Eco-Justice Ministries
   Eco-Justice: "the well-being of all humankind on a thriving Earth"
 

Congregational Self-Assessment

There is no single formula for what churches can and should do as they seek to "green" their ministries, programs and facilities. While there are some common approaches that are generally appropriate anywhere, each congregation will have its own way of moving toward a richly eco-justice approach.

Greening your church in a significant way involves much more than energy efficiency and recycled paper. Eco-Justice Ministries -- along with our leading colleagues in the faith-based environmental movement -- believes that a green church will reflect its commitments in all areas of congregational programming: worship and education, advocacy and facilities management. That opens up lots of possibilities for a congregation to discern forms of action that are most appropriate to their own style and tradition.

  
WHAT IS AN ASSESSMENT?
By way of comparison, a comprehensive energy audit looks at your church building and its mechanical systems, and suggests the places where improvements will be most effective. It will affirm what you've already done, point to the most cost-efficient steps, and recommend against things that would be very hard or expensive.

Similarly, this assessment looks at a wide range of the qualities of your congregation and community, to help you consider the most effective ways to “green” the programs of your church, and also to identify the steps that will be least effective or most difficult.

This self-assessment (believe it or not!) is a reduced version of the questions that Eco-Juastice Ministries has used in conversations with church leaders. This do-it-yourself process will help you take a look at many aspects of your church life, so that you can come to a realistic understanding of the programs, possibilities and approaches that will be most helpful for you as you work to green your church.

HOW TO USE THIS DOCUMENT:

  • Skim it. On an introductory level, an individual can skim through the questions to get a feel for the range of considerations that shape the process of greening a church. A lay leader may wish to do this when starting to recruit other members for a church green team. A pastor may do a quick reading of the assessment to pick up ideas and perspectives for working with committees and leaders.

  • Discuss it. A more substantive process will have a group of people work through the assessment together. Some sections will stimulate conversation that reveal a diversity of experiences and opinions. Other parts will help you begin to compile a list of areas in the church that might be appropriate for a future focus.

  • Make decisions. Finally, insights from the assessment can help a group of church leaders make decisions about priority areas for new and renewed emphasis. Both positive outcomes and anticipated roadblocks can guide the choice about where to spend money, and how to work into many areas of church programming.

The congregational assessment goes hand-in-hand with our information about various approaches to greening your church -- getting started & doing the basics, leadership & action, and transformational ministry. The assessement will help you determine where your church fits on what we hope will be a journey toward a transformative style of ministry.

NOTE: If you determine that your congregation is in the very early "getting started" stages, and that the most prudent first steps have to do only with matters of resource conservation around the church building, then many sections of this assessment will not apply to your first steps. As our resources on getting started describe, many of those practical steps of getting up to practical community standards can be taken behind the scenes, and without lots of theological discussion.

Here are two words of encouragement as you start into this long document.

  1. When our staff does in-person assessment sessions with local congregations, we usually find that church leaders are surprised and delighted to re-discover how much they are already doing. We're able to remind them of prior improvements to facilities and and well-established policies. Things that may have become routine deserve to be celebrated again. Be sure to affirm the progress you've already made!

  2. The assessment is intended to help you discern the most effective places to focus your programming and efforts. You will become aware of things that are not being done, and roadblocks that will make some approaches difficult, but you'll also see opportunities and strengths where the way is easier. You can avoid the roadblocks, and claim the possibilities!

TWO URGENT CRITERIA
Two special situations over-ride the more general considerations that are developed in this assessment process. If either of these situations apply, then they should be given the highest possible urgency in your greening agenda.

Does the church have plans for a building project, major renovations or repairs in the near future?
If so, a very high priority should be given to the environmental impacts and possibilities of those projects. It is much more difficult, if not impossible, to retrofit what should have been done within the main project. See the Eco-Justice Notes, "Will they Hate You?", for details.

Is the church looking at any significant staff changes in the near future?
If so, a high priority should be given to ways in which those changes might impact your creation care programming. Can your eco-justice commitments be a strong consideration in the hiring or placement process?

A QUICK OVERVIEW
Later sections of the self-assessment will go into more detail, but it is useful to start with a "gut reaction" about where your church stands. The three forms of greening that we talk about (getting started & doing the basics, leadership & action, and transformational ministry) are not sequential. Some churches, for example, are strong on a transformational witness, but weak on implementing some of the basics. You may have strengths or weaknesses in each area.

Where are you doing the basics?
Are you really starting from scratch on any sort of environmental awareness and behavior, or is there something in place now?

  • Can you point to recent changes around the church building and office that conserve resources?
  • Have there been any educational programs that look at environmental issues or ecological theology?
  • Does a concern for the health and sustainability of God's creation show up in any aspect of worship services?
If you can answer yes to any of these, then you can build on those earlier steps. If nothing has been done in any of these areas, then you have wide open possibilities!

Are you taking leadership steps, and/or engaged in action?
Leadership calls for intentional steps that are more challenging than the basics, and/or that speak to the wider community.

  • Has the church made a major investment toward resource conservation or renewable energy -- installing solar panels, buying wind power, etc.?
  • Are there educational programs that have devoted a lot of time to environmental issues or ecological theology?
  • Do creation care themes and language appear in worship on a regular basis?
  • Has the church ever taken a strong stand about a political or moral issue in the community, on any topic?
  • Does the congregation have any programming, such as a parish nurse, that routinely provides advice to members about lifestyle and personal behaviors?
If you can answer yes to any of these, then your church has experience with making challenging decisions, and claiming a clear faith perspective. If there is no history of this sort of engagement, you will want to explore ways to claim more assertive stances.

Does your church call people and communities to transformation?
Does the church offer encourgement to live in very different ways, and with different values?

  • Have church programs ever been offered on themes like voluntary simplicity or resisting consumerism?
  • Have programs or activism dealt with big topics that don't have clear solutions -- economic globalization, over-population or human rights?
  • Does the church tend to feel that language -- about the creation, gender, race or disability -- is important in shaping how we understand the world?
  • Do programs like mission trips or immersion experiences provide opportunities to gain new perspectives on our world?
  • Do visitors to your church experience worship services as challenging, surprising or exciting?
  • Does the church ever suggest that members' faith and values should lead them to live very differently from their neighbors, or to take surprising political stands?
If you can answer yes to any of these, then your church's experience with transformational ministry will help inform new eco-justice initiatives. If none of these have been present, key leaders in the church will need to be involved in shaping a more challenging faith perspective, or you may want to look at programs offered by other agencies that can introduce some of your members to a transformational passion.

CONGREGATIONAL PERSPECTIVE AND STYLE
Your steps toward greening will be easier if they build on your congregation's existing programs and style; they will be much harder if you call on the church to make sudden changes in style. (Shifts in the character and emphasis of a church may be necessary, but those is best accomplished through an intentional, long-term process, not by the rapid introduction of a jarring new initiative.)

"Style" is a subjective consideration, based on several criteria. To help you think about this, compare your church to the four examples described below -- each of which has some strengths and weaknesses for greening initiatives. How is your church similar to, and different from, each one?

Old First Church
"Old First" is one of the city's historic churches, an anchor in the community, both historically, and in making sure that things don't drift far from where they've always been. Many of the city's leading citizens are members at Old First, including the Mayor and several prominent business folk. Dr. Winters has been the senior minister for over 20 years, and he keeps a tight watch over all aspects of church programming. Things here change slowly, but thoughtfully, and the rest of the churches in town take notice when Old First decides to address an issue. The church administrator is a practical steward of the church's resources, and she has made sure that equipment and policies are in place so that the church will save money from energy conservation. A stalwart and committed group of seniors attend the Sunday morning classes -- a Bible study group, and one that uses resources like Living the Questions to study current theology. There are very few children and youth these days.
Church of the Radical Proclamation
CRP has a reputation for activism and involvement. The church banner is carried to almost every liberal protest event, church members are active volunteers with many of the social action groups in the community, and the church often raises social justice issues at denominational meetings. Pastor Jan writes a blog with religious reflections on current issues (generating heated discussions in the congregation and community). The adult ed program watches videos and has speakers about controversial issues. That class has spotty attendance because people tend to drop in just for topics that seem interesting. The youth group sells fair trade coffee every Sunday morning as a fundraising project. The church is proud of their early adoption of energy-efficient lighting, and the fact that the coffee hour never uses disposable cups. There is talk about installing solar panels as a witness to the community. There is an anxiety among some of the peace & justice folk, though, that a stronger environmental emphasis will detract from the church's historic set of peace and justice issues.
New Life Fellowship
This lively young church meets in the auditorium of the local high school. The minister, Mike, and the leader of the praise band work together to set the theme for each Sunday's service. Several study groups meet in member's homes during the week, and Matthew Sleeth's book, Serve God, Save the Planet, has been stimulating some lively discussions in the groups that used it. For many members, the basic environmental practices used in the church office, like recycling and email-only newsletters, are assumed behavior. The church affirms personal steps of environmental stewardship taken by members, but there's real hesitation about getting involved in political issues or intentional work for social change. Because the church does not own a building, they are not able to control environmental factors about the building and grounds.
St. Francis Chapel
Liturgy and prayer are the center of church life. The beloved denominational worship book and the Lectionary provide a predictable order to their worship, and the sacramental theology of hymns and readings often affirms the beauty of God's creation. Fr. Dowd agreed with the vestry when they suggested using the "Season of Creation" alternative to the standard Lectionary readings each fall. For several years, the well-attended Lenten study series has dealt with themes of voluntary simplicity as a spiritual discipline. The old gothic building is a registered landmark, and seems to defy any sensible plans for saving energy.

Based on your reactions to the examples above, is there a predominant style in your congregation that would shape an approach to an environmental emphasis?
Consider how your planning can build upon, or be in relationship with, the strengths and traditions of the church. List the places where your style may create roadblocks, and discuss how those limitations can be minimized.

How does your denominational affiliation shape your approach to ministry and action on environmental issues?
Denominational history and resources often define a theological perspective and worship style, and may influence the balance between lay and clergy leadership. The wider church may provide guidelines on social issues and public policy. The denominational impact will be greater in denominations with a standardized liturgy, or which have clear statements on doctrine and social teachings. Some congregations celebrate their denominational ties, and others resist denominational policies.

Are there other churches in your "peer group" who are visible and active in their eco-justice witness?
Your peer group would be kindred churches in your neighborhood or denomination -- ones where church members often interact at meetings, or where clergy are friends and active colleagues. It will be much easier for churches to move more deeply into the cause when their peers are already in a leadership role, or are exploring taking similar steps. If your church will be the one breaking new ground in the community, you may need to do more extensive work explaining the cause. Think about whether your church is generally seen by your peers as a leader or a follower in faithful witness or on social issues.

Decision points: Your congregation's overall style and ethos, and its denominational connections, are not likely to be changed quickly or easily. Some of the large strategic and programmatic decisions you may want to consider are:

  • At this time, what aspects of your congregation's style can form the basis for new or strengthened creation care initiatives?
  • What are the most receptive entry points for the next stage of programming and awareness? Will you be welcomed in worship, education, building issues?
  • How can you work with other congregations in your community or denomination?

COMMUNITY PERSPECTIVE AND STYLE
There are decisive ways in which the local and regional community shapes the viable options for greening the church. For example, a church in a major metropolitan area has access to many more resources than one in a small town, but the witness of a city church may be less visible and influential than in a smaller community. A city that is heavily dependent on one industry (agriculture, skiing or oil production) may have a harder time addressing issues related to that dominant business. On the flip side, a controversial regional issue (mountaintop removal or limited water supplies) may be so visible and important that a relevant church will have to be engaged.

In general terms, how would you describe your community (large city or small town), and its larger region (Gulf Coast, Rocky Mountains, etc.)?
How does your bioregion (it's climate, topography and ecology) define your region's chracter? What are the advantages and imperatives for environmental awareness in that setting? What are the limitations, roadblocks and dangers in addressing local issues?

Are there powerful entities in your community that help or hinder action on eco-justice issues?
A state government initiative toward a "green economy" could highlight a fresh range of issues and offer creative incentives for action. A community dependent on one industry may be unwilling or unable to consider challenges to that economic base.

What are some of the environmental practices that are considered fairly basic among families and businesses in your community? (For example, some cities provide free recycling for homes, but in other areas any recycling is difficult. Reasonable water conservation for landscaping is basic in arid regions, where public transit is widely used in other areas.) Every congregation should strive to do these local basics, to "get up to community standards", as their base level of responsibility. Leadership and transformational churches will be attentive to the basics -- and will find ways to go beyond them.

Are there critical environmental or environmental justice issues facing your community? (For example: exposure of migrant workers to dangerous chemicals, factory farming and agribusiness, intense energy development, disputed water rights, use of public lands, endangered species, etc.) In what ways is your congregation -- or members of the congregation -- engaged with those issues (education, issue advocacy, community dialogue), and on what sides?
A church that does not engage matters of great local interest says, by its silence, that the church is irrelevant, frightened or confused! Activism on complex regional issues often can be addressed most effectively by a coalition of concerned individuals and groups. Look at advocacy groups your church can join, or at the ways your church can take the lead in gathering a coalition. In settings where there is lots of conflict, churches can play a leadership role by hosting public conversations about issues where a goal is to have people hear and understand each other, rather than fight over specific outcomes. The church can affirm that the controversial issue is of moral importance, without naming one side as the favored option.

Decision points:

  • What are the local issues or topics that are so important in your community that they have to be addressed? How can the church act quickly and clearly on those issues -- through worship themes, acts of public witness, educational programs, or pastoral care?
  • What are the local issues that are too complex or controversial to engage at this time? Can the church foster communication without taking side?
  • Who are your allies in the community, among religious groups, businesses, educators, government agencies or activists? How can you strengthen those relationships?
  • How can you enhance the visibility, respect and impact of your congregation or coalition within your community?

CHURCH LEADERSHIP
The ability of a church do develop and implement green perspectives and programs is highly dependent on the leadership that is present: clergy, other staff, official and unofficial lay leaders. Your awareness of advocates and roadblocks in this area will be very important.

How does the minister(s) support, encourage, endorse or participate in creation care efforts? Is the minister actively opposed to any green projects? (Clergy -- take a close look at your own behaviors!) Eco-Justice Ministries has noted -- slightly over-stating the case! -- that "the minister can't build environmental programs alone, but the minister can kill programs" through active or passive resistance or neglect.
Suggestions if the pastor has not been supportive:

  • Approach the minister with a pastoral or spiritual concern, not a political one. "This issue is really important to my faith, and I wish my church would help nurture my spirituality."
  • Look at the areas of ministry that seem to be your minister's greatest strengths and joys (e.g.: preaching, creative worship, pastoral care, ecumenical relations, biblical or theological studies, social action), and appeal to these strengths and interests as areas to developing programs. Try to avoid starting with issues or styles that will be extraordinarily difficult for the minister. See our Eco-Justice Notes on Paying the Dues for more information.
  • Rather than challenging a preacher to do a sermon on global warming, ask for sermons that explore our place in creation as a less threatening starting place.

Is there a functioning Green Team that provides environmental leadership in your congregation?
Having an identifiable group with at least five members is important in the church claiming environmental projects. If only one or two people are involved, it is seen as the pet cause of a few passionate individuals.

How strong and active is the support for building a green emphasis and identity among the elected/official lay leaders of the church?
Do church officers and committee members understand how their areas of responsiblity connect with the greening process? Are they on-board in terms of any attempts to shift the church toward a leadership or transformational style of ministry?

How do the "wise heads" of the church relate to this cause?
These are the trusted and respected informal leaders in church who may not hold any formal office, but whose opinions are very influential. How do they relate to this cause? How can you enlist their public support for these efforts -- and what can they teach you about how to be effective in your congregation?

Decision points:

  • What steps can be taken to gain greater support from clergy (and other church staff)? What can members of the church do to support the clergy in their eco-justice leadership?
  • What steps can be taken to recruit and empower a green team, or other intentional lay leadership?
  • How can the formal and informal leaders of the church be encouraged toward active and visible support of the greening project?

THEOLOGY AND WORSHIP
Worship is the central act of the church. If a congregation is going to be strong in its eco-justice programming and perspectives, that commitment must be reflected in its ongoing worship life.

How would you describe the range of theological and spiritual beliefs in your congregation?
Are any of those strongly supportive of, or strongly opposed to, creation care beliefs and actions? Have those aspects of theology been studied or proclaimed in your congregation?

What worship services are held on a weekly basis? Describe the style and leadership of each service.
Note the opportunities and roadblocks for incorporating creation perspectives into each worship setting.

Does your congregation use a lectionary to define scripture readings for most services?
If yes, be aware that the common lectionary sets have a theological stance which makes it hard to lift up an ecological theology. If no, investigate how the scripture texts and worship themes are selected, and what bias or focus there might be in that process.

Does your congregation always or often use a worship book with defined readings, liturgy and prayers?
If yes, describe ways in which the worship book strengthens or hinders creation awareness. Are there options for using other sources for the liturgy? If no, what resources are used to create those parts of the service?

What hymnal(s) do you use? Music is a very powerful force in shaping the beliefs and spirituality of church members!
Is the hymnal produced by (or compatible with) your denomination? Does it provide an adequate selection of hymns and readings for ecological spirituality? Are there viable options for including other music (photocopied songs, supplemental hymnals, projected text)? How can choirs and other musicians lift up creation care themes?

Are there (or could there be) special services held on a seasonal or annual basis that have an environmental focus or slant? (Earth Day, blessing of the animals, thanksgiving/harvest, outdoor worship, worship at a retreat, etc.)
Do those special services mesh theologically and thematically with the regular services of the church? (If Earth Day is the only day that creation topics are addressed, the message is not reinforced through the rest of the year.) Do the special services push into challenging and creative new areas? (For example, a blessing of the animals usually deals with family pets. The theme of the service can be expanded to incorporate care for all animals -- farm animals, wildlife, and endangered species.)

Do worship themes and sermon topics build a deep theological and spiritual base for your environmental focus and programming?
In addition to explicit environmental topics, preaching and worship must develop the context that makes creation care meaningful and compelling. See the article on our website, "Three Layers of Environmental Preaching" for suggestions. Note that an awareness of the options for these different levels of preaching may make it easier to encourage pastors to support an environmental emphasis.

Where in the weekly service(s) do people other than the minister provide content for worship? (For example, the children's story, prayer concerns, announcements, moment for mission.)
How can creation care themes be introduced or accentuated in those parts of the service? How can a variety of people express their environmental awareness and commitment during worship?

Decision points:

  • Where in your congregation's worship life can you most immediately and pervasively increase an environmental emphasis?
  • How can ecological perspectives or environmental issues be highlighted in sermons (perhaps including guest preachers)?

EDUCATION
Educational programs are strong and diverse parts of church life, and are often one of the best entry points for raising topics about environmental issues and perspectives.

What staff members, volunteers and committees are responsible for planning and conducting educational programming?
Are those people supportive of education on environmental themes? How can your educational leaders be encouraged toward more or deeper environmental offerings?

What curriculum materials are used for classes with children and youth?
Does it include any elements of a creation care perspective? Are teachers given encouragement or permission to bring such topics into their classes?

What adult education programs are offered? Look at weekly classes, and at seasonal programs such as a Lenten study.
How often are environmental themes presented, and with what variety of styles? (Classes could deal with theology and scripture, personal behaviors, science and nature, political issues, or impacts on your denomination's global mission.) What is the range of commitment and depth in adult educational programming? (Will class members do advance readings for a class? Is it common to do a class series on a theme, or do classes change topics every few weeks? Do discussions tend to "go deep" on either personal or theological levels?)

What educatiuonal strategies are available beyond formal classes?
Churches can build environmental awareness and commitment in lots of ways -- bulletin inserts and newsletter articles, nature posters, signage about recycling, special lectures, field trips, service projects, mission trips, a voter education forum, etc.

Decision points:

  • What current educational program is the best place to launch or expand environmental awareness and commitment?
  • Would a new educational program (a film series, environmental education field trips) be helpful in reaching different people, or addressing new ideas?
  • Which strategies for using signs and publications could be most effective, and most easily implemented?

FELLOWSHIP GROUPS & EVENTS
The fellowship life of the church provides many opportunities for education, action and witness.

How do all-church fellowship events embody your environmental commitments?
Many churches find it important, both practically and symbolically, to reduce or eliminate disposable cups, plates, etc. at coffee hour and church suppers. (Other churches have found the disposable cup decision to be a complicated roadblock.) Highlighting the use of fair trade coffee connects ecological and justice concerns. Vegetarian meals or locally grown food -- as an option, or as standard procedure -- may be a valuable witness about reducing our environmental impacts.

What fellowship groups meet on a regular basis? (Youth group, women's fellowship, men's group, young parents, etc.)
What is their style and purpose? How often do they meet, for what types of activities? Do (or could) the fellowship groups have educational programs on environmental topics?

Can fellowship groups be recruited to help with special environmental projects?
Group members could help with changing light bulbs or weather stripping at the church, tree planting, mission projects, etc. Decision points:

  • Is there an easy-to-achieve change in fellowship events that would indicate environmental commitments?
  • What is one program or activity that could be offered by a fellowship group that would engage new people in environmental thinking or action?

OFFICE, BUILDING AND GROUNDS
This section has been put toward the end of the assessment because building issues are not the only or primary way that churches express their environmental commitments! For churches that have a building, though, this is an important area of stewardship and witness.

Who owns the church building? What body is responsible for decisions about building policies, maintenance?
Your approaches to building issues will depend on whether the congregation owns the structure, if it is controlled by the diocese, or if you are renting space.

When was the building constructed and/or significantly remodeled? Is the building in good shape overall? Is it generally meeting the needs of the congregation?
If there are other reasons for structural changes (a leaking roof, handicap access, rearranging classrooms or offices), important conservation and efficiency work can be piggy-backed on the design and funding.

  
SETTING PRIORITIES
An audit of church facilities and practices can help set priorities for the most effective steps to take. As an example of picking appropriate projects based on measurable results, consider this passage from the book, The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, by the Union of Concerned Scientists (pages 134-5):
"The throwaway drinking cup has become a powerful symbol of America's wasteful, polluting society. Nevertheless, it is not a major sin against the environment to use an occasional paper or plastic cup. ...
    The popular demonization of disposable cups has caused some individuals and groups to spend too much time worrying about them. For example, the cup issue has become an important one for religious congregations that want to make their church or synagogue more environmentally responsible. ...
    Unfortunately, some congregations have squandered endless hours debating whether to ban disposables while other congregations have considered expensive, unnecessary measures. One minister told us that his congregants wanted to purchase ceramic coffee mugs and install a dishwasher in their fellowship hall, so they could avoid using plastic cups at meetings. When we discovered that their total cup use was only about forty a week, we urged them to spend their budgeted $450 on other measures, such as weather-stripping their old drafty building. This would not only do more for the environment, but would end up saving money on heating."
In a church that is in the getting started phase, taking the most cost-efficient and measurable steps toward energy conservation might be most appropriate, and might avoid conflict that could damage the new initiatives. In leadership and transformational churches, a desire for consistent public witness and visible action toward waste reduction might increase the priority for permanent cups.
Has any sort of formal/informal energy audit been done?
Is a more extensive audit available that would provide additional information? What steps were taken to follow up on the audit(s)? What is left to be done?

What steps already have been taken to increase energy efficiency and conservation?
Some standard possibilities: replace lightbulbs with more efficient ones, put outdoor lamps on timers or sensors, install programmable thermostats, increase insulation in ceilings and walls, weather stripping of doors, windows upgraded or storm windows added, thermal shades, establish policies to turn off lights and equipment when not in use, policies for temperature settings, energy efficient appliances (refrigerators, air conditioners, copiers, etc.), regular cleaning of refrigerator coils, reduce water heater temperature, clean/replace furnace filters, better zoning of heating or lighting controls. Many of these are quick and easy changes in equipment that will have little cost and a short pay-back period. Others are more substantial investments, which will take longer to recoup. A formal energy audit can be very useful in determining priorities. Policies and behavior changes are very important, but they will take ongoing education, encouragement and enforcement.

What steps have been taken toward safety, conservation and efficiency in other areas? (Water use, recycling, non-toxic cleaning products, reducing throw-away cups and plates, etc.)
Are there evident projects that should be taken on soon? (Note the discussion about cups in the adjacent sidebar.)

Have there been efforts at conservation and efficiency that have failed or been less than successful? (A classic example has to do with disposable cups at coffee hour.)
What have been some of the problems and points of resistance?

Are custodial and maintenance staff/volunteers supportive of the church's environmental efforts?
What steps can be taken to make it easier for them to comply (appropriate recycling containers or volunteers to sort trash, programmable thermostats)? What policies for conservation need to be enforced for all staff (turn off lights and computers when not in use)?

Is the building used heavily through the week, and/or by outside groups? Does a school or community agency use sections of the building during the week? Is the building used often by outside groups, such as AA groups? Is the building often used for weddings or other special services?
There can be special challenges in getting other groups to live up to church policies. What methods are used to communicate church standards, and to hold outside groups accountable?

Are major building projects anticipated? (new roof, heating/cooling updates, replace refrigerator, computers, copiers) How are environmental considerations shaping those plans?
A new roof, for example, may be the best time to install additional insulation, skylights, or to provide structural support for future solar panels. Energy efficiency should be a strong consideration in all new and upgraded technology.

Are there significant possibilities or limitations about your building in particular? Would it be especially easy to install solar panels, or does the design of the building make that virtually impossible? Are there historic preservation issues and possible preservation grants? Are there zoning restrictions dealing with landscaping, parking, etc.?

Decision points:

  • Is there an impending building project where environmental considerations need to be made a priority?
  • What needs to be done to obtain a detailed audit of church facilities, or to act on recommendations from an audit?
  • What is the most significant way that staff can support, or comply with, your church's commitments?
  • What are the most obvious changes your church needs to make to "get up to community standards"? (recycling, insulation, water use, etc.)
  • Where is the most significant place that your church can go beyond community standards? (offering hard-to-do recycling, solar panels, community garden or natural landscaping)

FINANCES
Finances are an important consideration for churches. Creative planning can reveal many ways that finances can support the environmental cause.

How does the basic church budget provide for environmental commitments?
Is there adequate funding for building maintenance? Is there money for new curricula or choir music? Are mission funds used to provide support for environmental agencies?

Where would good environmental stewardship help the church budget? This might be either shor or long term.
Energy conservation and efficiency can reduce utility bills almost immediately. A new refrigerator could pay for itself in energy savings within a few years.

Are there church funds (endowments, memorial, etc.) that may be available for special environmental projects? Those projects could be for the building (solar panels), a mission/study trip, or you pastor's sabbatical on an environmental topic. Are there potential major donors who would fund special projects?
What procedures need to be followed to have access to those funds and donors?

How do your eco-justice commitments shape church investment strategies? If your church has large endowment funds, are they managed or disbursed according to eco-justice principles?
At the most basic level, does the church avoid any investment in businesses or funds that directly contradict your environmental values? Is there a commitment to socially responsible investing, which not only screens out negative plans, but make affirmative choices in support of favored industries (don't invest in coal companies, do invest in wind power systems)? Does the church participate in shareholder action to influence corporate policies on environmental and justice issues? (The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility has coordinate faith groups for over 40 years.) Is your church willing to accept a lower rate of return for a transformational form of investments -- "micro-loans" in poor communities, or financial support for the development of small-scale local farms?

Decision points:

  • What is the most significant change in the annual budget for supporting environmental projects, and what is needed to make that happen?
  • What can be done to provide special funding for an important project?
  • What steps should be taken to bring more or deeper eco-justice commitments into the management of church funds?


We hope this self-assessment document has helped you to see your church in some new and creative ways, and to see how care for creation can connect to all parts of your church programming.

We invite you to be in touch with Eco-Justice Ministries with questions about how to use this assessment, or how to act on your decisions.


Eco-Justice Ministries   *   400 S Williams St, Denver, CO   80209   *   303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org   *   E-mail: ministry@eco-justice.org