First steps in creation care for church facilities

Seamlessly integrate creation care principles into your church’s ministry by building simple, sustainable changes into the very facilities where that ministry takes place.

Applying good principles of creation stewardship into your church’s buildings and grounds not only helps your congregation obediently adhere to God’s call to “tend and keep” the creation (Genesis 2:15), but studies show that making these changes can help a congregation save up to 30% on energy costs. Such savings free up church resources to be used for other aspects of ministry. These savings are especially critical to churches struggling to faithfully serve their communities in this economic climate.

Start implementing these energy- and cost-saving measures by doing a church energy audit. Most local utility providers will evaluate your facilities to determine ways they could be made more energy efficient, and you can check with them to arrange one of these audits, but you can also start the process on your own. The following church energy audit suggestions are so simple and straightforward that your church’s youth group can perform them. Give the youth group a day to explore your facilities for increased efficiency opportunities, and then let them get started making some of the easiest changes that will contribute to your congregation’s care of creation.

Preliminary Church Audit

Review your church’s utility bills for the last year and determine in which areas your congregation would most benefit from greater efficiency.

Take a tour through your church’s buildings and grounds and look for the following:

  1. Lights using incandescent bulbs
  2. Lights that are often kept unnecessarily illuminated
  3. Leaking faucets in bathrooms and kitchens
  4. A water heater that is uninsulated or set to above 120 degrees
  5. Cracks in the weatherstripping or caulk around doors and windows; gaps along doors, windows, and electrical outlets where outside air is entering the building. Air leaks that can’t be felt with the hand can often be discovered by holding a candle up to potential leaks and looking for the candle’s flame to flicker.
  6. Outside doors that are often left open unnecessarily
  7. The orientation of windows and opportunities to utilize natural light
  8. The kind of thermostats the facilities rely on, and the temperature to which they are set
  9. Electrical equipment (computers, printers, copiers, lamps, TVs, DVRs, etc.) that remains plugged in and/or on all the time
  10. Energy Star approved appliances such as refrigerators, TVs, computers, dishwashers, boilers, furnaces, water heaters, and light fixtures

Spend some time making immediate changes as appropriate, or crafting a plan for regularly and incrementally reducing your facilities’ energy use:

  1. Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps. CFLs cost about 75% less than incandescents to operate, and they last up to ten times longer.
  2. Turn off or make a plan to turn off lights that are not in use. Install switch plate occupancy sensors where appropriate, to avoid using lights in spaces that aren’t always occupied.
  3. Fix leaky faucets immediately. Consider installing water-saving devices in faucets and toilets (visit for more information).
  4. Install an insulation blanket on water heaters seven years of age or older, and insulate the first three feet of the heated water “out” pipe on both old and new units. Set water heaters to between 110-120 degrees. There is no need to heat water beyond this temperature (although you should check with local codes), and reducing the set temperature saves energy.
  5. Replace cracked weatherstripping along doors, and caulk or re-caulk around windows if it appears that outside air is seeping in through these gaps. Purchase and install foam insulation for outlets, and place plastic plugs in unused sockets, for both safety and energy efficiency.
  6. Ensure that exterior doors are always closed when not in use. After people have stopped coming and going through the doors around service times, make sure the doors are firmly closed. Make this simple, but effective, step part of your regular energy efficiency plan and alert congregants to it.
  7. Utilize natural lighting and heat, reducing light and heating or cooling accordingly. In summer, cover windows from the heat of the sun to avoid turning the air conditioning too high. In winter, let the sun provide heat and light through these windows, but cover them when the sun isn’t shining through them in order to save on heating costs.
  8. Purchase programmable thermostats, which are very reasonably priced, and program them according to the needs of the church spaces over the course of the week. Turning the heat no higher than 68 degrees, and air conditioning no lower than 80 degrees (use fans to further cool and circulate the air) will dramatically cut your heating and cooling bills.
  9. Unplug appliances that don’t need to be in use at all times. To make this easier, place a number of appliances in the same area on a powerstrip, and turn this off when those appliances aren’t in use. Make sure that anything with a “ready” light (computers, printers, TVs, coffeemakers, etc.) is turned completely OFF when not in use. Screen savers on computers save nothing. Turning computers completely off creates a great reduction in energy use.
  10. Installing Energy Star appliances and equipment will reduce your energy costs. This government-approved rating indicates that the machines utilize as little energy as possible to accomplish their tasks. When older equipment requires replacement, install new equipment with Energy Star specifications.

These are the preliminary, simple tasks that will ensure your utility bills drop and your church’s negative impact on God’s creation is reduced. If you want to dig deeper into more dramatic steps your congregation can take in the area of facilities stewardship, read on in the article “Transformation: Next steps in facilities stewardship.”

Kendra Langdon Juskus is managing editor for Flourish.

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