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Why The Church Should Be Doing Fitness
MISSION – FELLOWSHIP – PARADIGM
The email I received begged for a double take. “Our town is requiring our church to obtain a ‘special use zoning permit’ because they don't feel churches have any business in the fitness industry.” As the editor of Faith & Fitness Magazine, people throughout the world who seek guidance and support to grow the faith and fitness culture in their community regularly contact me. There is a huge opportunity right now for churches to enhance lives. There is a tremendous amount of work to do it right. Yet, people tend to get stuck on the very first question, “Should the church be doing fitness?” Well the answer is YES. Let me tell you why and then help you to get moving forward.
My reply to the email cast a different perspective from how this town views their local church. I asked, “How has your city government become involved in the affairs of your church? Do they regulate baptisms, communion and pastoral counseling? Fitness ministry is no different.”
LET THE CHURCH EXECUTE ITS MISSION
A church working with people physically is a very practical and even dynamic way to support them spiritually. It is a double standard – even shall I say a perverted distortion for communities to condone, market, tout the benefits and even celebrate the spiritual services of fitness clubs while churches efforts are marginalized, dismissed, discouraged or as in the case of this church required to get a special permit.
Take a yoga class and you’ll be instructed to “find your center”. Attend a smoking-cessation program and you’ll be given inspiration and pointed toward healing. Clubs with spas promote the mind and body connection with the soul. People openly recognize that for a fitness facility to fulfill its mission it must offer these and other spiritual services. For a church to meet the spiritual needs of people their mission must include a wide array of physical services.
Clearly stated it is consistent with the mission of the church to meet the physical fitness needs of people.
A BETTER CHURCH GET-TOGETHER
The traditional model of church in current culture, particularly but not exclusively in the United States, is a rather dysfunctional approach to fellowship. It is a brief Sunday gathering to sing a few songs and hear the preacher preach. It is not the model of fellowship that Jesus Christ envisioned for the church. Not surprisingly it leaves members and attendees dissatisfied, incomplete and wanting more.
Most fitness facilities quite honestly don’t do much better. Unlike a church, a person BUYS a membership to a club and then quickly finds the gym staff to be minimally engaged along with everyone else wearing headphones or watching personal entertainment devices while they exercise.
Both a fitness facility and a church should naturally create a very social environment. Even more than a fitness club, the church clearly is the very definition of fellowship. “Church” is at the very core a gathering of people--- one of the original social networks. Churches that develop hybrid fitness facilities will transform the gym and wellness culture and redefine the concept of fellowship and relationships experienced within the practice of church.
This fusion of church and fitness facility provides space and an engaging interactive environment for REGULAR fellowship. I’m describing a kind of fellowship that goes beyond genuine and compassionate care into being a mindset - a way of life where individual members ultimately choose to become one fluidly functioning body. Churches need to make this kind of fellowship an art form. Most wellness clubs can’t or won’t deliver that level of service because it is either not thoroughly woven into their mission, they don’t know how to do it or more likely their budget and profit margin don’t allow for it.
There is a powerful spiritual connection to God and others that can only grow when we sweat, breath hard, physically hurt and get soar. The church that does fitness well throughout the week will set new levels of expectations and opportunities for their more sacred Sunday gatherings. For that reason, church leadership may fear or outright resist doing fitness – their members will become more spiritually mature and demanding, thus requiring more spiritual meat from the Sabbath service.
A PARADIGM SHIFT FOR WELLNESS
How does “paradigm” differ from “mission”? The mission of a church is the overarching PURPOSE or calling placed on the church by God. Creating a paradigm is the formation of a PATTERN for executing that purpose. Bible history is clear in showing that people have been led by God to use new patterns or methods to reach out to people. Society however often resists change and in fact would prefer for the church not to change so that Christians would be ineffectual and not players in shaping culture. Too many churches oblige this way of thinking. Don’t let the Christian congregations in your area succumb to having a negligible influence in your community.
A needed key transformation for the gym and wellness culture is a shift among members from the self-centered “let me make myself better” mentality to a focus of improvement for the sake of others. The change makes a shift in human attitude from “what can I get out of it” to “what can I give to those around me”. The broken assumption of the fitness industry is that people become members and exercise for purely selfish reasons. Churches need to create a better paradigm helping people to discover the deeper motives that drive them.
GET MOVING FORWARD
The church (the collective group of Christian believers) must lead in creating, demonstrating and promoting a more simple and rewarding way of life. This can be done by church leaders in church fitness facilities. However, it can also be done by Christians in any fitness facility. Both are the church and both should be doing fitness right.
- Choose to own less and have fewer possessions and personal property. These are the things that in fact bind you.
If the church (the organization and the individual Christians) will intentionally and with determination take this approach to doing fitness there will be a significant transformation in the fitness culture.
To move forward the church must invent fitness programming and execute it well. They talk a lot about God being the “creator” but they’re unwilling to be used by God to create fresh and innovative ways for people to get active and live life to the fullest. They must find and fund the use of professionals so that the role of Christian faith in fitness can be well represented. The church must use quality, service, cleanliness and value in their fitness ministry to be the means by which people discover the nature of Christ.
When the church does fitness they will fulfill their mission to serve and be like Christ, offer abundant opportunities for fellowship and create a better paradigm for how fitness and church should be done. They need to budget and increase their financial resources in this direction, gain a vision for the opportunity to be culturally relevant and not be deterred. The church has a special permit – a mandate by God to bring life to the people around them. That is why the church must do fitness.
Brad Bloom is president of Lifestyle Media Group, which publishes Faith & Fitness Magazine and map A Travel Lifestyle Magazine. He is a popular presenter at church and fitness conferences and regularly consults with those wanting to shape the Christian community and fitness industry. Brad's passion is to help people make connections between their lifestyle interests and the Christian faith.