Rob Killen's picture

Ah - church picnics! Everyone enjoys the food and fellowship. Rick Warren's book The Purpose Driven Church talks about growing a healthy church. Now it's time to talk about the "purpose driven church picnic". With some intentional planning and enthusiasm from church leadership, you can create breakfasts, picnics, dinners and more that align with recommended guidelines, define your church wellness strategy and improve the overall health and fitness of your members and community.

If your church could help your congregation and local citizens loose weight to be healthier and live better would you do it? It is not only possible it is more practical than you realize. Here is a strategy to introduce and maintain five key approaches to weight loss.

If you and your church are going to win the weight loss battle then you need to know what keep us from losing those extra pounds.

The good news is that the United States is no longer the most obese nation in the world. The bad news is America is second behind only Mexico.  The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization conducted a study in 2013, which showed that Mexico leads the world with a 32.8 percent adult obesity rate, followed by the U.S. at 31.8 percent.  Approximately 30% more people in the U.S. are considered overweight, resulting in nearly 2/3 of the total U.S. population that need to lose weight on some level.

To make matters worse, researchers found a link between obesity and church attendance. Northwestern University analyzed data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, which followed over 2,400 adults between the ages of 20 to 32 for 18 years. They found that people who went to church or church activities at least once a week were more than twice as likely as people with no religious involvement to become obese. Despite this glaring statistic, other studies have shown that people who participate in regular religious involvement overall tend to live longer, are happier, have less stress, and lower rates of smoking and alcohol use.          

Want ideas for your church that you can implement now? 

Look for sections marked STRATEGIES FOR YOUR CHURCH  throughout this article. 

We know more about health, exercise and nutrition than any other time in history, yet we have so many Americans who are overweight. We know the general guidelines to successfully losing weight: exercise more, reduce caloric intake, avoid junk food, eat plenty of fresh vegetables, eat less processed foods, etc. Yet, behavior patterns are often difficult to change. Technology has made it far easier for us to become a sedentary society. Automated machines result less physical labor for workers today. Video games, social media and widespread Internet use keep us sitting.

If you and your church are going to win the weight loss battle then you need to examine some common behaviors that hinder weight loss efforts and keep us from losing those extra pounds. Improve upon these five areas and you, your congregation and your broader community can increase the success of your weight loss program.


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KEY #1: NEVER SKIP BREAKFAST – Everyone has heard the old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Why is this so? Several studies in adults and children support this statement. Breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than breakfast skippers, eat a more nutritionally complete diet, have improved concentration levels at school and work, possess more strength and endurance, and are less likely to snack on foods higher in fat and sugar during the day. Breakfast eaters also have lower cholesterol levels and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.

According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women who did not eat breakfast everyday were at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Another study in 2013 performed by the journal Circulation showed eating breakfast was associated with a lower incidence of heart disease in men between the ages of 45 and 82. The study also found that skipping breakfast was associated with elevated blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and hypertension. The journal Obesity conducted a recent study showing that people who ate breakfast as their largest meal of the day lost an average of almost 18 pounds over 3 months. The other study participants consumed the same number of total calories per day, but ate most of their calories at dinner, but only lost an average of just over 7 pounds each over the same time period. 


1. You’ve heard of the “Men’s Prayer Breakfast” or “Women’s Breakfast Group”. Now you can make these gatherings more relevant than ever before.  Do them more frequently. Draw new participants.

2. Coffee and donut alternatives like fresh fruit, nuts, whole-grain baked goods and juices can become the cool new choices before or after your worship service.

3. Create the Pastor’s Menu. Find the restaurants where your congregation eats breakfast then send the pastor their on a mission to find the healthier choices. A menu featuring your leaderships’ recommendations is forward thinking and a great way to expand influence in your community.

4. If your church has a food ministry or supports a food ministry then commit to giving the disadvantaged and homeless healthy breakfast foods. Expand a soup kitchen into a “breakfast buffet”. 

 A healthy breakfast including a lean protein source proved to be the most beneficial formula for aiding in weight loss. In 2007, researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center compared weight loss patterns between two groups of women who ate the same number of calories for breakfast five days per week. The only difference was that one group ate a bagel for breakfast and the other group are two eggs.  "Compared to the bagel eaters, overweight women who ate two eggs for breakfast five times a week for eight weeks as part of a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet, lost 65% more weight, reduced waist circumference by 83%, reported higher energy levels, and had no significant difference in their … blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels," reports researcher Nikhil V. Dhurandhar, PhD.

People often cite a lack of time in the morning when rushing off to work or school as a chief reason for not eating breakfast in the morning. Breakfast can be quick and healthy. Except for a few rare times a year, like vacations and holidays, I’ve personally eaten the exact same thing for breakfast for the past 20+ years, and it takes less than 3 minutes to prepare. I microwave ½ cup of whole oats with some water in a bowl for about 2 minutes, then add either fresh or frozen fruit (blueberries, raspberries or strawberries) and 1 scoop of whey protein. I mix the fruit and whey protein in my oatmeal, and enjoy a tasty, healthy and low-fat breakfast. Every now and then I’ll substitute some Greek yogurt instead of the whey protein, and this is also very satisfying and healthy. On occasions when I dine out for breakfast, I may eat a garden omelette with tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach and salsa, and a small side of fresh fruit.



KEY # 2: PORTION CONTROL – Americans consume more calories than any other nation in the world. Everywhere we look we see extra - large and super-sized portions being offered in food and drinks. Beware of “all you can eat buffet spreads” where one can easily consume an entire day’s worth of calories, sugar, fat and sodium in one meal.

Serving sizes have increased over time, which has been a contributing factor. Twenty years ago many drinks were served in 8 ounce cups, where 16 ounces is more common today. Soda servings are over 50% larger, hamburgers are 23% bigger and Mexican entrees are 27% larger. Bagels were roughly 200 calories, where they’ve more than doubles in size and diameter to over 500 calories. This increase in serving size has led to the “bigger is better” value mindset. We want to get the most food for our buck when dining out, particularly budget conscious families who dine out with their kids. This is what makes the buffet dining experience so enticing; it offers great value for the money.


1. Display recommended portion sizes to help create awareness and encourage a mindset of discipline and stewardship at church socials and picnics. Provide take-home or to-go containers so that second-helpings and third-servings can instead be enjoyed later.

2. As church members learn to reduce portion sizes for all their weekly meals they’ll save money on their food bills. Start a pastor-led initiative to take that savings and give it to a church ministry program that will help others in your community to have better nutrition.        

Whether dining out, or eating at home, portion control is an effective tool for aiding in weight loss efforts because the larger the portion, the more we eat. Likewise, the larger the plates and bowls are, the more we tend to eat. Using smaller plates and bowls means less food. Less food = less calories.  Divide your plate in halves when portioning your food. Place vegetables on one half, and place equal parts protein and carbohydrates on the other half. Use the fist rule as a general guide to how large your food servings should be when eating. Make a first with your hand, and this should be about the equivalent of your protein and carbohydrate portion.

A healthy example could be asparagus on half your plate, with grilled chicken and brown rice on the other half.  A food scale is also highly recommended. Some may view this as extreme, but you might be surprised to see how much you’re really eating. For example, salmon is considered one of the healthier protein sources. Salmon contains about 48 calories per ponce. A healthy 4 ounce portion of salmon contains 192 calories. 4 ounces is not a very big serving, especially when compared by today’s super-size portions. 8 ounces puts you closer to 400 calories, and that’s just for your salmon. You haven’t even counted your starchy carbohydrate calories yet. This is just one example of how eating even healthy food can limit your weight loss efforts. This is why I favor a food scale.  


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 KEY 3: THE LITTLE THINGS ADD UP OVER TIME – Be mindful of snacks, condiments and dressings. Bread and butter, or other high calorie spreads can wreak havoc on your weight loss plan. How much added calories and sugar are in some of those spreads that restaurants serve? It’s better to pass on the bread all together, but if you must indulge, try eating it plain, or dipping in olive oil as an alternative to using butter and other high calorie spreads. Remember that even a small daily addition can add up over the weeks and months. Be careful to use light salad dressings, as two table spoons of regular ranch dressing have 145 calories and over 15 grams of fat.  One slice of American cheese contains almost 100 calories and has over 7 grams of fat. If you have a sandwich for lunch 5 days a week with 1 slice of American cheese, that’s an extra 2,000+ calories  and 140 grams of fat per month. By eliminating the one slice of cheese from your sandwich, you’ll save an extra 24,000 calories a year! There are 3,500 calories in one pound, so you’ll be cutting back almost 7 pounds a year from this one small change!  


1. Hold a Flavor-fest at your church. Schedule a nutritionist, chef, dietitian or other culinary expert to present a show-and-tell. It is a tasty way to educate members on healthier alternatives that can reduce overall fat, sugar and sodium consumption.

2. Start a meal-of-the-week recommendation in your church bulletin, website, e-newsletter or display that specifically highlights how some of the little things have been reduced or removed.



KEY #4: Drink Plenty of Water – It’s free, easily accessible, keeps joints cushioned, regulates body temp, helps body rid itself of toxins and wastes through sweat and urination, reduces risk of kidney stones, helps concentration levels and mental focus, helps reduce hunger, aids in digestion, improves skin complexion, helps boosts immune system in fighting colds and flu, less costly than other beverages.




1. Keep players or participants hydrated with plenty of fresh H2O at school games, sporting events, races, and other gatherings where people are physically active. This is one of the best ways your church can demonstrate your commitment to better health.

2. The reusable water bottle is one of the most popular ways for organizations and business to get their name out there. Get your church logo on one today and gain a greater daily presence in workplaces, schools, gyms --- everywhere.

3. Lead your church to participate in mission initiatives for fresh water programs in other countries. 

H2O is free, and even if you prefer drinking bottled water, when buying by the case an entire case of 24 16 oz. bottles can be purchased for as low as 12-16 cents per bottle. Water prevents cramps, sprains, some headaches and back aches caused by dehydration. Water carries oxygen and nutrients to muscles and helps eliminate wastes from the body. It also regulates body temperature and reduces fluid retention.

CLICK TO THE NEXT PAGE for Key #5 and the conclusion of this article.


KEY #5: INCORPORATE WEIGHT RESISTANCE TRAINING INTO YOUR WEEKLY EXERCISE REGIMEN – Strength and resistance training has many great benefits and should be a part of everyone’s weekly exercise routine. Strength training burns calories, increases lean body (muscle) mass, which will increase your metabolism. This means your body is burning more calories all the time, while you’re working out and while you’re at rest. Every pound of muscle gained can increase your daily caloric expenditure by up to 50 calories!




1. Create a resistance class at your church for senior adults. Strength training can help improve bone density, balance and core strength. These benefits are especially beneficial to seniors.  

2. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in America. Many equipment manufacturers offer youth strength training circuits, with a smaller frame and design specifically for children, which work all the major muscle groups in the body.   

3. Open an on-campus or off-campus fitness facility. Either way, creating space for fitness is one of the best ways to enhance congregational fellowship, reach out to your community and connect on a spiritual level with the many people trying to address their own personal fitness goals.

Resistance training also improves bone density, reduces resting blood pressure, helps control blood sugar, and improves your balance and coordination which is extremely important in aging gracefully. Many older people will lose both balance and strength as part of the natural aging process, thereby making them more susceptible to falls and broken bones. Weight resistance training can help prevent all of these issues, and even when you do have an accident and take a fall, your bones will be much stronger from all the weight resistance training, and you’ll be less likely to have a broken bone.   

Behavior modification can be challenging, but also very rewarding when you adapt to them and make the changes a permanent part of your quest to leading a healthier lifestyle. People will debate how long it takes to enact a permanent lifestyle change. Some say 21 days is all it takes to develop a new habit, or discontinue an old one. While this may be true for some people, I believe it takes closer to eight weeks to turn your new behavior into a permanent, lasting change. Although eight weeks may seem like a long time, 2 months is pretty short in the grand scheme of things.

There are many ways churches can assist members in their congregation with losing some weight. Pastors can lead the way to a healthier church. Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church realized that he needed to lose some weight, and challenged members in his church to join him. Warren, who is famous for his best seller, The Purpose Driven Life, formed the Daniel Plan for Weight Loss. Warren not only lost 65 pounds by exercising and following the Daniel Plan, but 12,000 members of his church lost a combined 250,000 pounds! Churches can also utilize any wasted space by providing group exercise classes, or even putting in a small fitness center. Keep plenty of bottled water on hand for all church activities, and offer healthier snacks such as fruit, walnuts, pretzels, vegetable trays, grilled chicken and green tea, instead of doughnuts, soda pop, potato chips and cookies. Church member support groups are ideal for weight loss programs, too. These groups often meet once a week, and offer support and accountability for everyone in the group wanting to lose weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle.       

This is not just about your quest to lose weight. You’re not the only person in your church concerned about diet, weight and better health. In fact everyone in your church eats food. So everyone can benefit when your church creates a healthier diet emphasis. Remember consistency is the key to lasting change.

Peace, balance, health and happiness,


CONTACT US for help in developing a church wellness strategy.

Contact Church Fitness Department Editor Rob Killen for a full range of support in developing a church fitness ministry. 



About the Author

  • Rob Killen's picture
    Rob Killen is the Church Fitness Department Editor for Faith & Fitness Magazine, and a 27 year fitness industry veteran. Rob received his Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Wayland Baptist University, and his Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management from George Mason University. Rob regularly consults with health clubs, and has a passion for helping churches looking to develop fitness ministries. For any assistance in planning or growing your church fitness ministry, Rob can be reached directly through .

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