One of my healthier rituals is to spend several hours a week at our local fitness center working off the stress of the day and the pounds gained from sipping vanilla lattes — one of my other less healthy rituals. The way I figure it, the two rituals ultimately cancel each other out, so it all comes out even in the end. With a daily workout I can have my latte and drink it, too.
Being a regular around the weight room and the elliptical machines, I’ve come to realize that we have our own little community in there every afternoon around 4:00. None of us knows anybody’s name, of course, and conversations tend to be of the single head nod, “How’s it goin’?” variety. When I walk in, I usually see folks like Tank Top Guy, who lifts the equivalent of an SUV for each set. Over in the corner, Triathlon Dude is cranking out miles on a spin bike, while across from him Business Man walks the treadmill and closes a deal in a one-sided Bluetooth conversation. Jock Boy is from the high-school football team and likes to flex in front of the mirror. Soccer Mom reads People and listens to an iPod on a fitness bike. Retired Guy does some curls with barbells.
My moniker? I don’t know what the rest of them are thinking, but it must be something like Pencil-Armed Preacher.
We all seem to love our little community even though we never talk about it. When January comes, though, our little fitness flock gets overrun by a whole bunch of outsiders who bought gym memberships as a New Year’s resolution. Suddenly, we’re waiting for cardio machines, finding sweaty imprints on the weight bench, and tripping over dumbbells left off the rack. Being a little indignant, we regulars tend to change our nonverbal conversations from nods to slow head-shaking.
It doesn’t last long, though. By the end of January, things generally go back to normal as the resolution crowd loses interest, thinning out the gym but not their abs. I asked the guy at the front desk about that and he said that most of these folks will keep paying the fee even though they hardly ever come and work out. My theory is that they keep paying so that when someone asks them about their health they can still say, “Well, at least I’m a member at the gym.”
Maybe you see the equivalent at your church. There’s a post-holiday spike in attendance as people make a resolution to get spiritually fit. They come for a couple of weeks, maybe even join the church, but by Ash Wednesday they’re back to eating pancakes on Sunday morning instead of taking communion. They may drop out because worship, like working out, is a discipline, or maybe because the “regulars” give them the cold shoulder. Whatever the reason, when this happens, the whole body tends to suffer.
Studies show that the best possible path to success in a workout program involves working out with a partner. I think the same is true with church. When folks come at the start of a new year, seeking to make some life changes, we should be primed and ready to welcome them, work with them, encourage them, learn their names and stories. It’s not just about a head nod and a cup of coffee. These folks need to become part of a new community. Imagine the difference in a church where longtime members give up their prime pew space for visitors and share their own spiritual fitness strategies with those who are new to the faith.
My New Year’s resolution is to work on promoting health, both at the gym and at the church. I want to be greeting those new members and working on knowing their names. A little encouragement and hospitality go a long way in helping people on the road to wholeness.
You know … I think I’ll even invite Tank Top Guy to church.