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When Worship and Wellness Collide

When Worship and Wellness Collide

Church fitness facilities and programs improve wellness while creating ministry opportunities

First Corinthians 6:19-20 provides the Biblical basis for church fitness ministry:


The verse implores us to take care of ourselves and avoid immorality, both of which can tie directly into a church fitness ministry, which should provide a Christian place for a church’s congregation to improve fitness, health and wellness. That ministry also creates a wealth of opportunities to reach out to people and share faith, the church’s ultimate goal.

“We want to be part of the community, and we want this to be an inroad,” says Dustin Folden, pastor of community ministries at Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Ind. “People come to us to take advantage of the sports leagues and fitness center, and we have the opportunity to build relationships with them and share the gospel. All the different programs and leagues give us the opportunity to meet people that we may not otherwise meet.

“We want to meet people in our community and love them and build relationships with them, with the goal of introducing them to the good news of Jesus Christ,” Folden says.

Facilities and programs vary widely according to a church’s resources, community, existing facilities and available property. You may have a spare 1,000 square feet at your existing facility equipped with cardio and strength training equipment, or you may have the resources to build a multimillion dollar community center. Today, as many churches emerge from the planting stage and become more established, their first building may involve a multipurpose facility and kitchen used for everything from worship to basketball to weddings and receptions and other events.

The best place to start, though, is at the beginning. That’s not always possible though, especially in situations where a church and many of its building may be 100 years old or older, but devising a master plan for the church campus creates a clear path for future, orderly growth. However, if the church’s senior leaders aren’t behind the effort or can’t grasp its potential impact on the church and community, the whole issue is a nonstarter.

First things first

“The first thing you need to do is meet with the senior leadership of the church and get them on board,” says Rob Killen, a fitness industry veteran, consultant and founder of www.churchfitness.com. “To do an impactful fitness program is going to take some time and resources. Fitness is something that can touch everyone in your church and community from eight to 108, but it depends on the church’s vision.”

In planning fitness and community centers, start with the big picture in terms of design and architecture. A program of spaces determines the size and function of each individual space and should be devised keeping in mind affordance—the idea that if spaces are well designed, they will always be adaptable in the future to unforeseen functions—says Christian Rogers, principal with Blackmon Rogers Architects in Birmingham, Ala. Another design concept, contextualism, is important, as well, as you seek to create a new facility within the context of its surroundings, including other buildings on the church campus and the adjoining neighborhood and community.

Security and access will always be issues, so initial planning also involves identifying areas that need to be contained or open at different times during the week and arranging flow and control zones, as well as wayfinding and signage that helps patrons implicitly understand the church’s layout, Rogers reports.

At the end of the day, though, you need to think as far ahead as possible. “Churches have a tendency to think of just their existing needs,” Rogers says. “The reality is, the cost of a master plan is negligible and ultimately drives down costs on future projects.”

Another area of planning involves one of the modern world’s problems: Where are we going to put all this stuff? Long-term planning for adequate storage can prevent future headaches, especially with multipurpose facilities that might serve as a fitness center, site for sports leagues and practices, and worship center for small and large study and fellowship groups. Double doors for those storage areas are important as well.

“The longer it’s in use, the more storage you’re going to need,” says Ron Ensz, owner of sports and playground equipment supplier Future Pro Inc., based in Inman, Kan. “The storage is only going to get smaller over time.”

Most aspects of construction can be fairly straightforward, frequently involving tilt-wall masonry construction and accompanying roofing systems, but the details depend on use and can be tricky. For example, picking the type of floor for a gym, multipurpose or fitness center and striping for different sports’ boundaries is one consideration. Natural lighting is another. If the facility is used primarily for fellowship and recreation, natural lighting may not be an issue. If used as a worship venue with multi-media screens, the flow of natural light will have to be controlled and mitigated, while acoustical panels and other controls may be needed to moderate sound and reverberation as well.

The facility’s and the property’s soil type could also be an issue, especially if construction and the center’s operation involve swimming pools, bowling alleys or any other use where there is practically zero margin for error where the foundation is involved.

“You may want to spend more on the foundation because you can’t afford any movement,” says Mike Tompkins, director of client development at Dallas-based construction firm Julian P. Barry.

Equipping a facility is an equally important step, and providing the right equipment can play an important role in your ability to attract newcomers. Safe, high-quality equipment is a must because it’s going to get abused, Ensz says.

This is another area where you may proceed incrementally as resources allow. Cheap, low-quality equipment will lack durability and send the wrong message to patrons and potential church members, says Brad Bloom, publisher of Faith & Fitness Magazine.

“This is a question of what elements do we need to bring together to get it right,” Bloom says. “It’s not a question of will it work. It’s a question of what do we need to do to get it right and drive the church mission.”

Who and how

Of course, a fitness ministry and facilities will require some level of volunteer help. Many in the fitness industry also suggest and support a high level of involvement by paid professional staff and certified professional trainers, and that expertise may already be within your congregation or a nearby Christian school or college.

Faith Baptist Church and its Faith Community Center have the benefit of a seminary affiliated with the church, Faith Bible Seminary. Seminary students attend for free but work at the community center, as well as other churches in and around Lafayette, performing administrative tasks and seeking ministerial opportunities while interacting with patrons. Given the scope of Faith Community Center’s offerings, seminary students and other volunteers are especially crucial to its operation. The center includes everything from a gym, aquatics and workout facilities to a skate park, disk golf course and stocked fishing pond, as well as a third-place café with free Wi-Fi. While the center requires a digital ID card for check-in and check-out, volunteers and staff are always on hand to welcome members and newcomers in an effort to further build relationships and personal connections, Folden says.

“We couldn’t run it without our seminary students helping us with the facility and the sacrificial giving of our church family,” Folden says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity. To have such an affordable opportunity for the community, we’re thankful to God that we have church members that would give of their time and resources to show love to the community.”

Although costs and budgets can be a delicate issue, fitness and athletics ministries and programs generally aren’t cheap. A congregation gives its resources and sacrifices to establish these facilities and programs in the first place, so many involved with this area of ministry suggest charging a fee for use of facilities and equipment. Here, you generate revenue that can be applied to new and replacement equipment as well as staffing and general upkeep. The first priority is to bring people to Christ, Killen says, and that’s a lot easier if the effort is financially independent.

“The goal is to have a self-sustaining fitness ministry and not require any additional church funding,” Killen concludes.

SIDE BAR ARTICLE:A South Carolina Megachurch Opts for a Non-Conventional Fitness Facility

by Carol Badaracco Padgett

When a church opens a fitness facility, it wants the surrounding community to come in and get involved. Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville, S.C., found a way to get its community interested at first sight. The church chose Sprung Instant Structures Inc., with a Southeast sales office in Marietta, Ga.

Sprung created a structure-clear span (with no physical obstructions) and ideal as a fitness facility-for the 13,000-member church. The Image Center, as Redemption World’s fitness facility is called, is an “approximately 45,000-square-foot building consisting of three full sized basketball courts, an elevated running track, a large weight room, a cardio theater, café, [and] spin rooms and locker rooms, complete with saunas,” reports Tray Thomason, Sprung’s Southeast sales manager.

Aside from being eye-catching and space-efficient, Thomason reports that Sprung structures offer churches a highly energy efficient insulation system that helps reduce energy costs. “The comprehensive insulation package includes up to [a] 9-inch thick fiberglass blanket insulation with an aluminum foil backing. This insulation is installed at grade level and runs all the way up to the skylight or peak of the structure [to provide] a consistently high R value on both the side walls and roof,” he says.

Another benefit of a Sprung structure is that it can be erected in a shorter time period than conventional construction, helping a church open a fully functional facility much faster.

Carol Badaracco Padgett is editor of Worship Facilities Magazine. She can be reached at cpadgett@worshipfacilities.com.




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