Having just written a book about some practical ways churches can grow their finances and stretch their dollars to provide greater outreach than ever before, I’ve encountered countless examples of other faith communities stretching their own “fish and loaves” to better disciple and minister in their towns and cities.614vzsj6cml-_sx327_bo1204203200_

One example that isn’t always an obvious choice for increasing outreach funds is for a church to decrease its energy costs. I recently spoke with Erin McKenzie, who is a member at the church I pastor as well as a member of the UMC’s local district Green Team. The Green Team is active in helping area churches loosen up some of their funds currently spent on energy and building costs, so that those funds can be used instead for outreach and ministry.

What follows is a Q and A about how your church can do the same:

Q: First, I’ve heard you refer to what you do as Creation Care ministry. How did you get involved in this?

A: Well, it’s a long story, but the short version is that I’ve always been connected to the land having grown up in the country. Several years ago, I started learning about the degradation that has occurred to our food systems. Then, I learned more about how badly we’ve been exploiting God’s Creation. It really took over my heart as I began to see all the connections between how we could live in a God-honoring way, and how that would simultaneously mean caring for God’s Creation. Or how we could live in a way that does not honor God, and how that manifests in neglect and abuse of God’s Creation.

Q: Right. God told Adam and Eve to take dominion over Creation, to steward it for future generations.

A: Exactly. And where I see great opportunity for not just Methodists but all Christians to be engaging with Creation Care as a powerful testimony to our faith, we instead have often disregarded our intended role as caretakers entirely.  There are 370,000 congregations in the U.S. It’s estimated that if all of America’s congregations cut energy use just 20% it would save nearly $630 million per year, and prevent more than 2.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions—which would equate to taking 480,000 cars off the roads!

Q: Wow! So fast forward to today, you are involved in Creation Care in several ways, and one of them is through the UMC’s Green Team in our district. What does the Green Team do?

A: That’s right. We know that most of the Methodist (and other) churches in our area are in one of three boats. First, they have “traditional” church buildings, built decades ago, that are in need of repair, major renovation, or even demolition and rebuilding. Second, the buildings themselves are in pretty good shape overall, but the HVAC systems need replaced. Or third, a congregation is just looking for additional ways to cut down on energy costs. There are a lot of really simple opportunities for churches, whatever their circumstances, to go green while saving green. Our goal is to spread the word to pastors, trustees, board members, and congregations about the partners in our area and across the country that can help.

Q: So what you’re saying is that, hypothetically, a church could save a portion of the money it currently spends on heating, cooling, or even remodeling costs, and reallocate that money to much-needed outreach?

A: Right. And, let’s face it, whether it’s heating our houses or our churches, no one enjoys spending money on energy. It’s just something we have to do. But churches can take some simple steps to spend less on energy, while becoming more responsible stewards of Creation, and being able to use the money more impactfully in their communities.

Q: Right, and most churches would love to move some of their energy spending to the outreach column. So what are some of the steps churches can take if they are in a very old building, and are looking at some substantial renovations?

A:  First, churches in the Dayton area should check out the PACE program. It’s a funding mechanism for projects of $100,000 or more. It’s designed to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for buildings, which then uses the energy savings to fund the project. In other words, if your church has to do a major renovation to begin with, it can opt to do the renovation in an environmentally responsible way, and then use the energy savings to pay off the loan.

Q: Wow, that sounds like a win-win for churches facing a major renovation. Is there somewhere readers can go if they are looking for similar options outside of Dayton?

A: Yes! Similar programs exist, and new programs are popping up across the country. A great place to start for locating other local options is to contact Interfaith Power and Light (IPL). They are doing great work across the country along these lines. Thirty-eight states have local affiliates, and in the other twelve states, the national organization would be happy to point you in the right direction.

Q: Great. So now, what about that second group of churches who need to replace their old-school boilers or just update their HVAC systems?

A: Right. So, this is a big one. Energy consumption is often the second-largest cost for organizations, including churches. Not only that, but up to 30% of energy paid for is money you could put straight into the garbage can because the energy is wasted by inefficient HVAC systems. The good news is that energy companies across the country are incentivized by the Public Utility Commission to help the public use less energy. The way utility companies are doing this is by offering huge incentives and rebates on energy efficient HVAC, lighting, thermostat, and related projects. Churches can save up to 50% of their installed costs.

Q: Again, it sounds like a no-brainer. How does a church get started on this? Should they directly contact their energy providers?

A: They can. Or, again, they can get in touch with their state IPL contact, who will walk them through the steps. Typically, the first step will be an energy audit and assessment. Most churches are eligible for free energy audits. In Dayton, a congregation can also get in touch with Dayton Regional Green to get started with the process, which includes a free energy audit for any church with fewer than twenty-five employees.

Q: You mentioned a third category of churches: churches who don’t need major building or systems updates, but who could still benefit from taking better care of their resources and saving some money in the process.

A: Yes! So, if it is either unnecessary or simply not in the budget for a church to cut down on their carbon footprint in a big way, there are still things a church can do, just like we’ve all been doing in our own homes, to save some money and better steward our planet. These are things like: replacing our old inefficient light bulbs, taking a look at where our thermostats are set, setting up comprehensive recycling and composting programs on our campuses, etc. Again, I would point your readers to IPL’s website. They have some great resources for churches who want to become better caretakers of God’s Creation. There is a start-up kit for congregations which includes both a list of things under $25 and a list of things over $25 that congregations can do to begin to cut down on their energy use.

Q: Well, thank you for your time today, and I look forward to hearing about where my readers will spend their money on outreach after they have freed up some of their energy expenses!

A: You’re welcome! And please tell your readers I’d be happy to help them get connected to a local resource if they email me at erin.n.mckenzie@gmail.com.