The community-minded church design is nothing new.
For decades (if not centuries), church leaders have realized they can recruit and retain members by opening up their buildings for use beyond worship services. From cafes and coffee shops, to youth spaces and music venues, church buildings have done double-duty in order to attract and entertain families and individuals.
In more recent years, attention has been given to sports and workout spaces. A 2008 Worship Facilities piece, for example, titled “The Linking of Sport and Church,” exemplifies the strategy of church designers and builders more than 10 years ago. It was reported then that churches were “using sports facilities as a means of outreach to new members and another way for current members to grow closer.”
Indeed, there was a clear opportunity seen for churches to help foster community and fuse a committed bond using the workout and fitness space.
Fast-forward a decade, and those opportunities have been realized.
The biggest, most lucrative trend in the fitness and workout industry has proven to also be the most communal and social: CrossFit.
A CROSSFIT OPPORTUNITY
he branded CrossFit gym was founded in 2000. Five years later, there were thirteen locations. Today, there are more than 15,000 CrossFit affiliates that license the name and employ the CrossFit workout regimen in all 50 states. That’s a growth of nearly 15,000 locations in under fifteen years.
Indeed, CrossFit has become the largest fitness chain in the world. For churches with gyms, this could be considered a threat to the goal of reaching out to new community members — or, it could be an opportunity to align that gym with the world’s most popular fitness brand.
In a 2017 piece in The Atlantic, “The Church of CrossFit,” senior editor Julie Beck explains how “gyms and other secular communities are starting to fill spiritual and social needs for many nonreligious people.” Beck isn’t the only person making this observation; church leaders are seeing it, too.
Heidi Bogue is owner of CrossFit HighGear, an affiliate gym in Medina, Ohio. Her husband is Jeff Bogue, senior pastor at Grace Church, an eight-campus ministry in and around the Greater Akron area. Together, the Bogues have six children (one girl and five boys) ages twelve to twenty. As their children grew, Heidi found herself increasingly interested in fitness and began doing CrossFit nearly ten years ago.
“I absolutely love it,” Heidi says of CrossFit. “It’s been good to me — especially after having six kids. I like to go out and compete a little bit.” She adds, “I think we definitely need to take care of our bodies, but I would say for me the biggest thing has been the community.”
It was that community spirit that prompted the Bogues to start their own CrossFit location, CrossFit HighGear — and to use the space as a streaming worship sight for Grace Church.
KICKING OUTREACH INTO ‘HIGH GEAR’
CrossFit HighGear is most certainly not a campus of Grace Church. Heidi Bogue makes that very clear.
“They would not consider us a campus because we’re not autonomous,” she explains. “We’re a live site. Grace Church has campuses with pastors, while the live sites can be anything from streaming at a nursing home to streaming at a gym.”
CrossFit HighGear is also not a Christian gym.
“We’re a gym that has Christians in it,” Heidi clarifies. “We have morals, and our music is always clean (although we don’t just only play Christian music). But, we don’t want necessarily to be a place that only attracts Christians.”
Indeed, CrossFit HighGear is a typical CrossFit location with Workouts of the Day (WODs), certified coaches, and plenty of barbells, kettlebells and medicine balls. What’s different about the gym is its relationship to God and Grace Church.
Though the gym operates as a secular CrossFit affiliate, it hosts regular Bible study groups and acts as a “live sight,” streaming the Grace Church sermon video on Sundays.
“Our typical Sunday attendance is about thirty to forty,” Heidi says. “If everyone came at once it would be over one hundred.” She adds, “We’ve had the privilege of baptizing fifteen people from the gym. I don’t think they would have otherwise gone to church.”
While CrossFit HighGear has certainly introduced a fair number of people to Christ, Heidi points out it’s not a replacement for church.
“I would want people to start off with the gym, but our goal is that they end up in a church,” she says. “As they’re having children, we don’t have a Sunday school program. I don’t think I can see the gym being their church for life. We have community, and we are growing, but I want them to have a connection to the church. On Christmas and Easter, we say, ‘let’s meet at Grace Church.’”
OVERLAYING MINISTRY ATOP CROSSFIT
While Heidi Bogue may make it look easy combining Christian worship and Bible study with a CrossFit gym, it’s not. Not only are there the sensitivities of some secular members, but there’s the minor detail of pastoral leadership. Who’s going to lead these worships and faith studies?
Similar to the Apple iPhone adage from 2009, “There’s an app for that,” the Christian CrossFit community has come together to provide the solution — a program that nicely overlays atop the typical CrossFit model.
Each month, Faith RXD chapters across the world (in more than 80 cities in 9 nations) host free “faith and fitness” events that include a vigorous CrossFit workout followed by a Bible-based discussion.
“Faith RXD is a nonprofit where you start a local chapter, you are creating a community of people across CrossFit boxes [gyms] that share a passion to reach the community and grow it in Faith,” explains Jim Conzelman, executive director at Faith RXD. “We don’t own any boxes or own any gyms; we create a structure within a gym for coaches to create these opportunities to host free workouts.”
For Conzelman, the Faith RXD program is harnessing the power — and popularity — of CrossFit but adding a spiritual layer that athletes can use “to protect your body as a temple of God.”
“CrossFit is an awesome way to get fit, but it’s really lacking that vertical relationship,” Conzelman says. “We’re going after the people in fitness who haven’t explored the hard questions yet. We want to spark their interest. We want to unify Christians.”
Conzelman adds, “We often think of ourselves as a bridge between the fitness community and the church.”
Sound familiar? It should; that’s Heidi Bogue’s perspective, and her CrossFit HighGear gym uses the Faith RXD model each Sunday in a program it calls Fuel, which includes the Grace Church simulcast.
“We’re a bit of hybrid,” Heidi admits. “We started Faith RX in Akron. We mix it with our Fuel program. If somebody comes looking for Faith RX, we say, ‘come for the Faith RX, but we also have a little of our own thing.’”
Indeed, Conzelman and Heidi Bogue have tapped into the CrossFit craze in a way that fosters faith and engages the community.
“There’s so much more depth to this than stepping into the gym,” Conzelman says about CrossFit. “It gives you the opportunity to eat right and sleep right and recover and become much more intentional about your fitness — and then you can apply spiritual discipline by going to church and basking in and reading the Word to really live out your faith.”