Tag Archives: exercise

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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I fought the Wife, and the Wife Won

I rarely think about exercise, but when I do, I can usually lie down and clear my mind with a few minutes of rest. For me, the thought of exercise is intrusive and stressful. It is an assault on what I enjoy most – FOOD, and it is a prerequisite for what I detest most – SWEAT. My idea of exercise is to slowly chew and savor the food I eat unless it is exceptionally good, then I forego the preliminaries and gulp it down whole. My idea of sweating is not sweating. Sweat triggers memories of the stench of my high school football locker room – a mixture of dirty underwear, urine, and perspiration, which ruins my appetite for lunch and supper, or if you are not from the South, dinner.   I see exercise as a ploy to deny me and like-thinking Americans our inalienable rights to be fluffy and content.

However, exercise is the hottest buzz craze around these days. Everybody is doing it! People are raiding their savings and mortgaging their homes to join fitness clubs! They are buying millions of workout DVDs featuring twenty something year old darlings who haven’t the foggiest idea about stretch marks or stress related bloating. They are buying into six-pack abs, bouncing pecks, and softball size biceps of twenty year old guys who live in the gym and have never worked a legitimate eight-hour day in their lives. People have gone bonkers over the “mirror worshippers” with no end to the insanity in sight. I even thought about joining their ranks, but a much needed nap restored my sanity, and all was good. Yet, my wife thought otherwise.

When it comes to exercise and diet, I have always lived by four life sustaining rules. Rule one, when it comes to exercise, leave me alone! I will get off the couch and stand up for your right to exercise, but standing is as far as I will go. I might bend to scratch, but bending to touch my toes for exercise is not going to happen, so don’t try to motivate me, shame me, or disown me. It ain’t going to happen! Rule two is the foundation of everything I believe about exercise. I developed it after Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running and the person credited with making jogging popular in America, dropped dead from a heart attack while jogging in 1984. He might still be around today if he had not worn out his heart running. If a running machine like Fixx was not immune to heart failure while exercising, why should an out of shape table hugger like me think my chances of surviving exercise are any better? Therefore, my rule two states there are only so many ticks in the old ticker, so don’t waste any exercising.  The third rule I have embraced is to carefully watch what I eat. To enjoy life, it is important to pay close attention to the food you consume. Over the years, I have found the best way to watch what I eat is to place my plate in front of me, stick the food with a fork, hoist it eyeball level, admire it, and insert it into my mouth. My philosophy is simple; if it looks good and smells good, it must be good, so eat it. Doctors and funeral home directors love people who don’t eat, so eat often my friend. As important to a hefty go lucky lifestyle as these three rules are, rule four, cleanse your system with fried foods, is the most important rule of all!  The greasier the food the faster it slides through your system. As a result, you are less likely to feel bloated or constipated if you stick to a diet of fried foods. Face it, you can eat fried chicken, fried catfish, and French fried potatoes and die happy, or you can swear off fried foods and maintain a clean colon, which in the end will only serve to make your undertaker happy. Over the years, these four rules have served me well. The only negative has been my wife’s constant rants that I am slowly killing myself, but the way I see it is her nagging will kill me long before I eat something tainted, my arteries clog, or I roll off the couch and hurt myself.

For the past forty years, these four rules have been my mantra. Because of these rules, personal vanity is not a condition I suffer from, I am unaccustomed to the roving eyes of amorous females as attested to by forty-two hefty years of marriage, and I have never ever been a patient in a hospital (knock on wood!). Yet, although I am satisfied with these results, my wife is not. A prolific connoisseur of keeping fit, she has for years prodded me to get off the couch, but I have successfully fought her efforts until this past week. I am not sure if it is a collision of vanities, if she is experiencing an amorous shift in her libido, or she is ready to collect the insurance, but whatever the case, she put an abrupt end to my resistance to exercise. Rudely stating my rules were for overweight imbeciles, she put her foot down and signed me up for a membership at an exercise gym. I fought with her over this issue, but ultimately, she gave me that “Shut up and do as I say, or else” look. I have always been too much of a coward to press the “or else,” so I fought the wife and the wife won.

This past Monday, she dragged my whimpering body to the gym. At the gym, I pretended I had forgotten my membership number in hopes the girl at the desk would send me home, but my scheming wife had memorized not only her number but mine as well. Once in the workout area, she pointed me to a treadmill, and told me I was not to get off without her permission. She warned me she would be watching me closely as she went through her circuit training routine. I attempted to protest, but she cut me short with her patented “or else” look. I shuffled obediently to the treadmill.

As I stepped on the machine, I felt as though all eyes in the place were on me. The feeling grew stronger as I stood there looking blankly at the control panel not knowing what to do to start the blasted machine moving. I hated to admit it, but I needed help. I knew better than to interrupt my wife’s workout with such a mundane problem, and I was not about to approach some stranger for help. I looked to the front desk where the young girl stood talking to a co-worker, and briefly thought about dismounting and seeking her assistance. I was not going to do it! I refused to ask a female for help! It was a female who put me in this embarrassing position, and I was not about to ask another female to help get me out of it. Since my wife had successfully gutted my manhood, my defiant resolve was closer to pig-headed than pride, but for the moment it sustained what little dignity I had left.

As I stood helplessly on the treadmill, I feigned interest in the news program on the overhead television. I sensed movement to my left, but I purposefully kept my eyes glued to the television screen. A sweet fragrance drifted from my left, and I heard a voice ask, “Are you ready?” I turned to see a young woman on the treadmill next to me. “Are you ready to start?” she asked. Before I could say NO, she reached over and pushed the “GO” button. The machine lurched to life, forcing me to grab the side rails to keep from falling face-first on the conveyor belt turning under my feet. Laughing, she turned to her friend on the treadmill to her left and said, “Beginner.” I hated her!

From that point, I dared not let go of the machine’s support handles as I sped along at a rousing two miles per hour gait on level terrain. The young woman set her treadmill at a forty-five degree incline and zipped along at seven miles per hour, maybe twenty, never missing a stride or a word with her friend. In the following minutes of exercise hell, those young women introduced me to the ins and outs of an irregular menstrual cycle, and the pros and cons of a “C section.” That was the first time in my life I had ever heard anything other than moans and groans come through the lips of someone exercising. I was in awe!

Since that first experience, I have been back two times, and I am contemplating a third visit soon, but today, since my wife is not home, I am taking a much needed break from physical activity. However, I have to admit that so far, it has not been half as bad as I expected. Despite some soreness, I can still feed myself, and I have yet to need new clothes to outfit by newly sculpted and buffed body. The top of my belly is still a nice place to sit my coffee cup when reclining in my favorite chair and my abs will still house a six pack nicely if I was so inclined. I am not sure what results my wife hopes to see, but so far, I am pleased with my transformation.

The best part of going to the gym though is all the neat little things you learn. I learn something new about the gym lifestyle every time I go. One of the first lessons I learned was that with practice it is easy to stand and slowly move your legs while watching television. I also learned there is no way to turn off those non-flattering mirrors hanging on gym walls! And, did you know it is okay to fart loudly if the people around you have on their headphones? Most people are so busy breathing through their mouths that not only do they not hear it, they don’t smell it either. You cannot imagine the satisfaction that brings me! Another tidbit a newbie to the gym might not know is that it is always wise to cool down and catch your breath before going to the restroom. It is creepy hearing heavy breathing while at the urinal or in a stall. Finally, a lesson I learned that made going to the gym easier was that the gym was not just a place for sculpted people to show off their bodies; actually, fluffy dad and granddad bods are the lifeblood of a gym. In today’s world of Krispy Kreme donuts, large five dollar pizzas, and six pound double burgers, there are not enough pretty people to populate all the gyms, so without us portly folks most gyms would quickly go out of business.

Oh, there is one other thing I have learned about going to the gym – SMILE, if your wife thinks you enjoy working out, it makes life at home easier. Besides, anytime you come out of a gym still breathing that is reason enough to smile and celebrate.

Happy exercising!

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD January 23, 2016