Tag Archives: believers

Sweating to the Gospel

Have you noticed there are almost as many exercise joints as there are churches?  While church attendance declines, attendance at exercise gyms is booming!  Not only are these gyms/clubs opening on corners across the South once reserved for churches, these places are keeping their doors open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  They now compete with churches for time that was once held sacred for Sunday morning and evening worship as well as Wednesday evening prayer meeting.  On any given Sunday or Wednesday you are likely to find as many people, if not more, sweating their buns off in the gym as you find sweating their sins off under a barrage of “hell fire and brimstone” from the pulpit.  The perfect sculpted body has become as important, if not more so, as the perfect spiritual body.  Why are people flocking to the gyms?  What is so enticing about the fitness craze?

Fitness centers are cutting into church attendance for two basic reasons:  static movement and a perplexing state of social angst know as FoMO.  First, Americans are always on the move, mentally and physically, and sitting for long durations in church is contradictory to their norm and activates their ADHD (Ass Dead Hellfire Disassociation).  It is difficult for people to idle down the juices after constantly being on the run between home, their job, the shopping center, eating out, and getting kids to dance and ball games all week.  When they do sit for long periods such as at work or occasionally at home, they are stimulated by a computer, smart phone, digital tablet, or television in front of them.  Even when sitting in front of the television, they are texting and checking Facebook for the latest cutesy photos and “knock your socks off controversy.”  Americans are always on the move and in search of new stimuli, but yet, churches expect them to sit quietly in thinly padded church pews with nothing to do other than sing a couple of hymns and listen to the preacher.  As dynamic as some preachers may be, most of them cannot entertain and stimulate people at the level they are accustomed.  Therefore, more and more people stay home to play with their “Flappy Bird” app, or they skip church to go to the gym where they can insert their ear buds and escape kids, spouses, work, church, and anything else that might remind them how miserably chaotic their life is.

The second reason attendance in church is declining is called FoMO or the fear of missing out.  This very real fear is a pervasive apprehension of missing out on something, especially if that something is the latest and greatest craze.  People today, especially young people, are consumed by this social dilemma; they want and need to be a part of the latest and the greatest whatever it may be!  The adage “build it and they will come” has never been truer in America.   If there is a new workout gym in town offering a great deal on membership, they have got to be a part of it, or they feel they are missing out.   At heart, Americans are joiners and a membership is a drawing card few of them can resist, especially if there is a fee required.  For many people, a membership fee adds a sense of value to their experience and makes it more exciting and desirable.  A fee also heightens their resolve to be present at every opportunity, which means they are more likely to be found sweating at the club than at church on Sunday evening.

Some might argue church is not for sale, and that it should not cost a person anything to join.  That is a beautiful faith worthy thought, but such thinking is archaic and out of touch.  For many Americans, “free” does not carry the same quality, value, and prestige as the same or similar item with a monetary cost; they are literally “turned off” to free as an inferior product or experience.  Therefore, if preachers and their congregations are really serious about increasing attendance in church, they might consider charging a fee based on level of faith.  Such a fee speaks to a level of prestige in the community that many churches have unfortunately lost.

Fitness center proprietors know how to bring people in the door, and churches need to take notice and learn from them.  For example, the movement issue in churches could be easily addressed by intermixing treadmills with the pews and setting up workout stations with free weights at the rear of the church sanctuary.  This would attract the fitness enthusiasts who can’t tear away from the gym long enough to attend church, the time strapped individuals who can’t seem to find time to work out, and the individuals who can’t sit still with nothing to do.  Some might say clacking weights and the hum of treadmills would create a distraction for the more traditional church members, but if a church congregation can get accustomed to rock and roll bands blasting Amazing Grace to the tune of the House of the Rising Sun and strobe lights bouncing off the ceiling, there would probably be very few people to object to banging weights and the drone of treadmills.

Nevertheless, the biggest lesson churches can learn from exercise centers is the importance of membership drives anchored to tangible membership benefits and incentives.  In today’s society, people expect to receive a T-shirt, a coffee mug, a drawing for a free vacation, etc. for any commitment they make, so to get people in the door, giveaways are a must!  People will sell their souls for a free baseball cap or T-shirt.  Unlike churches, exercise clubs understand this; they understand to pull people into your building you must sell them on the value of the experience by charging a fee.  It doesn’t have to be much, but to make membership attractive and give it clout, there has to be a fee!  As long as tithing is optional in church, attendance will not carry the same clout as attendance at the local exercise club that charges ten to twenty bucks a month for membership.  People, especially in the South, are wary of anything that is free, so to boost attendance, churches must require people to tithe and not simply give when they grow ashamed they haven’t put anything in the collection plate in the past six months!

Requiring people to tithe, especially if there is a tiered payment program for tithing, could reap huge benefits for people hungry churches.  Like membership programs in exercise gyms where the more you pay the greater the benefits, church membership benefits could be layered to reflect the more you tithe the closer you are to God, the more you tithe the greater your heavenly benefits, and the more you tithe the holier you can proclaim yourself in the community.   Offer people a bumper sticker reflecting their level of commitment to the church, and they will beat the doors down to sign up!  The American mindset is you get what you pay for, and free gets very little, so charging for church membership makes sense.  Increasing attendance in church is not rocket science; give people what they want and promote it as a value!  If moving to a tiered membership format and removing a few pews to make room for treadmills will fill the church and level the recruiting playing field, why not go for it?

The one negative is that a change might need to take place in church attire, and that might cause a stir with older folks.  However, over the past several years, fewer and fewer people are dressed in their Sunday best for church, so sweats and sports bras would likely barely be noticed in most churches.  A positive with workout attire is that such clothing could actually be utilized to help promote attendance.  “Prayers Answered Here” splashed across the fronts of hot pink sports bras, “Heaven Made” stitched across ample female bottoms, or “Pumping for Blessings” stretched across the swollen pecks of pumped up choir boys could be attendance inducing “eye candy” for both men and women of all ages.

Of course, exercise in church is really nothing new.  As far back as 1957 when Charlie Shedd authored Pray Your Weight Away the church has been slowly edging its way into the fitness arena.  Other books, Rita Hancock’s The Eden Diet and Gary Thomas’s Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul, have also sought to tap in on the fitness craze.  Programs such as The Daniel Plan, Firm Believer, Bod4God, WholyFit, Body Temple Wellness, and Body Gospel are just a few of the fitness programs aimed at the faith-based community.

Between 65 and 71 percent of Americans or over 225,000,000 people are on Facebook daily and about 187,000,000 of those claim to be Christians.  However, based on USA census numbers only about 40% of those Christians actually attend church on Sunday, so, that means 112,000,000 Facebook Christians are not in church on any given Sunday.  It is easy to see something needs to be done to entice Christians back to the church house, and the nation’s infatuation with exercise is probably the best ticket.  Since 1957, the Christian community has understood this and has created books, magazines, and faith based fitness programs to address this niche.  Their only mistake is they have conducted their fitness ministry as a fringe program.  Fitness in America is no longer on the fringe; fitness is a mainstream force that churches would do well to pay attention to.  Therefore, it stands to reason that if churches tap into the world of fitness and make it a mainstream part of what they do Sunday and Wednesday, the odds are good they will boost both interest and attendance.

To survive, churches have always embraced those things in society that bring people in the door.  Churches have embraced scare tactics, revolution, generational music, youth indoctrination, and social media to draw numbers through their doors, so why wouldn’t the next logical step be to embrace fitness as a part of worship.   Visualize churchgoers seated between rolls of treadmills and exercise bikes while gospel rock explodes from a band of teenage and greying rockers wearing ragged jeans and flip-flops on the stage behind the pulpit.  Imagine the pastor dancing in the isles and calling for sinners to repent.  Rolling across the giant video screens to the left and right of the stage, imagine scrolling script urging people to join the church fitness club and become a member of Anti-fat Believers, Fluffy Angels, Disciples of Bulge, and Sweating to the Gospel.  Is that much different than what is already happening in many churches?  In today’s world, to boost church attendance, churches need to be willing to do whatever it takes to get people in the door, including sweating to the gospel.  Such a commitment will certainly increase church attendance as long as there are plenty of deodorant dispensers throughout the sanctuary.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 14, 2016

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You might need to go back to school if . . . .

Part II: Believers

“People say they love truth, but in reality they want to believe that which they love is true.”    Robert J. Ringer

I believe most people become annoyed and even angry when you don’t believe as they do because they want assurance that if they are wrong, they are not alone. Friendships have been lost and wars have been fought simply for the sake of convincing, coercing, or outright forcing people to buy into the beliefs of others. Regardless of their social standing, ethnicity or education, people are not comfortable or happy unless everyone around them thinks and believes as they do.   When people climb out on the believers’ limb, they do not want to be alone, and they will do whatever it takes to bring others out on that limb with them. However, lately, it seems the vast majority of people need little convincing or coercing to climb out on that limb no matter how outrageous or precarious.

To be socially accepted in the circles they travel, people in general have little problem believing in anything that is thinkless [sic] or void of common sense. For example, look at television commercials. Every year, the public spends billions of dollars on gadgets advertised to make their life easier and more enjoyable: gadgets that let them listen in on private conversations through walls a block away (Can you say voyeurism, eavesdropping, or unethical?), gadgets such as X-Ray glasses that supposedly allow you to see through fabric or clothes (Can you say perverted?) and health gadgets such as elastic belly wraps guaranteed to peel away the fat by simply wearing the device daily (Can you say gullible?). People are born believers in anything that guarantees them an easy solution to righting their perceived or actual inadequacies. They buy into TV commercials, clearly biased news reporting, hearsay, stealth politics and even peer pressure in their continuous quest for anything that helps them “fit in,” fixes them or promises to bring truth and happiness into their lives.

The problem is that people too often tend to blindly embrace fabricated truths. But, unless you are willing to subject yourself to ridicule and abuse, it is best to allow them to indulge in their delusions or fantasies of reality. They are hurting no one but themselves and maybe their pocketbooks; therefore, sometimes the best remedy for ignorance is to not nurture it by ignoring it. But, unfortunately there are times when ignoring ignorance is like feeding plague pellets to rats; the ignorance infection grows out of control even faster. In today’s society, there is no shortage of people willing to blindly wallow in ignorance.  Isaac Asimov said, “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” In an age of convenience, the only sword of knowledge some people possess is their ignorance. They sometimes flaunt their ignorance under the flags of individual rights, religion, and what is politically correct. Why? I believe Thomas Edison explained it best when he said, “Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.” In today’s society, it is easier to accept ignorance as a fact than it is to use common sense and brain power to invalidate the stupid, the ignorant, and the ridiculous. Thinking has become too much work for a society more interested in being entertained, patronized, sanctified, and politicized.

So, what can be done? Probably nothing! Of course, it would be best for everyone if shallow thinkers simply went back to school and started over. We have Head Start programs for underprivileged children, so why not have a Restart program for underprivileged adults who are intellectually and common sense challenged? It certainly would not be difficult to identify candidates for such a program. The beliefs people embrace are often the biggest clue that they desperately need to unplug and reboot – THEY NEED TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL!

You might need to go back to school if . . . .

  1. You believe you can deal with stupid people by arming yourself with knowledge;
  2. You believe Preparation-H shrinks wrinkles;
  3. You believe in the first and second amendments, but not the pursuit of “life, liberty, and happiness” for all people;
  4. You believe yoga is an evil practice and Harry Potter is an evil book designed to trick people into joining the dark side;
  5. You believe you can change a stupid person’s mind by lowering your standards and looking at life from his/her perspective;
  6. You believe in Rumpology or “bottom reading” as a legitimate science. If you do, maybe you can tell me why I get this sudden pain in my right rump cheek when I am around you, or maybe that does explain it;
  7. You believe in Urine Therapy! Here’s drinking to your health;
  8. You believe everything you read on the Internet, Facebook, and Rolling Stone;
  9. You believe adults don’t urinate in swimming pools; and
  10. You believe it is okay to share your opinions, but take offense when others share theirs.

I doubt such a list will strike a personal nerve with any of my readers, but if you recognize a friend, relative, or acquaintance in any of these ten items, please help that person enroll in the nearest school as soon as possible. Your sanity and mine may well depend on it.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 11, 2015

Coming in future weeks:

Part III:                       You might need to go back to school if . . . . for Politics

Part IV:                       You might need to go back to school if . . . . for the Gullible

Part V:                         You might need to go back to school if . . . . for the Simple Minded