Brad Bloom's picture

The David Barton Gym Limelight known as the Cathedral Of Sweat may be New York’s most righteous (or totally awesome) gym. They’ve earned awards and recognition for their retrofit of this historic church building.  They foreshadow a look and feel that fitness ministries can have and where faith and fitness can be beautifully integrated into one fantastic experience.

If you wanted to open a really cool gym that everyone would want to use, where would it be and how would you make it truly amazing?

David Barton Gym took a historic Manhattan church built in 1845 and created a dynamic experience that preserves the architecture, integrates with the culture of the city and delivers quality, service and top-rated fitness programs. They set a good example (and price point) for the boutique model of fitness club. Churches and Christian entrepreneurs can do one better - if they'll try. Beyond the look and feel, they can deliver Christian ministry. Visualize a place where you can get fit, get funk AND get faith.

The David Barton Gym Limelight at 20th and Sixth makes working out truly inspirational. The cardio suite has spectacular stained glass windows towering over the treadmills. The strength equipment helps you fire up your muscles in the glow of prayer candles. Even some of the group exercise classes are whimsically named: Muscle Mass, Core Communion, Divine Abs and Salvation.


Visualize a place where you can get fit, get funk AND get faith.


In today’s culture “Muscle Worship” isn’t just a tongue-in-cheek expression. It is admiration fueled by hard work that can easily become a fitness and sexual addiction. Their imagery of muscles in a church – a temple in a temple, may at the very least challenge gym goers to consider how physical and spiritual beauty are more connected than we realize.  Their corporate slogan, “Look better naked” certainly captures your attention and the heart of their culture. However it ventures more closely into the more significant spiritual conversations of body worship and gymnos than they may realize – certainly more than they may address because their purpose is not to do ministry but rather simply be the best gym in the marketplace. They do a good job of that consistently getting rave reviews by media, members and visitors.




Quality equipment – From the free weights to the cardio suite every piece of equipment is carefully selected for durability, function and overall experience.  Great gyms maintain their equipment in clean and top performing condition. Because space in boutique gyms is often limited and unique, the amount of equipment along with where and how it is placed are all considerations to assure ready availability and continuity.


Professional and engaged staff – Facilities with great teams put great effort into carefully selecting who represents their brand. They then regularly invest in the ongoing training of staff. The results are obvious. They know what their doing, they do it very well AND the members consistently have an amazing experience, always coming back for more.

Distinctive programming that delivers results – Gym goers want a place that will give them a tough workout. They want the intensity that makes a difference. They want the fun that will keep it highly engaging and rewarding. The development of faith and fitness programming is a process that examines wants, needs and deliverables that take the participants to obtain outcomes they can’t get from traditional programming.   Photo courtesy of Gina Doost of Used by permission.


Overall ambiance and culture – Churches often create “third-place” environments like a coffee shop or bookstore. Gym’s like David Barton have designed facilities that people want to get to often and then thoroughly enjoy. They want a challenge, a conversation, instruction, affirmation, fun and engagement. These gym facilities wow you with their style and character and immerse you totally in an ethos of carefully crafted tradition, innovation and expression.


The next generation of fitness facility – a hybrid gym/church combo.

In every city across the country there are church buildings that are closing for many reasons: shifts in populations, older buildings being replaced by newer facilities, congregation consolidations and decline in attendance to name a few.



A temple in a temple - consider how physical and spiritual beauty are connected.

According to a article more than 4000 churches close each year.  That’s a lot of real estate that could be retrofitted into a gym facility. Certainly not every building is appropriate for becoming a fitness facility. However, the David Barton Gym Limelight shows that for some buildings it can be done – and done very well. AND for those buildings that either remain part of the church or are transferred to another Christian ministry owner the new gym in the existing real estate with it’s clear ministry purpose can operate as a non-profit and realize tax savings and scales of affordability provided for Christian ministries.

What is needed to do this? Churches and Christian business professionals need to examine, understand and then literally build the next generation of fitness facility – a hybrid gym/church combo. The pattern of a boutique gym is already in place. Most certainly the model of simple church is well established from the early era of the Christian church – Christ’s disciples through to present-day small group gatherings.

Tim Suttle, in his book Shrink and his Patheos article Why The Church Is In Decline… identifies that the mega-church model is a departure from the smaller (and more preferred) simple church model on which Christianity is originally founded:

My tribe is the evangelicals. We’ve been the “industry leaders” in developing best practices for the realization of the relevant, the powerful, and the spectacular church. Like industrial farmers, we have been so successful that we have actually moved the dial for the mainstream church as well. We have filled the cities and suburbs with monuments to growth without limits. But we have pushed in the wrong direction, and we have pushed too far. We have confused the very nature of what it means to be a part of the people of God.

A different future for the church - serving small congregations faithfully.


There is a shift in the fitness industry from the membership model in favor of the smaller and more intimate experience:


Sensing that a growing number of people are forgoing their gym membership in favor of specialized experiences like boot camps or cycling studios, some gyms have begun partnering with smaller boutique studios, offering them temporary or permanent space and giving their customers access to the gym’s amenities. In exchange, gyms receive foot-traffic from the well-to-do clientele that boutique studios tend to attract and, in some cases, a cut of the studio’s revenue.

Essentially, the mega-gym has discovered and in some instances is adapting to the reality that many people DON’T believe “bigger is better”. People want (and pay for), “the cutting-edge workouts and the attention of instructors who have built up personal brands through widely-followed Instagram accounts and best-selling DVD sets.” Bret Edward Stout a personal trainer at the David Barton Gym Limelight is a good example. The church can learn from this by putting much less emphasis on “membership” and giving much more attention to shepherding the small flock into spiritual maturity through faithful instruction and a deep koinonia-based fellowship.

These 3 Photos and the top photo courtesy of Brett Edward Stout @brettestout on Instagram.

Suttle describes what hopefully will be a growing trend, “Many church leaders are now faced with a fundamental disagreement about time and money and the use of the world. All around me everyday in my church and my city, I work with people who have chosen the way of descent. They labor in beautiful obscurity and have the audacity to imagine a church that depends upon God for its future. These friends forego lucrative careers and the perks of the upwardly mobile in order to serve small congregations faithfully. They are straining to imagine a different future for the church.”


That future I believe can be expressed in part through the really cool gym model – a classic church facility that is designed to house quality fitness equipment, thoughtfully crafted spaces, inspiring ambiance and on-target programming. But what it houses isn’t what defines it as much as those who make it home. The relationships, the accountability, the honesty, the compassion, the grace and the joy in the celebration are all the qualities that make this style of gym not only cool but the environment that returns the meaning of church from being a place to being a group of committed people.

We’re here to help you get this model of fitness ministry started. CONTACT US and get help with a retrofit that will bring the most righteous gym to your community.

Cover photo of David Barton Gym Limelight exterior by Nikki Espinia for Faith & Fitness Magazine.


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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