This report describes a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project initiated by Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) and executed in partnership with Anacostia Riverkeeper (AR) and Collective Empowerment Group (CEG). This partnership focused on stormwater and environmental management of congregationally-owned land, with a broader aim of modeling behavior for the surrounding community. Specifically, the goal of this collaborative project was to develop strategies to enhance environmental management of the land and increase care for Creation among African American congregations and their surrounding communities. There were three objective: 1) provide detailed information on watershed health and stormwater management, 2) assess the environmental concerns within African American congregations, and 3) identify best management practice designs related to environmental issues that can be adopted by congregational leadership.


Behaviors: Conservation landscaping

Behavior Pattern: Continous

Why was this behavior selected?

The Anacostia River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay, is one of the dirtiest rivers in the world. The major problems facing the Anacostia River are sediment, sewage, trash, toxins, and stormwater. The River suffers from six toxic hot spots and pollution includes heavy metals, legacy pesticides and legacy carcinogens. Roughly 2 billion gallons of raw sewage is discharged, untreated, into the Anacostia River each year. The Anacostia River watershed is comprised of 176 square miles, of which half are situated within Prince George’s County. Nearly 75% of land within the Prince George’s County portion of the Anacostia watershed is privately owned, underscoring the great importance of individual behaviors and their impact on watershed health. According to the Association of Data Archives, there are over 700 places of worship in Prince George’s County, though the extent of property acreage for these places of worship is unknown.

With the passing of HB 987, Prince George’s County (the County) implemented fees on all property owners, including faith institutions. The County’s ACP offers credits to faith-based institutions if they adopt certain measures that improve the management of stormwater. The three pathways that lead to credit are:

Educational Outreach to their congregants that lead to improved environmental management at their residences – 25% credit Improved Housekeeping (maintaining trash-free grounds, reducing use of pesticides in landscaping, etc.) – 25% credit Participate with the County and provide a temporary right of entry agreement for the County to install Best Management Practices on the congregation’s land. – 50% credit

Target Audiences

Audiences: Houses of worship

Primary Audience: Houses of worship

Secondary Audience: N/A

Demographics: Black or african american

Ages: 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65+

Description of Target Audience

To be eligible, all congregations had to be located within the Anacostia sub-watershed within Prince George’s County. Congregations were selected based on an assessment of their interest in environmental issues, their geographical location, and commitment from the church leadership. To explain the program and recruit congregations to participate, a flyer was developed and distributed, and the project was highlighted at two CEG meetings. CEG also reviewed a GIS database of congregations in the County provided by IPC and compared the list of congregations located within the boundaries of the Anacostia Sub-Watershed with the list of their own member churches. CEG identified 10 churches that might be good candidates to participate in the program. IPC and CEG talked to representatives of those congregations on the phone and at CEG meetings to recruit them to participate in the process. IPC also tried to set up conference calls to handle multiple church conversations simultaneously, but this was a failed method of communication. It was more effective to call them each individually and talk through the program, even though this meant more time. IPC used phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings to communicate the program, but found that the most reliable form of communication with this audience was direct phone call on the individual’s mobile phone. CEG played an invaluable role in introducing IPC to potential congregational participants. The recruiting step was more challenging than anticipated because environmental stewardship is not a topic that was on the radar screen for many of these churches, plus many of the churches weren’t even aware of the stormwater utility fees. Also, the CBPR process was confusing for people, too. IPC struggled to explain that piece of the project, although over time we did improve on that.We began to call it a “visioning” meeting, which seemed more easily understood. In general, this recruiting phase was a time-consuming process, and with some of the churches, IPC learned that emailing was not a reliable mode of communication. During the recruiting process, a representative from one of the smaller churches helped us better understand our recruitment challenges. After explaining the importance of the stormwater issue, the fees, and how the CBPR process would help congregations identify stormwater management projects to reduce their fees, her response was lukewarm. She said we “need to keep it real” in terms of weighing the importance of this issue compared to other very real issues that her congregants face daily. This person explained thatmany people are struggling to survive, working two jobs to make ends meet; asking them to come to a nominal process meeting was a challenge because “time is money.” In the future, more time will be devoted to project budgets to account for communication time. In the end, six churches committed to the CBPR process. Twenty-five adults (14 female, 11 male) from six African American congregations participated in this project; each church had at least three representatives participate in this project. 2 There was considerable range in church size; three churches had fewer than 200 members and three were had more than 3000 members. Although each congregation reported having at least five ministries, none of the congregations had a ministry dedicated to environmental issues (e.g., “green ministry). Table 1 lists detailed information regarding the size, staffing and ministry offerings of each church.


How did you research your audiences: Focus groups


As a result of Maryland HB 987, places of worship in Prince George’s County will soon be facing stormwater management fees as landowners. This situation creates an opportunity to engage places of worship in important conversations about justification for the fees, issues facing the Bay and watershed, the role of the faith community in efforts to restore the Bay, and options for reducing their fees by implementing restorative actions in their communities. In general, the faith community understands a connection between God and creation, but does not always embrace a deep sense of responsibility and respect for creation. The barriers to this deeper understanding include a lack of understanding of the issues and best management practices, overwhelming sense that there is little they can do to create positive impact (the “I’m only one person” mentality), financial capacity to implement high-impact solutions, and prioritization of other issues such as poverty or social injustice.

External factors

In general, this recruiting phase was a time-consuming process, and with some of the churches, IPC learned that emailing was not a reliable mode of communication. During the recruiting process, a representative from one of the smaller churches helped us better understand our recruitment challenges. After explaining the importance of the stormwater issue, the fees, and how the CBPR process would help congregations identify stormwater management projects to reduce their fees, her response was lukewarm. She said we “need to keep it real” in terms of weighing the importance of this issue compared to other very real issues that her congregants face daily. This person explained that many people are struggling to survive, working two jobs to make ends meet; asking them to come to a nominal process meeting was a challenge because “time is money.” In the future, more time will be devoted to project budgets to account for communication time.

Gaining insight into your target audience

Representatives from each of the six churches attended an initial kick-off town hall meeting, whereby all partners were introduced, an overview of the CBPR process was provided, and an explanation of the goals of the project was given. Representatives from the County Department of Environment also attended to share information about the ACP. In all, 18 people attended the meeting, of which 11 represented the six churches. All but one of the congregational representatives were African American. The kickoff meeting took place on May 22, 2014.

The purpose of the kickoff meeting was to explain the CBPR process and goals to the participants, and provide baseline information about the state of the Anacostia River, ways congregations can help heal the watershed, and how this all inter-relates to the County stormwater utility fees. Underlying all of the conversation was a call to stewardship. It was a lot of material to cover in a short period of time and may have been more easily covered in a longer meeting or in a series of meetings or workshops. It should be noted that none of these churches had already registered for the ACP, meaning none of them were aware of the stormwater utility fee system or the discount options.

During the meeting, a map was distributed that showed the locations of the six churches. Based on location, some congregations were assigned a “partner” congregation with whom they would share the nominal process meeting so as to cut back on the number of meetings. The four nominal process meetings were grouped as follows:

Congregation A and Congregation B Congregation C and Congregation DCongregation E
Congregation F
By the end of the meeting, there was a lot of energy in the room and excitement to get going on the nominal process meetings. Attendees were milling around with each other, talking to their partner congregation, and enjoying fellowship with each other. People did not “bolt out the door.” In fact, the host church had to scurry people away after 20 minutes or so because they needed to lock up the facility!
Following the initial kick-off meeting, each congregation was contacted to schedule a date for their nominal process meeting. The nominal process meetings were designed to allow congregants to articulate their own priorities and concerns in order to inform the process of deciding how to engage in environmental management solutions. The meetings were divided into two parts. First, IPC and AR provided background information on the state of the AnacostiaWatershed and the Chesapeake Bay. They also discussed information that was unique to the individual congregations’ locations within the watershed. Second, the CBPR consultant facilitated a nominal process discussion. Participants were asked to first independently and then jointly consider the following four questions:
1) What are 3 things members of your congregation need to know about the health of the environment?
2) How do you envision your congregation working together to protect God’s creation?
3) What is the greatest contribution your congregation can make to reducing polluted runoff in your community?
4) What are some of the obstacles or challenges your church would have to overcome in order to protect God’s creation and reduce polluted runoff in your community?
Participants were asked to write responses to each question on an adhesive note paper, and then affix the responses to a large presentation board so that participants could view answers and the group responses to specific themes. Since congregations were sharing their nominal process meetings, all volunteers from a single congregation used the same color adhesive paper to differentiate answers between the two church groups. But, the presence of two churches together at the meeting turned out to be a great approach because it led to more lively conversation since there were more people in the room. After each participant responded, all ideas were shared and discussed in a nonjudgmental format. Following the discussion, each congregation arranged their ideas in order of importance and discussed concrete actions steps for themselves over the next six weeks. All data was collected between June 2014 and July 2014. The duration of the nominal process discussions ranged from 59 minutes to 79 minutes. All nominal process meetings were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim for analysis. Each transcript was imported into a qualitative software program, Atlas.ti, to assist in data analysis.


Outreach Tactics: Feedback, Social diffusion

What media/communication channels did you use? Events, Face to face, Organization methods (through constituents of influential community organizations), Small group or public meetings

Products and services

Depending on the outcome of the nominal process, IPC in partnership with the congregations will embark on programs that promote specific behavior changes in each congregation based on the action plan they devise. Congregations will be expected to take the lead on their projects and IPC will support them through networking and resourcing. By working with congregations, the potential impact of the project extends beyond just the congregation because congregants bring the messages home to their neighborhoods and model behavior in their communities. This project, perfectly aligns with the growing desire of the Bay community to work strategically with faith organizations, and with the growing desire of the environmental and faith organizations, IPC included, to sharpen the sophistication and impact of our outreach and messaging capacity.

Conceptually, the strategy for influencing the congregations to accept behavior changes is rooted in the fact that their direct participation in the nominal process informs the specific behavior change. This means that the CBPR approach results in behavior changes that the congregations actually select themselves. Thus, the Product is the action plan that they choose for their congregation. IPC, AR, and Collective Empowerment will support the congregations in securing funding for these action plans and supporting their implementation efforts. The congregations will be expected to take the lead on implementation and carry the weight of the project

Primary Messages

The target positioning statement that is driving this effort is: All members of society, congregations included, share in the responsibility of preserving the Earth for all inhabitants. This is the general message that will open the dialogue with communities of faith. Through the CBPR process, specific positioning statements will surface that will be appropriate for each individual congregation.


How did you measure impact? N/A

Most significant lessons learned

IPC’s understanding of how to engage with under-represented communities has increased considerably as a result of this process.We offer a summary of lessons learned so that others in the Bay restoration community may benefit from this project:

Baseline Knowledge – When working with the faith community, organizations should be prepared to invest a great deal of time in helping people acquire new knowledge. Time invested helping people connect the dots is time-consuming, but badly needed and patience throughout this step will build relationship, trust, and mutual respect. Modes of Communication – Emails and internet websites are not effective modes of communication with underrepresented communities. Phone calling, face-to-face meetings, and text messaging are necessary. It is also imperative that you work through a third party that is a trusted community leader. In this project, that was Collective Empowerment Group. These types of groups are common in urban areas and can be found through networking and internet research. Also, interfaith councils or ministerial support groups are common for various regions, and though they are not entirely representing underrepresented communities, they would provide connections to faith leaders. Megachurches - Megachurches operate like corporations, and rarely rely on volunteers to lead church activities. Initially, we were concerned that this would make it harder to inspire action since decisions would be made by staff, and would be evaluated strictly on cost-benefit analysis. However, we did not find this to be the case. Rather, the corporate culture lent itself to extremely balanced and sound decision-making and it was very easy to communicate with these churches using email and websites. Their capacity to implement projects far exceeds smaller churches. They recognize their leadership role among other churches in the community and took this responsibility very seriously. They knew that if they did not validate Creation Care, they could send the message to others that they, too, should not care. Both megachurches in this project were extremely responsive and supportive of this project and the outcomes at their sites include new green infrastructure as well as educational efforts among youth and adults. Train-the-Trainer – Several participants from many of the churches indicated that they needed easy-to-duplicate educational programs that will help them raise awareness among their congregants. They reported that this absolutely needed to be a combination of watershed information and religious contextualization. Personal Trainer – IPC took on the role of “personal trainer” for the participating congregations to support them and keep them on a continuum of behavior change. This was very effective in yielding reportable outcomes from most of the congregations. However, this one-on-one support is costly. More research is needed to identify how to keep congregations engaged without the need of a personal trainer.

Advice Or Suggestions

Moving forward, it is important to consider ways to maintain initial momentum and interest. One option would be to provide one-on-one consulting support, or personal trainer support, but this is expensive and may not be sustainable across the long term, though it appears to be essential for some churches. Alternatively, taking the priorities outlined by each congregation and creating a timeline for completion might increase the likelihood that congregants move forward with their plans. Another option might be to provide incentives: an increasing incentive structure, that rewards congregations throughout the process might sustain interest and motivate them to reach the next goal in a more efficient manner. Clearly, the incentives of free construction by the County were essential in order to engage these congregations to sign up for the ACP. This model of incentivizing action is to be applauded and is one of the main reasons why these churches agreed to come to the table to discuss the environment. Lastly, it is absolutely critical to understand your audience and how to best communicate with them.