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Top Faith And Fitness Trends For 2017

By Brad Bloom, Publisher

[PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a multi-page article. Page 1 is a summary. Pages 2-7 are the full report. The general findings and conclusions of this report were first presented at the 2016 Redefined Conference at the Athletic Business Show in Orlando. The summary immediately below is an extremely concise snapshot of this topic. The report on the following pages more thoroughly details a conversation to help you understand trends and build upon opportunities in faith-centered fitness. I encourage you to take time to read the full report and then share it. Contribute to the conversation by posting comments. Most importantly, CONTACT US and get doing faith-centered fitness.]

Culture is trending in directions we could never have imagined. The gym, the equipment, the church building and the programs are not what is important to people anymore. People want to grab hold of something that is no longer tangible – And that’s good news for those who are streaming God. Faith is now a recognized driver in fitness. In 2016 there was a surge in new intentional activities to build on the interest in connecting faith and fitness. That makes it an especially opportune time for Faith & Fitness Magazine to outline trends and opportunities that are specifically shaping the faith and fitness culture.

TREND #1:

FAITH-CENTERED FITNESS PROGRAMMING DELIVERS INNOVATION RATHER THAN ADAPTION.

One trend to watch for in 2017 is a shift toward more use of programming that is expressly developed to be foremost faith-nurturing. The many programs and resources we’ve highlighted in Faith & Fitness Magazine over recent years do so much more for the body AND spirit than traditional group exercise programs.

 

TREND #2:

FITNESS MINISTRY IS INHERENTLY INCARNATIONAL

An important trend for 2017 isn’t so much what is being done but rather who is doing it and how they are doing it. Expect to see more Christians connecting one-on-one with individuals through fitness. It’s a naturally engaging environment for faith to be lived, shared and discovered.

 

OPPORTUNITY #1:

NEW DATA FOR DATA-DRIVEN WORKOUTS

There is a tremendous opportunity in 2017 for those doing faith-centered fitness to redefine data-driven workouts by expanding the scope of data gathered and the way that data is used. Data-driven workouts are in high demand and when they harness more insightful and useful spiritual analytics they don’t just motivate users but also help them achieve additional and more comprehensive results.

 

OPPORTUNITY #2:

FAITH-CENTERED FITNESS DESIGNED AND DELIVERED AS A MARKETPLACE MINISTRY SUITE

Keep your eyes open in 2017 for more examples of symbiotic destinations. These marketplace-suites provide exceptional opportunity to facilitate fitness ministry in an attractive community environment of related businesses. These destinations offer great experiences in a high-traffic high-use complex – a vibrant community that people want to frequent regularly.

That’s the quick read – The summary. Don’t just leave it at that. Keep reading and dig into the good stuff you’ll only find here.

Click/tap on the numbers below to read all of the pages in this article.

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THE BIG PICTURE OF WHERE CULTURE IS TRENDING

The ubiquitous mobile phone may be one of the single most important devices today contributing to a significant shift in human attitude that could help us see God in the big picture of life. We’re not there yet, but as Christian’s pay attention and are obedient to their calling we could see, once again, that God’s in control.

Author Tony Reinke in his desiringGod article, Six Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, thoughtfully summarizes the insights of Dr. Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and author of The Soul In Cyberspace. The conclusion is that the mobile phone is dramatically changing the way we communicate and interact with each other and thus our culture is changing. But I would suggest that God is at work orchestrating a more profound impact – a realization that we don’t need all the stuff AND that the mobile phone, the one thing we “must have” still doesn’t satisfy.

One headline reads: In Less Than Two Years Your Smartphone Could Be Your Only Computer. Watch television and you’ll see the Tiny House movement of shifting from an average 2600 square feet of living space to 400 is fueled by environmental and financial concerns (stewardship) and a desire for more time and freedom.  Fast Company’s “Buyology” article Why Millennials Don’t Want To Buy Stuff observes that the stuffless trend goes beyond big items like computers and houses. The Cloud the “heavenly home” that people actually prefer over owning stuff is fueling the shift away from ownership. They suggest that new technology is not the culprit. They say, “Though technology facilitates this evolution and new generations champion it, the big push behind it all is that our thinking is changing.”

Faith & Fitness Magazine readers pay attention now! According to these progressive thinkers, in terms of supply and demand, the thing that is scarce is CONNECTION. They clarify, “Purchasing something isn't really about the thing itself … It has impact because we can do something worthwhile with it.” I suggest that this may very well be in Biblical terms  --- prophetic. Here is what you (if you really want to understand what faith-centered fitness is all about) need to take away from this observation and not just embrace but fuel: people want to BE LIFE. They truly want to be the life of Christ to others.

The gym, the equipment, the church building and the programs are not what is important to people. Moreover, the “memberships” are really REALLY not what they find important.  The tangibles only have value when they help us strengthen the intangible – the spiritual. Even the tangibles of improved health, greater strength, a better physique, joyous praise, deeper worship and good fellowship are merely outcomes of the connection. Life is found when we ABIDE in the vine. Can you get your brain around that? Once you can then you’re ready to move forward with the micro-analysis – the functional specifics.

DID THE FITNESS INDUSTRY FIND GOD OR COULD FAITH BE THE NEW DRIVER?

In late 2015 the American Council on Exercise released their predictions on what would be trending in the fitness industry for 2016. Faith-based fitness was one of those trends.  They now have published the trends they see for 2017. Their analysis and insights help everyone in the fitness industry anticipate opportunities and work in a competitive yet concerted effort toward greater impact and results.

I believe, as a result of their report, we saw several new intentional activities to build on the interest in connecting faith and fitness in 2016. For those established, who have been bringing faith and fitness together for years, this wasn’t a “trend” at all but rather a “Yes, finally! Welcome back from the detour.” It was an awakening by the industry to the documented and measurable evidence they can now see. Human tendency is to think we must outgrow God and leave him behind as an outdated relic of the past so we can advance to a better science. Inevitably as we arrive we discover that God has been waiting on us to catch up to a progressive agenda, a greater purpose and a stronger outcome in Him.

So, now that initiatives are multiplying and professionals are more resolved to realize the difference that can be made by bringing faith and fitness together, it’s an especially opportune time for me as the publisher of Faith & Fitness Magazine to outline trends that are specifically shaping the faith and fitness culture. I previewed these trends at the Redefined Conference. Now I want to present here in the magazine (so you can share it with others) two trends and two opportunities. The trends are pretty obvious but need to be adamantly embraced. The opportunities may seem pretty far out there. I think that makes them all the more Godly. They certainly give us a new mark to press toward. Welcome to 2017 where faith is the new driver in fitness.

Back in 2006 I wrote:

What we’re doing isn’t about capitalizing on what people like to do or commercializing Christianity.  It isn’t even about offering a Christian alternative.  It sure isn’t about shoving faith down anyone’s throat.  It is about empowering you – helping you take what you feel deep down in your gut and letting loose.  It is about rediscovering what is authentic.  It’s about discovering and releasing the creative nature that God has put in each of us.  It’s about opening your eyes to the human community and joining God in saying, “Wow…cool”.

So, proceed to the following pages. Check out the trends and opportunities.  Let me know what you think. More importantly – Go for it! There’s a lot of work to be done – a lot of “great” to do.

Click/tap on the numbers below to read all of the pages in this article.

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TREND #1:

FAITH-CENTERED FITNESS PROGRAMMING DELIVERS INNOVATION RATHER THAN ADAPTION.

One trend to watch for in 2017 is a shift toward more use of programming that is expressly developed to be foremost faith-nurturing. Doing traditional group exercise programs like Zumba, HIIT, Pilates, yoga, spinning, cardio-kickboxing, Body Pump, or one of the other popular programs in a church or with Christian music is OK but it falls way shot of what can be done. Certainly there is nothing wrong with doing that. But, adapting this kind of programming into a faith-friendly environment may offer little or no difference from the program being done anywhere else. The same is true with personal training. Programming that is faith-centered on the other hand has innovated fresh approaches to how programming is done and experienced.

WholyFit for example makes personal care and proclaiming Christian spiritual truths integral to the program experience. Their programs’ mission is to inspire, enliven and heal through movement, worship and the Word of God. The intentional ministry inseparable from the movement is what makes faith-centered fitness programming distinct and much more dynamic. If these programs do not count for a significant percentage of the programming at a fitness ministry it is because the leadership chooses NOT to do it.

If you think that the Daniel Plan Diet is the only Christian fitness program on the market then you need to take some time to scour Faith & Fitness Magazine, where dozens of programs have been reviewed. Today there are faith-centered fitness programs for nearly every interest and need.  Many are designed well and are thoroughly documented, tested, evaluated and continually improved. Many offer training and support. They cover a wide range of needs and opportunities. Much of it is designed particularly for women. However, programs like F3Nation, Courageous Men’s Fitness and Farming To Failure are engineered for men.

Other programming is for the whole cross-generational family. The tremendous variety of faith-centered fitness programming contributes to the underlying message of Faith & Fitness Magazine’s Redefined Conference: Fitness is being redefined by faith.

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TREND #2:

FITNESS MINISTRY IS INHERENTLY INCARNATIONAL

An important trend for 2017 isn’t so much what is being done but rather who is doing it and how they are doing it. Expect to see more Christians connecting one-on-one with individuals through fitness. Jesus showed that Christians are to get among people, spend time building relationships, and communicate the gospel within an existing culture.

Initiatives such as Simple Church and Fresh Expressions don’t just examine why this is important and what it looks like, they provide significant instruction and resources to help Christians live faith 24/7 everywhere as compared to just attending a brief religious gathering in a sanctuary. Many of today’s major Christian leadership conferences like C3, Catalyst, and Hillsong among many others are aggressively working to guide next-generation Christians in what is in fact the ancient practice of the faith.

As Rob Moss explains in Why We Will No Longer Be A Welcoming Church, “Welcoming, from a missional perspective, is passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by.

Inviting is different. Inviting is active. Being an inviting church means that we leave the comfort of Sunday morning worship and seek out our neighbors. Being an inviting church starts with who God has called us to be as church and mandates joining God at work in the world.”

Physical fitness, be it at the gym, group exercise, personal training or an outdoor recreational activity or sport is potentially a more frequent activity and a more naturally engaging environment for faith to be lived, shared and discovered. The big idea of Jesus is God coming to earth in human form to physically live among us --- God incarnate. Fitness ministry celebrates this most profoundly. The pain, the sweat, the challenge, the temptation, the hunger, the imperfections … everything physical directly correlates to the spiritual, not because the similarities can be made but because they were never intended to be separate or exclusive.

A Washington Post article examining how Christians can best reach today’s culture shares a perspective from Millennial blogger Ben Irwin, “When a church tells me how I should feel (‘Clap if you’re excited about Jesus!’), it smacks of inauthenticity. Sometimes I don’t feel like clapping. Sometimes I need to worship in the midst of my brokenness and confusion — not in spite of it and certainly not in denial of it.”

When those doing fitness ministry fully embrace an incarnational mindset then everything physical is valued as spiritual. What some may see as the most problematic for fitness ministry: provocative clothing, cussing, bad attitudes, sexuality, obsessions, anger and more are rich opportunities for incredible spiritual growth and strength.

Christ-Influenced Trainers (CIT's) bring this incarnational approach to personal training by expanding the ways they listen to their clients, better meeting expectations and cultivating more opportunities for improved growth and outcomes.

Individual-centric customer experience (CX) is key to the faith-centered fitness experience. It implies customer involvement at all levels – rational, emotional, sensorial, physical, and spiritual. Faith-centered fitness is not just values-based social-responsibility. It happens when Christians value being socially responsible. What this really means is leaders and members of churches, fitness businesses and communities don’t passively hope that somehow others will see Jesus in them instead they are committed to being keenly involved in every individual opportunity for social collaboration.

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OPPORTUNITY #1:

NEW DATA FOR DATA-DRIVEN WORKOUTS

There is a tremendous opportunity in 2017 for those doing faith-centered fitness to redefine data-driven workouts by expanding the scope of data gathered and the way that data is used.

That FitBit gives just a bit of the data you can gather these days. It is only one tool used to do it.  As Vivian Giange notes in her Fundera article, Want to Run a Boutique Fitness Studio?, “We live in a data-driven world so it makes sense that people want data-driven workouts.” It gives, “Results-driven customers what they want.” Screens at boutique studios now display all kinds of data and the clients can access that information later via their account files (typically immediately on their personal mobile device). Harnessing health analytics to motivate members is not only hugely popular, it is rapidly growing in demand.

This is why businesses like Orange Theory Fitness are expanding quickly. Time Magazine did an article titled the Hyper-Competitive, Data-Driven Future Of Fitness. Ashley Ross shares that this hot trend is, “a natural outgrowth of our obsession with data.”

She goes on to explain, “The logic behind this is … that when you think people are evaluating you … you work harder. Research demonstrates that human behavior changes—usually for the better—when there are other people around to see what you’re doing or when people are counting on you.” It’s not just useful and fun. Ashley notes it is, “The fitness world’s next step in getting you hooked.”

While faith-centered fitness in and of itself is something new to many, it can nonetheless build on the equally new approach of data-driven workouts that are in high demand and harness spiritual analytics to not just motivate but also achieve additional and more comprehensive results. This new date is spiritual fitness data. It is quite different and remarkably much more insightful and useful for clients.

This spiritual fitness data includes clients personal prayer notes, Bible reading tracker and memorization chart, temptation/addiction matrix, Counseling, goals and action plan notes and even a friend/team tracker tools to empower clients to be others-minded.

For those who suggest that gathering and utilizing personal spiritual data could put a person’s privacy at risk, it is important to see that the fitness industry already recognizes that biodata carries it’s own privacy implications. Businesses can use common sense and technology to help reduce the concern and manage the opportunity well.  Members/clients choose to participate, what data to share and who has access to it.)

When faith-centered fitness professionals and businesses gather and evaluate spiritual data on the level that physical data is now being tracked we’ll see consumers experience new and better forms of quality fitness ministry.

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OPPORTUNITY #2:

FAITH-CENTERED FITNESS DESIGNED AND DELIVERED AS A MARKETPLACE MINISTRY SUITE

Keep your eyes open in 2017 for more examples of symbiotic destinations. These marketplace-suites provide exceptional opportunity to facilitate fitness ministry in an attractive community environment of related businesses.

What do I mean by a symbiotic destination? It is a commercial/retail location where all the businesses serve a similar demographic. They all benefit because they each attract the same kind of customer.  The best symbiotic destinations offer great experiences. According to Bob Haas in his writing for Chain Store Age, “The need for more creation and innovation is urgent and ever present. Shopping center developers and managers are always trying to separate themselves from the competition by creating an experiential environment, and no landscaping element or design feature or programming is as powerful a contributor to that experience as a diverse and dynamic tenant roster.”

In my community a symbiotic strip mall destination is thriving.  However, it is the antithesis of what I envision.  From one end to the other it includes a Papa John’s Pizza, a candy store, a gun shop, tattoo parlor, and finally a gourmet donut shop. Customers from any one of these businesses are likely potential customers for any of the others. It’s not just all of your needs and wants in one convenient location. It truly does become a gathering place of like-minded people.

Chris Turner in his Mother Nature Network article on reinventing the strip mall points to design trends that create mini-neighborhoods. They are stylish and more easily reconfigurable, incorporating density and green space into a highly replicable mixed-use urban design.  John Caulfield, Senior Editor for Building, Design + Construction in his article 5 Ingredients Of Successful Mall Design shares how retail center principal David Glover describes the live/work design, “[We] use the concept of ‘weaving’ to communicate an urban form, where culture, nature, and leisure weave, layer, overlap, and fuse to produce a distinct sense of place.”

Symbiotic destinations for those who are wellness lifestyle minded include businesses providing exercise/fitness, health care, spa, cosmetology, nutrition (grocery, gardening, diet, cooking and restaurants), counseling/instruction and recreation (indoor and outdoor).

One example of this design is the U Street business complex in Washington DC developed by the “live/look/feel/eat better” businessman David von Storch. His company, Urban Adventures Company, opened this 50,000 square foot integrated urban lifestyle concept. It includes VIDA Fitness, Bang Salon, Aura Spa, Penthouse Pool Club and restaurant/lounge.

This example has all of the businesses that are side-by-side owned by the same company. However, the Marketplace Ministry Suite could just as easily be a model where several independent (faith-intentioned) businesses are all in the same building.

 

Dan Cook, founder of BGW Services (Building God’s Way), author of 10 Tsunamis Impacting Ministries, and a presenter at Faith & Fitness Magazine’s 2016 Redefined Conference is leading in the design and construction of new church buildings. Hub 757 in Suffolk, Virginia is one example of this new design approach where the church intentionally creates space for businesses and partners that along with the church will create a high-traffic high-use complex – a vibrant community that people want to frequent regularly. One Christian-owned gym franchise that is already a partner for hubs designed by BGW is My House Fitness.

Initiatives like the Proximity Project in Minneapolis help churches [and hopefully Christian entrepreneurs too] to imagine how they can be active in city planning and development and initiate models like this often in existing spaces.

To learn more about Marketplace Ministry Suites and to bring all the pieces together to start one CONTACT US at Faith & Fitness Magazine.

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BE CALLED TO BE LIFE

The trends and opportunities I’ve outlined here are not going to be something that everyone embraces.  But – if you ‘get it’ then I encourage you to get with it. This isn’t about trying something new or taking a business risk. It is confidently standing in faith that you have a God-given purpose and aggressively moving forward to bring change and impact.

The fitness industry is being transformed. Interest among the broad public in experiencing genuine faith is growing. Position yourself daily for this.  Pray for wisdom. You can redefine fitness now for the future. As you do, CONTACT US and share your story. Register for our Redefined Conference so you can be part of an exciting event that celebrates this movement and builds leaders with solid teaching and dynamic fellowship.

About the Author

 
  • Brad Bloom's picture
    Brad Bloom is the publisher of Faith & Fitness Magazine and Shout! Outdoor Lifestyle Magazine. He is president of Lifestyle Media Group, a ministry that develops content to help you connect your daily lifestyle with the Christian faith. You can use the CONTACT US form to schedule him to speak at your church, organization, group, community gathering or event.

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