Is it possible for your church to operate sustainably and save money? Absolutely! In this article you will learn simple steps your local church can take that will benefit the environment, save money that can be redirected into ministry, and bring your church family closer. Why does this matter?
The biblical principles of creation care are well established. (see this article from Dynamic Steward) Pollution causes 9 million premature human deaths annually.1 At least 1 million animals die annually from litter, primarily plastic litter.2 Many churches could do more to take creation stewardship seriously. Jesus cared intimately for the plight of creation. The Spirit of Prophecy informs us that Jesus relieved the suffering not only of humans but even of animals.3
Here are some simple steps your church can adopt to reduce its burden on God’s environment and animals.
1. Take recycling seriously. Provide recycle bins near entrances. The most useful in a church are paper and plastic bottle recycle bins. Ensure they are clearly marked. Collecting used bulletins and bottles will go a long way to reducing the amount of waste from your church that ends up in a land fill. At one small church of about 100 members, this accounted for over 50 percent of the weekly waste. The church was able to reduce the size of their dumpster thus saving the church money. The recycled materials were stored in a closet and hauled to the recycling center bi-monthly by church members. Learn what recyclables are accepted in your area to see what else your church can recycle.
2. Reduce single-use disposable tableware. Potlucks and fellowship meals are a staple of church. Single-use plates, cups, bowls, plastic utensils, tablecloths and napkins can quickly fill many trash bags. When I was young, our church members worked together to wash all the dishes after potluck. There is something beneficial about community tasks like cleanup that bring a church together. It helps you feel connected, not just there to be served and entertained, but to serve each other. While the days of dishwashing lines may be gone, I propose a hybrid approach. Much of the dishwashing often falls on a few. They understandably want to avoid this burden.
Plastic is the worst landfill offender as it lasts for decades. Paper can degrade in a few months, even in a landfill. So, switch to paper plates and cups. Instead of plastic utensils, use metal flatware. Washing utensils does not take a dreadfully long time. At my previous church, several of the young adults even volunteered to help wash dishes after meals when they found out the church was trying to reduce waste this way.
Alternatively, encourage members to bring their own personal plates and utensils. My church has done this at church picnics. No disposables are provided. People bring their own camping plates and utensils. Then, no one is left with the job of washing up after everyone. Reducing single-use disposables will even save your church a small amount of money.
3. Reduce waste in programs. Programs often account for a large part of a church’s budget. Children’s ministries are especially known for requiring numerous supplies.
It is important to produce engaging programs. I learned this from my mother who has been in children’s ministry my entire life. She can transform a mundane room into a theme park-like experiential wonderland. When she is done decorating, not a peak of the original walls, ceiling, floor, or doors are visible. You do not go into a room, instead you enter the Garden of Eden, Noah’s ark, or the wilderness tabernacle. You step into the biblical story. She also taught me to turn off lights when leaving a room and water while I brush my teeth just to pinch a few pennies.
How do you reduce waste in children’s ministry programs? Reuse as much as possible. My mother decorates with the intent that each item can be disassembled and reused. When unable to store decorations, she has given them away to other churches. She also tries to make decorations useful for multiple sets. For example, an archway or tree could be a major centerpiece to dozens of Bible stories.
When you purchase material for games and entertainment, look for reusable items. For example, reusable “water balloons” are available online. They have a magnetic closure that separates on impact and can be resealed over and over.
For craft supplies, look for items that are biodegradable such as paper, wood, and twine. Look for crafts that repurpose waste like paper towel tubes or scraps of material. Avoid plastic where possible. Instead of plastic beads, use dried beans. Biodegradable glitter is an alternative to plastic glitter. This is comforting since scientists recently discovered micro plastics are accumulating in our blood and lungs! Microplastic pollution has become a real threat to human and animal health.
Quality ministry programs are vital to every church. We can do better at reducing the number of single-use items that get thrown away afterwards.
4. Formally adopt a creation care pledge or statement. This would acknowledge your local church’s duty as stewards of creation. It could be a statement or pledge written and passed by the church board or by the pastor and other leaders individually. It could even be displayed. It should not be a political statement, nor should it penalize for non-compliance. It is simply a formal recognition of a church’s God given responsibility. It functions like an aim or motto. It gives direction and helps to remind leaders of an important aspect of following Christ’s example.
Why does a church need a formal pledge or statement on creation care? Sadly, this has been a much-maligned area of stewardship for decades. Few churches have paid attention to this important area in their daily operations. Yet, Revelation says God is coming to destroy those who destroy the earth (Rev. 11:18). So, a simple pledge or statement will bring this principle to the forefront of the minds of church leaders and create conversations about what the church can do to be better stewards. Also, it will set an example to church members.
5. Convert to energy saving devices. When your church building needs new appliances or bulbs, install the most energy efficient options available. Items like Energy Star certified hot water heaters and LED bulbs save a lot of money over the course of their life. Some churches are even opting to install solar panels to further reduce their energy bills. Solar can now pay for itself in as little as 4-7 years leaving many years of free power generation. Solar panels saves on Adventist church $30,000 annually. All the money saved can go to relief or outreach programs!
6. Create conversations at your church about creation stewardship. The congregation needs more conversations about this neglected area of Christian living. The pollution and waste of modern society is not benign. It spoils resources and causes disease and premature deaths in the millions every year. While one person cannot stop pollution everywhere, when many people work together to create less waste, lives are saved. Pollution reduction is the right hand of the Adventist health message.
Conversations will help church members share ideas about how we can all make small but meaningful improvements. More sermons and Bible studies at church on this topic will help each of us better understand the biblical principles of creation stewardship. They will especially engage the younger generations.
What will you do at your church to improve creation stewardship and make it more sustainable?
Notes and References:
1. Aria Bendix, “Pollution's fatal threat gains urgency after 9 million died in one year,” NBC News online, (May 17, 2022) https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/pollution-death-toll-high-studies-rcna29189.
2. Guliford County, “Animals - The Innocent Victims of Litter,” Guliford County NC online, (February 17, 2021) https://www.guilfordcountync.gov/Home/Components/News/News/2362/.
3. Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1898):90.