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Checklist: How Green Is Your Church?
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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2008 Archives > November-December 2008 > Churches save some green by going green

York-Ogunquit United Methodist Church in York, Maine, installed solar panels to cut down on its heating costs. Photo courtesy of Cal Shook
Churches save some
green by going green

By Joey Butler

"All creation is the Lord's, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. ... God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect." 
                                                                                ---United Methodist Social Principles

The United Methodist Church has always taken environmental stewardship seriously. But as energy prices rise dramatically, many churches are finding that "going green" can also save them some money.

Something as simple as changing the type of light bulb they use has drastically reduced many churches' utility bills.

United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta switched all of its lighting to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and within two months, its energy consumption decreased by 12 percent, resulting in $490 in savings.

York-Ogunquit United Methodist Church in York, Maine, dropped the amount of energy used to light the sanctuary from 8,000 watts to 2,000 simply by switching to CFLs. In addition, the church installed solar panels on its roof. The panels provide around 70 percent of the church's energy, and even provide additional energy for the town.

"We had a two-way meter put in and we're connected directly to the power grid," said the Rev. Jim Shook. "Any energy we generate and don't use gets fed back into the grid."

The church posts its electric bills on its Web site so congregants can see the savings ($130 in the first month).

"We recognize that when God gave us dominion over the world it was as stewards and caretakers," Shook says. "We're more assertive in recycling, and we're looking at our use of energy in general, encouraging folks to carpool to church functions and worship."

The Rev. Pat Watkins, director of the Virginia Conference Green Church Initiative, says saving money may initially attract churches to environmental stewardship, but there needs to be a deeper commitment.

"It's more than just light bulbs and Styrofoam," Watkins says. "When we lead a church training, we focus on faith issues and the biblical theology of it. We encourage churches to consider God's creation in areas of worship, education, outreach and lifestyle."

Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas holds an annual "car show" where congregants show off their hybrid vehicles. The number has grown from four to 30 in five years. Photo courtesy of Eric Folkerth
A Powerful Witness

Sometimes, the decision to go green isn't based on economics. Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas actually pays more per year to use renewable energy.

Northaven is one of 180 churches in the North Texas Conference that formed a group to negotiate the purchase of electricity from area utility providers. The group requires that 10 percent of the electricity be from wind power.

Churches also have the option to pay an additional premium to receive more than 10 percent from wind power. Northaven pays about $2,400 per year to have 100 percent of its electricity supplied by renewable resources.

"The conference is really putting its morals where its mouth is," said the Rev. Eric Folkerth, Northaven's pastor.

Folkerth said his congregation is very committed to the environment and the decision to go green is not about saving costs.

"It was our trustees -- usually the group trying to keep costs down -- who recommended going 100 percent green," Folkerth said. "This seemed like the statement the church wanted to make."

Northaven has held Earth Day Sunday services for several years, as well as its own "car show," with a twist. Congregants bring their hybrid vehicles and get special parking places. The shows started five years ago with four cars, but this year there were 30. In addition, youth groups buy compact fluorescent lights in bulk and sell them for fund-raisers.

"Churches could have a positive impact if we would only put our moral commitment to the environment, being good stewards," Folkerth said. "Being good stewards doesn't always just mean saving money. It means saving the earth."

--Joey Butler, managing editor, Interpreter. Additional information from
United Methodist News Service and the
Virginia Advocate.

Youth at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas host an Earth Day Market where they raise money by selling energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. Photo courtesy of Eric Folkerth
What are those funny
looking light bulbs?

Switching from traditional incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) is an effective, simple change everyone can make.

Lighting accounts for close to 20 percent of the average home's electric bill. CFLs use up to 75 percent less electricity than incandescent light bulbs, last up to 10 times longer, cost little up front, and provide a quick return on investment.

If every home in the United States replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a CFL, in one year it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes. That would prevent the release of greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of about 800,000 cars.

Information from

Ministry during a gas crunch

Current gas prices are increasing the cost of attending worship and participating in other ministries. Here are some ideas to continue all of your ministries, but decrease the out-of-pocket cost for participants.

Have fewer but longer gatherings. Consolidate activities and ministries that require individuals and families to come to church several times each week.

Begin or reschedule midweek services. Schedule a service that people can attend on the way home from work.

Launch a bus ministry. Consider busing people to church and encourage carpooling.

Add value to direct-mail campaigns. When using a direct-mail piece to increase awareness of your church, consider making it redeemable at the church for a $5 gas card.

Go on the Internet. Podcasts of downloadable sermons make church available literally 24/7 and let people worship whether or not they can be present physically.

Offer family fun nights. Use the "staycation" concept and plan family events with free food, games, live music, and maybe even fireworks and other creative twists to attract regular and new attendees.

Implement a home church network. Organize groups by neighborhoods or area to meet in different members' homes to share meals, talk, pray, sing and study the Bible.

Look at the bottom line. While you may lose members to churches closer to their homes, you may attract others who live nearby. The gas crunch may help Christians to discover their community churches, to get to know people in their neighborhood and to reach out in ministry.

--Poonam Patodia, electronic marketing manager,
United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.



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