The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. Psalm 24:1
The concept of stewardship is that everything we have is God's, temporarily given to us to take care of and use in order to further God's Kingdom. I first encountered it in seventh grade confirmation class. This life-changing idea awakened my spirit of gratitude as I became aware of God’s gifts. It inspired my creativity as I brainstormed how to use these gifts. It infused my life with meaning as I saw my source of meaning (my relationship with God) interacting with everything I did. It motivated me, enabling me to thrive.
I still rely on this idea of stewardship. In my vocation as a structural engineer, and in the rest of my life, I strive to invest resources optimally. For any given goal, investing too little makes failure inevitable, while investing too much creates waste. In my field, waste simultaneously depletes financial budget, architectural space, and environmental quality.
The Case for Less Waste
Churches and charities have a great opportunity to minimize waste, specifically by reducing how much is sent through the postal system.
I personally find that the paper mail I receive from churches and charities never tells me anything I have not already learned digitally. It is nearly 100 percent redundant, and therefore 100 percent waste. Depending on where you are on the paper/digital spectrum, you may not be convinced that there are many people like me. However, prudent stewards will note that between advancing technology, expansion of digital comfort zones, and changing demographics, we constitute a rapidly expanding portion of congregations and financial giving bases.
I also realize that there are members in your congregation who still rely on paper media. The goal of this post is not to exclude those members but rather to invest the right resources in the right people in order to create the most efficient system possible.
Forms of Waste
Any paper mail sent to people who prefer digital media generates the following forms of waste:
- Physical resources: Paper, ink, envelopes, stamps, electricity consumed by printers, and fuel consumed by mail-delivery trucks are some of the resources used in sending out paper mail, but this list must be expanded. For example, paper isn’t just paper; it is all the resources that went into making the paper and all the resources used to process it after it is done being used.
- Time: Someone has to assemble the mail, someone has to deliver the mail, and then someone (me) has to open the mail, confirm its irrelevance, recycle or trash it, and then call the proper parties in an attempt to have my name removed from the mailing list (often, the parties agree to remove me, but I somehow continue receiving their mail). After the mail is finished wasting my time, it takes someone else’s time to process my trash.
- Money: All of this costs money. For me, it is disheartening to see the modest donations I make evaporate in the barrage of mail I subsequently receive (much of which is requesting more money) or thanking me for the money I gave that has produced this fabulous trash. Paper mailings inhibit my giving instead of incentivizing it.
- Space: This mail takes up space in the office mailing it, in the mail truck, on my dining room table before I muster the energy to look at it, and ultimately in a landfill.
Detrimental Impacts of Waste
Waste significantly harms two important parties: the environment and the church or charity generating the waste.
In simplest terms, waste harms the environment by depleting things that are good and creating things that are bad. I acknowledge that these effects can be devastating for the planet and for humans.
I believe that, as a church, being insensitive to the concerns of people who do believe that environmental care is a moral obligation will do little to further our efforts to expand God’s Kingdom. Christianity does not look winsome to “tree huggers” watching Christians shirk off environmental responsibility as unimportant. The eternal life of our fellow humans is unarguably the most important item God has entrusted to us. It is imperative that we strive for both truth and compassion.
More obvious, but no less important, waste reduces the effectiveness of the church or charity generating it because the wasted resources (energy, time, money, space) could be better used in other ways.
What Can We Do?
What changes can churches and charities make to waste less? Let’s better manage our paper mailing lists! Here are three ways to do that:
- Ask people what their mailing preference is (email or paper) and don’t send paper mail to people who don’t want it.
- Don’t put electronic donors’ names on paper mailing lists by default. Instead, create a separate electronic communications campaign for these donors.
- Use tools like Church360° Unite to share information with members and donors electronically.
Managing your paper mailing lists is just one example of an opportunity to waste less, and I would love that everyone would focus on it until the obnoxious problem of paper mail waste is solved. At the same time, there are many more opportunities out there. It is my hope this post helped change your mindset to look for these opportunities. If we never think about ways to waste less and keep our world clean and healthy, what are the chances we’ll make the simple changes to do so? Let’s each use our God-given gifts and creativity to do our job as stewards and take care of our Creator’s world.
What are some other ways you can think of to be less wasteful? Share your ideas in the comments!
If you would like to read more on this topic, check out the document Together with all Creatures prepared by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
For more content like this, subscribe to the CTS blog Technology & Your Ministry!