Seven Strategies to Engage the Whole Community
Steps Involving Members of the Community
at Different Levels of Commitment
Strategy One: Brainstorming as a Basis for Action
A small group or governing body may want to brainstorm what your particular congregation might do to care for the earth. This might come from a particular need or passion within the community, or grow out of a bible study or educational experience. These can be small or big ideas, projects or other proposals. The idea or ideas might be presented to the church governing body for approval and delegation to carry out. The proposal should include cost, the people or committee to carry it out, timeline, and specific suggestions for whatever might be needed to complete the project. It might be good to begin with projects that have the greatest chance for success.
Strategy Two: Learning as a Basis for Action
This approach provides an opportunity for many people in the congregation to learn about care for the earth as an entry into possible organizing or taking action. The idea would be to have a forum or series of adult forums or a six week class focused on care for creation. There are many resources available for leaders to draw upon as a basis for such a forum -- congregational handbooks, denominational printed resources, denominational representatives, books oriented to lay people, internet sites, and local people with expertise in some issues.
The group may consist of people who are already committed to the environment or others who have not thought much about it. Together they can perhaps come to some understanding that would enable the congregation to move forward. From this larger group engaged in learning, there might come a core group of people eager to take leadership in enabling more to happen. This smaller group could then meet to plan the next steps.
Strategy Three: Action Based on Needs or Crises
This is an approach that asses the needs perceived in the congregation and its members around which resources are marshaled to address the problem. Here the congregation can look at many things at different levels:
The Parish: If there is a need to save money, the congregation may look at energy costs and determine a comprehensive approach to addressing them -- insulation, boiler maintenance, heat distribution, a grant for starter to money to get energy efficient lighting, and so on.
- The Community: Perhaps a nearby stream has been polluted and is causing health problems for the community; so, you organize to engage in habitat restoration or urge the local government to address the issue. Maybe an incinerator is causing health problems or a local factory is exceeding federal standards of emissions and causing local health problems or the water supply is being gained by runoff pesticides. The parish can provide leadership in community organizing to address these problems.
- State & Nation: Many in the congregation might be concerned that federal standards for clean water or clean air are being eroded and desire to engage in letter writing or phone campaigns to express their concerns and urge action. This can also be true for other issues (e.g. smog, ozone, water conservation, logging, etc.)
- Global: The effects of global warming loom large and the congregation can marshal its resources to bring pressure on government representatives to address the issue. Some in the congregation may be aware of global efforts to address problems such as population, and so forth. There may be a desire to learn more about international conferences or treaties, and so on, and to urge our government to participate in them.
Strategy Four: Action Based on Opportunities
Opportunity-based organizing involves acting on an opportunity that does not necessarily involve a specific need. For example, you have property that is not well-developed and you can make a nature sanctuary area; or, you are building an addition or a new building and have the chance to incorporate many eco-design concerns into your new building. Your grounds lend themselves to establishing a community garden, so you seek to gather people who might organize and lead the community to develop and care for such a garden, perhaps to benefit the poor in the neighborhood. Perhaps the youth group is looking for a service project... the opportunities are endless!
Strategy Five: Action Based on Congregational Assets
This approach draws upon the assets of the congregation. Instead of trying to identify needs and see how they can be met, this approach looks to assess all the resources available among members of the congregation as well as the assets of the congregation as a whole, then develops a way to move forward making use of these assets.
You will find many people already committed to care for the earth in a variety of ways -- people who read about environmental issues, people who are recycling or composting as an expression of their commitment, or people who are concerned about the issue but are not sure how act on their concern. Some folks may already have seen their concerns as a religious issue, while others may never have made the connection between their faith and their care for the earth. Now is an opportunity to encourage such people to transform their concern into a religious practice or discipline. People who already have a commitment to the environment may be the greatest resource, and their commitment -- once expressed -- can be contagious for others.
In addition, many resources/assets in the congregation will come from people already doing environmentally-related activities in their jobs, people who may have ideas and expertise that would generate many actions and much learning for the congregation:
- Salespersons who sell energy saving appliances/ heating and air-conditioning units
- Engineers who promote energy efficient lighting
- Nurses who know about healthy diets that relate to and could promote eco-concerns
- Farmers who are committed to environmentally safe farming practices
- And many more!
Such people can serve as consultants for decision-making, offer forums on relevant topics, or just be part of a discussion group.
In addition, there will be people who have skills and interests that can be very helpful in enabling the congregation to become a creation-caring congregation. Those interested in gardening can develop a community garden on the grounds -- for the benefit of food pantries and needy families. Abilities and interests from boiler maintenance, to landscaping, to bringing greenery into the church, to insulating windows, to carpooling to church can be a part of your congregation's environmental mission. Once people see the vision for their parish, many interested people may come forward.
Finding out about the resources can involve a survey shared through the church newsletter or distributed at a service or congregational meeting. This can also be done by phone pools or internet forms. Questions could include:
- How would you state your concern or commitment to care for creation?
- What eco-friendly practices do you do? Recycling, reusing, avoiding certain products, etc.
- Do you have a job that relates to environmental issues (list examples)?
- Do you have interests or hobbies that might be helpful (list examples)?
- Have you related these concerns to your faith and faith community? If so, how?
- Would you be willing to express/ act on your concern and gifts as Christians?
- Would you be willing to meet and express what our parish could do?
Based on the gathering of information about these resources, some suggestions for action could be made that reflect the interests, commitments, and gifts of the people. Bringing a group of folks together around these issues might lead to some concrete decisions.
Strategy Six: Action Based on Consensus
Here is an opportunity to survey the church or a group meeting to assess what people would be willing to do by consensus. A small group would prepare information about a range of things that could be done to care for the earth. For each item, a description is given, then the cost, payback possibilities, who would do it and how, etc. (Be sure to include some items that people would be likely to support!) Then, people would check if they would support enthusiastically, support provisionally, be cautious about, or outright oppose each item. Space should be given to allow people to explain their reasons (objections which could perhaps be addressed). Here are some project ideas:
- Recycling bins for the church
- Nontoxic cleaning supplies
- Retrofitting the lighting in the church
- Incorporate creation concerns into the worship life
- Circulate a petition supporting efforts to ease global warming
It is best to determine your own list based on needs and opportunities in your congregation and the larger community, and on the relative commitment of parish members.
Strategy Seven: Join Forces
You may want to proceed by getting involved with folks from a nearby church or people from another religious tradition. Some congregations naturally yoke well together. There may be a community project that needs the commitment of several organizations and more people. The cooperation may enable projects done in common to benefit from the low prices of contractors. Cooperation among several congregations may enable financial resources that would not be available from only one parish. A project in the community, such as habitat restoration or opposition to an incinerator, might best be done by as many local organizations and groups as possible. Finally, the cooperation with people from other traditions gives an opportunity learn from each other's ways of addressing the environmental situation theologically, spiritually, and ethically.
We suggest all these strategies not to overwhelm you with possibilities but to affirm that there are indeed many ways to proceed. The ideas is to find what might be best for your congregation, given the interest you already have, given the personality of the congregation, and given the particular organization and procedures for decision-making.