Healthy Faith-based Places

The places we live, work, play and worship can affect our health and well-being.  Faith-based places can set healthy lifestyle examples to benefit their members.  Faith-based organizations and communities can be places that support health and well-being.  A healthy faith-based place may be as simple as a faith ministry that sponsors regular educational events and experiences that promote well-being.  Faith-based places can support health and well-being.  They can design their places of worship to ensure their services are available to people who are aging with disabilities.  Faith-based places can be located so members can walk or bike safely to the congregation.  Creating trails or places to walk or reflect or providing a place for children of the congregation and community to play are other ways, faith-based communities can use their spaces to promote health and well-being.

people gathered to share faith

How do faith and health go together?

The Tennessee Department of Health respects the diversity of individual religious beliefs and practices of the all people who live, work, study, play and worship here.  We believe faith communities and Public Health can work well together to promote health and well-being of people, families and communities.

Places of worship are places of transformation, learning and resources.  Congregations are natural settings to help educate congregation and community members on improving their lives in a supportive setting.  Bringing awareness to how place and space impacts our health is one way congregations can improve the health and well-being of their congregation and communities. So what are some ways faith communities are creating positive changes in their spaces to improve health and well-being?  Here are a few ways being a good steward of the Earth is as simple as making environmental choices.  You can begin by using compostable communion cups, improving the efficiency of your facilities or starting a sustainable garden for your congregation.

How can congregations create spaces for physical activity?

Faith communities and congregations can promote physical activity through by creating spaces for walking such as a prayer walk or labyrinth, going for a walk during study times or meetings, building a place for children to play, or hosting a sports team or community event in the congregation’s gym or activity space.                                              

Sometimes starting a new physical fitness routine is the most difficult part.  To help, congregations have created social groups that have scheduled walks, runs, yoga or other activities.  Often times the social cohesion helps overcome individuals’ initial barriers to being more active.

Faith-based places that have property within cities or towns can also consider how their land use can benefit the neighborhood where it is located.  Having sidewalks helps build connectivity.  Some people may then walk or roll to services.  The way a faith-based place is maintained can beautify a neighborhood.  Congregations and are aware of and participate in local land use planning will also support their local community, likely where many of their members live.

How can we make our congregation a healthy space?

Following the Eight Principles of a Healthy Home will also promote good health and wellness in faith-based buildings.  Faith-based places can be designed, built and maintained to support health.  Keeping your faith-based place dry, clean, pest-free, safe, contaminant-free, ventilated and maintained will benefit everyone in the congregation. 

What can faith-based places do to support health?

Faith-based congregations are doing many activities that connect spirituality to health and wellbeing.  Some opportunities to consider from successful examples are:

  • Find opportunities to help people be physically active
  • Ensure people who are aging or have a disability can participate fully
  • Serve healthy food options during social functions or special events
  • Perform an energy audit of faith-based buildings
  • Grow healthy produce in community gardens
  • Provide volunteers to support local programs and events
  • Use members with a health background to perform health screenings
  • Form social groups for walking
  • Sponsor a team to participate in sporting leagues
  • Allow community access to facilities
  • Include health and wellness when providing spiritual guidance
  • Preserve the spiritual connection to nature and green space
  • Collect items for reuse and recycling
  • Get involved with local planning

How can faith-based places help with nutrition?

Faith-based places for a long time have been concerned about feeding the hungry.  Many congregations have programs to feed the hungry and clothe the needy.  Having a food pantry within the congregation can benefit your community. Some congregations provide regular volunteers to support their local agencies and non-profits.   Volunteers who deliver food to people benefits people who are older and less mobile or living with a disability.

Many congregations gather around the table for socialization or fund-raising.  While coffee and donuts are a nice indulgence one a week, it’s probably not the healthiest example to set.  It is important to overcome the tendency to serve quick, low quality foods or Southern, high calorie foods.

To help promote healthier foods, some faith-based places have grown community gardens.  The gardens beautiful their property, provide opportunities for physical activity, encourage socializing with other parishioners and 

How can faith-based places conduct an energy audit?

rural church

Assessing the energy use of your congregation cannot only decrease your use of energy such as light and water it can also save your congregation money and improve the physical environment for your congregation. Here are a few tips to help you get started.   Ask your utility provider to perform an energy audit and about what programs or grants are available to help reduce energy use.   The Tennessee Valley Authority’s EnergyRight® Solutions may help your congregation.

How can we become a Green-Certified Congregation?

The non-profit organization Green Faith has created a two-year environmental leadership program for congregations to become green-faith certified.  This program helps congregations become better stewards of their environment which in turn has helped congregations save money, attract new members, connect with community and find resources.

What is Faithful Families?

Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More promotes healthy eating and physical activity within communities of faith.  It is co-taught by University of Tennessee Extension's Nutrition Educators and trained lay leaders from your faith community through small group sessions.  Lay Leaders bring spiritual elements into each session, through discussion questions and “Thinking it Through” prompts.  Faithful Families addresses nutrition and obesity by promoting healthy eating and physical activity through implementation of research-based guidelines, programs and changes that promote health in the faith community.  Faith communities that participate in Faithful Families offer a nine session Faithful Families class, implement one guideline supportive of health, and make one change to promote health.  To learn more, contact your local UT Extension agent .

Government partners

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Shared Use of Physical Activity Facilities Among North Carolina Faith Communities

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)
The Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Energy Star Congregations

National Library of Medicine
Faith-Based Partnerships for Population Health: Challenges, Initiatives, and Prospects

Additional Resources   

Emory University Interfaith Health Program exit website disclaimer

Interfaith Power & Light 
Green Congregation Guides exit website disclaimer

Web of Creation 
Ecology Resources: Transforming Faith and Society exit website disclaimer