lighting and some appliances. When you switch to energy-saving lights, fixtures and appliances for your church, consider buying in bulk and passing the savings onto congregation members who want to do the same thing. This multiplies your impact and helps your members save money—a win-win for everyone (and the planet)!
- Involve children and youth. One church sponsored a contest for youth that involved guessing how many lightbulbs were in the church. The winner got to take home a compact fluorescent lightbulb. Teens helped raise money for “adopt a lightbulb” and then installed the CFL replacements.
Rethink your relationship with energy suppliers
An important first step in reducing one’s carbon footprint is to reduce energy use through appropriate conservation methods. A next step is to explore the possibilities of shifting to more renewable sources for the energy you do use. There are various approaches to consider depending on local conditions. An energy audit will tell you whether and what type of renewable energy might be produced on site (e.g., passive solar, geothermal, wind, solar panels, etc.). Another approach is to buy renewable energy or renewable energy credits/certificates from your local utility. In some cities, congregations have banded together and have been able to negotiate cooperative arrangements and lower utility bills (for the congregations and their individual members).
Examine your transportation choices
How car-dependent is your congregation? Are there ways to build a tighter community by encouraging carpooling and car sharing? Encouraging biking or public transit? Do you have bike racks? Is your church growth strategy dependent on cars and bigger parking lots? How might your ministry become stronger if you took a different approach to church growth?
Set a sustainable food policy
Do you serve food at church? Offer lunch? Do you have a food policy that emphasizes using organic and local sources wherever possible? Some churches that offer lunch on Sundays use it to educate and inspire members by serving vegan/vegetarian options and sourcing ingredients locally. Some churches are turning spare land (and even parts of parking lots) into community gardens, meeting many needs at once. Some churches are hosting farmers’ markets on their property. To understand more the connections between food and carbon footprints and what some churches are doing, read Church World Service’s “Feeding the Nations” report on climate change and food security.
Use water efficiently
It takes a lot of electricity to transport water. How efficiently does your church use water? Take a look at your faucets and bathroom fixtures. Can you upgrade to more water-conserving models? Can you install rain barrels or otherwise reuse rainwater for landscaping?
Maximize your impact
Build support and interest in what your church is doing at the same time as you educate and support your members in making some of the same changes in their own lives. This can be a very effective approach and multiplies the impact of what you are doing. One way to do this is to enlarge your “ask” during the annual pledge drive. In addition to annual financial pledges, encourage individuals and families to make a green pledge that parallels what the church will be doing in the coming year to lower its carbon footprint. Calculate the impact of the pledged actions and publicize this as a way of thanking members and inspiring more action. Some churches print up a “green pledge” form and organize volunteers to follow-up with members for encouragement, advice and totaling final results.