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What the Church Can Learn from the CrossFit Culture What the Church Can Learn from the CrossFit Culture

"On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others.” (CCC 1936)

CrossFit is one of the fastest-growing workout regimens in the world. One of the reasons why it is so popular is the sense of community promoted throughout CrossFit gyms. CrossFit classes consist of 10-12 people, and everyone does the same workout of the day (WOD). The WOD is a high-intensity exercise that includes gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. The atmosphere is one of inclusiveness and camaraderie as everyone is doing the same exercises together with a sense of collective accomplishment. The lure of physical fitness is what makes people check it out, but it’s the community that makes them stay. Top-of-the-line equipment and a spacious gym are not what deem a CrossFit gym successful, it’s the members who cultivate a culture of pushing each other to levels they wouldn’t attain on their own. CrossFit attracts a wide range of people—those who have never been in a gym, professional athletes and everyone in between. Most members boast of a tremendous personal transformation and aren’t shy to tell people about it.

I would love to hear people talk about their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for the Church the same way they talk about CrossFit. What are some things that we, as a Church, can learn from the CrossFit culture? Here are four things to consider:

  1. New Faces are Expected and Welcomed - It is common for a CrossFit coach to begin a session by saying, “Hey guys, today we have ______ joining us for the first time,” and the class follows suit by welcoming that person into the fold. There is a mindset of making room for people and being patient with them as they learn the ropes. They need time and encouragement to get rolled into the program and pick up on the way of doing things. Likewise, parish communities should expect and welcome new faces into the fold. Maybe a friend brought them, or maybe they did a random Google search, or maybe they just moved to the area. It’s one thing when a pastor extends a welcome, but when parishioners go out of their way to introduce themselves, encourage them to keep coming and ask questions to get to know them better, that is far more powerful. Cultivating this kind of culture in our parishes may require some training and frequent reminders, but it’s well worth it.

  2. It’s a Journey - Everyone in a CrossFit gym is at a different fitness level. The point is not how fast your times are or how heavy the barbell is; the point is the desire to grow as an athlete and take that “next step,” whatever it may be. It’s a journey, and what gym members have in common is the desire to push one another to keep moving forward. Similarly, parishes should strive to be communities of believers that encourage one another to take that next step in their spiritual journey, whatever that may be. Many who walk through our doors need an entry-level way of getting their feet wet in the journey of faith. Alpha is perfect for this as it provides a non-threatening environment to learn the basics of the faith. While the spiritually mature may be comfortable praying a rosary or attending a holy hour, those who are just coming to faith may not be. As we plan events and activities, it may be helpful to offer adaptations or worship aids for those who are new to the faith to make them feel comfortable.

  3. It helps you live your life - CrossFit is functional fitness. The philosophy of functional fitness is that when you get stronger doing CrossFit exercises, you improve how you do things in the real world. Likewise, helping individuals bridge the gap between what we do on Sunday and the rest of the week will help them live a more virtuous life. As parish leaders we sometimes assume that the faithful can intuitively apply the Scriptures to their lives, but many cannot. Those who can’t genuinely appreciate words of wisdom to help them along the way. Powerful homilies that help the faithful apply the Gospel to the concrete circumstances of daily life are extremely helpful. As a deacon’s wife, I know that my husband receives the most positive feedback when his preaching shows how to apply the Gospel to real-life situations of work, relationships, family, culture, etc.

  4. It’s challenging – In CrossFit, people show up to be challenged; however, that is not the prevailing attitude in our parish communities. Pursuing Jesus is difficult and leading a life of discipleship requires discipline and rigor. As we challenge those under our pastoral care to a life of discipleship, we should lead by example with a willingness to be challenged ourselves. We stand on the shoulders of the great saints who challenged themselves to grow in holiness and virtue in varied and sometimes extreme ways. Let us imitate the saints and call one another on to greater and greater holiness through our spiritual friendships. Through our example, we will inspire those to whom we minister. Imagine what the Church would look like if everyone in the pews showed up each week ready to be challenged?

It’s hard to believe an organization that offers nothing more than an intense exercise routine can experience such monumental growth and success. Yet the Church has so much more to offer than that. As we continue our mission to unleash the Gospel in southeast Michigan, let us be open to learning new ways and methods to welcome and engage individuals and encourage one another to strive for the imperishable crown.

“Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” (1 Cor 9:25)