By Nancy Sleeth
“Am I supposed to say anything?” I whispered to the woman who had invited us to the meeting.
“That’s why you’re here!” she responded.
Yes, it was a setup—in the best sense. My husband Matthew and I had been asked to lead a retreat on stewardship of God’s creation. The church was in a period of transition and planning a major building project.
The night before the retreat, we were asked to attend a presentation by the lead architect. Matthew and I immediately saw that little attention had been paid to solar orientation, green building materials, basic energy-saving principles, or the long-term environmental impact of the new building.
With my friend’s permission, we started to ask some questions about energy use, waste reduction, and maintenance. That’s when the surprise came: The architect was LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and only too delighted to make environmental impact a priority. Suddenly, everything from green roofs (living plants on the roof) to water-saving toilets was on the drawing board.
We talked about the financial and environmental stewardship reasons for selecting materials that will last a century or more, and how outside spaces could be designed to attract the community. The discussion flowed to how the building could be best used by providing space for a daycare and offering area teens a safe place to hang out.
Like most major building projects, this one would take several years to complete. In the meantime, the church decided to change all the light bulbs in the existing sanctuary, start a recycling program, offer a Sunday school series on creation care, and plan a year-long series of public talks offering practical ways to conserve God’s resources—a creative way to welcome new people into the church.
Such turnarounds are happening in churches all over the United States. One woman who attends a megachurch had a life-changing experience when she visited a park with her family. She felt called by God to help her church become better stewards of creation. This would not be an easy task; her pastor recently had joked about recyclers—from the pulpit.
For the first year, she struggled alone, educating herself and diving deeply into creation care Scripture. The second year, she gathered a core group of five co-believers. By the third year, the lead pastor had a conversion experience. He not only agreed to sponsor the group, but invited Matthew to preach to their 7,000 members. The church held a creation care fair around the sermons; their “small group” immediately had 250 members—including the lead pastor.
Such stories both encourage and inspire us. Once churches hear the biblical call to honor God by caring for His creation, they are capable of big changes—fast. That is why Matthew and I believe the church must get involved—first by cleaning up its own act, and then by reaching out to the world.
Yes, government and science will be part of the solution, but the church must take on a leadership role. We offer something that is sorely missing from the environmental movement: hope.
With God, anything is possible.
- Weigh in on your energy use. Conduct an energy audit, either through your local utility or a performance contractor. Many church buildings can be made more efficient through simple changes, such as increased insulation, ceiling fans, LED bulbs in exit signs, and insulated curtains.
- Illuminate your church. Change the light bulbs in the church to energy-efficient ones. We are supposed to be a light to the world, not our sanctuary lamps.
- Recycle. Encourage people to share their bulletins and reduce the size of the bulletin to fewer pages. Print bulletins on recycled paper. Place a box at each church sanctuary exit for recycling bulletins.
- Switch coffee. Purchase organic, fair-trade coffee. Use ceramic mugs instead of disposable cups.
- Scatter seeds. Organize a church garden. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and local after-school programs will welcome your fresh produce. A church garden is also a great way to engage people who normally don’t go to church but are interested in gardening or community service.
- Share your stuff. Start an exchange program. Set up a bulletin board for people to post items they need and items they want to give away. Consider starting a library for tools and toys, in addition to books, magazines, and videos.
- Teach. Start a book study or small group on creation care and discuss how group members can reduce their impact on God’s glorious creation.
- Pray. Hold prayer meetings for people affected by the environmental changes and natural disasters. Pray for wisdom to know how to help and the strength to carry out God’s will.
- Plant trees. Plant trees native to your region. Avoid using pesticides on church grounds.
- Rideshare. Organize carpools to and from church. If you have many people coming from one area (such as college students or senior citizens), arrange for a van or bus to take them all to church instead of them driving separately.
- Share your space. Share the church building with other organizations. Multiple church congregations can share one church building on Saturdays and Sundays. Soup kitchens and community groups can use the building during the week.
- Power off. Turn off electronic devices in the church when they’re not in use. Unplug empty refrigerators and prop them open to prevent the growth of fungi.
- Reduce waste. Set up recycling bins in the church kitchen and throughout the building.
- Clean green. Make sure that the cleaning products used at the church are not harmful to the people doing the cleaning or the environment.
- Curb clutter. Hold a church yard sale. The fewer things we have, the less distraction in our lives and the more time we have to spend with God. Donate the money raised to church outreach, missions, and worthy charities.
Nancy Sleeth is the managing director of Blessed Earth and the author of Almost Amish: One Woman’s Guide to a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life. For additional free, downloadable tip sheets for going green at church, visit www.blessedearth.org.