By Rob Killen, Church Fitness Department Editor
Photo copyright by Ross Farrow/News-Sentinel. Used by permission.
Since Rick Warren introduced the Daniel Plan in 2011 his Saddleback Church has lost thousands of pounds. Many other pastors have found that physical fitness is an important ongoing lifestyle ministry. Discover what will happen when your church leadership starts consistently preaching fitness.
We launched Church Fitness several years ago to assist churches in starting or expanding their own fitness ministry. Since our initial launch, I’m frequently contacted by different people around the country who are interested in starting a fitness ministry in their home church. It’s exciting to encounter people who are passionate and committed about bringing fitness ministry to their church. I think it’s safe to say that anyone who has ever contacted me over the years recognizes that fitness ministry is a much-needed outreach for their church and community.
After chatting for a few minutes and learning a little bit more about their church and community, the conversation follows a familiar path. I proceed to explain the many of the benefits of fitness ministry in the local church, such as improving the health and fitness levels of the members in your congregation, providing another form of outreach to engage guests and members socially, enhancing your church image and status in the local community, growing your general church membership through connecting with new people outside of your church, and generating additional revenues, which will enable your church to invest in other important ministries and mission work. All of this sounds great to the person on the other end of the phone, and they’re now more excited and pumped up than ever to get a fitness ministry going at their church! However, the next question I ask of them is usually where their enthusiasm tones down a notch. I ask them if their pastor is supportive of their church starting a fitness ministry. After a brief pause on the other end of the phone, I usually get a subdued response admitting that they haven’t even approached the pastor or leadership of the church with the idea of fitness ministry.
This scenario has occurred more times than I can remember over the years, and despite all my encouragement and support, the caller who first contacted me oozing with passion and enthusiasm for beginning a fitness ministry in her church, now faces the realization that she’s probably going to need much more help and support from inside her church before fitness ministry can ever be taken into consideration.
John C. Maxwell put it perfectly when he said that "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way."
Fitness ministry has been an integral part of some churches for many years, but is still in its infancy on a larger scale for most churches. Some churches don’t feel the need to become involved in fitness. Some may lack the resources and expertise to venture into fitness ministry. This begs the question, should all churches be involved in fitness ministry? In terms of offering fitness facilities and programming, the short answer is no, not all churches are equipped to do fitness ministry in an impactful and meaningful way. However, all churches can and should be promoting the importance of leading a healthier lifestyle, through becoming involved in a regular exercise program, and eating a healthy diet. This is where the pastor and church leaders can really step up and lead their congregation to making healthier choices, just as Pastor Rick Warren did at Saddleback Church.
Ok, so how do you go about approaching the pastor about beginning a fitness ministry in your church? If you have an existing relationship with your pastor, then you can simply contact him or her directly and ask if fitness ministry is something they would consider beginning. If you are a member of a larger church where your pastor may not always be directly available, then you can reach out to the personal secretary, or other senior pastoral staff members with the idea. Regardless of the size of your church and your relationship with the pastor, before contacting anyone, try to formulate some information beforehand to strengthen your case for fitness ministry.
First Things First
1) Honestly ask yourself if offering fitness ministry is a realistic expectation at your church? Does your church have some space that could be used, or does it have the resources to do some renovations on the church grounds, or lease some additional space off the church grounds?
2) What is the interest level of fitness ministry with other members of the congregation? If most of the congregation has no interest, then selling your pastor and church leaders on the idea will be extremely difficult. If you’re unsure as to the interest level, ask if you can create a short survey for members to complete. The feedback from a survey can be instrumental in taking the next steps forward. Have your church hand out the survey at the church services, and offer online.
3) Does your church currently have a recreation ministry, or sports league? Churches that offer recreation ministry, and in particular, churches that have existing recreational facilities such as ball fields and gymnasiums, are often ideal in beginning a fitness ministry. Recreational sports already require a certain amount of resources and personnel to be done effectively, and fitness ministry can be a nice complement to a church rec league.
4) Cite the research on obesity levels in the church, such as the one by Purdue University
5) Get feedback from other churches who already have fitness ministry
If your pastor seems interested in the idea of fitness ministry, but your church is unable to pursue this in the immediate future, I still consider this as a positive step in the right direction. Great things of significance often take time and perseverance. Stay persistent and patient, but continue to update your pastor and church leaders with new information on fitness, and continue to stress the importance of having a healthy church and healthy community. Founder and Executive Director of Fit Pastors, Ricky Van Pay, says “As the pastor goes, so goes the church in health. Healthy pastors lead healthy churches.”
Let us all continue to pray for the health of our pastors and our churches across the globe.
Read more articles in our Church Fitness Department.