Church fitness programs focus on physical, spiritual health and outreach

From cozy, volunteer-led exercise classes to full-scale fitness programs Alabama Baptist churches of all sizes are working to meet the physical and spiritual fitness needs of their members and to connect with their local communities to share the love of Christ.

Bethel Baptist Church, Pleasant Grove, in Bessemer Baptist Association hosts exercise classes three nights a week for women and teen girls. The sessions are free and open to the public boasting an average class size of 10 ladies. 

According to volunteer class leader Katherine Houston, the fitness sessions seek to help ladies get healthier, engage in fellowship and expand friendships among different cultures and races. 

“It’s a ministry to the community, and we have really had a good time,” Houston said. “It has brought the ladies in our community closer together. I ask [new members] where they go to church. If they say they don’t go anywhere I will invite them to our church,” she said.

Promoting wellness

Other churches, like Cottage Hill Baptist Church, Mobile, in Mobile Baptist Association offer a comprehensive recreation program to promote physical and mental wellness. 

Through the Recreation Outreach Center (ROC) men and women who join the program are encouraged to strive toward their potential through fitness and healthy eating.

Church and community members can subscribe to ROC for an annual fee that includes access to the strength and cardio centers, walking track and basketball court as well as a variety of classes including barre training, pickleball, Zumba, classic fitness, circuit training, yoga and Tai Chi. Participants range from adults to aging adults with several classes designed for senior adults through the Silver Sneakers program.

“Our mission is to connect people to Jesus and others through health and fitness,” said ROC director Diane Capps. “Our services are offered as a ministry to our community and the church. We have witnessed people getting saved and joining the church not only from [previous] basketball outreach programs but also from people working out alongside our church members.”

According to Capps, ROC classes incorporating prayer and Bible study are available to encourage taking care of the “temple” and health according to Scripture. 

“When you see the progress of someone’s efforts, especially the aging adult population, it really confirms your calling,” Capps said. “A group setting for aging adults has so many benefits — increasing strength, warding off depression and helping prevent falls. The volunteers also are given a purpose and a place to serve in the ministry. They are vital to our success.”

Body, mind, spirit

Montgomery area residents enjoy a similar co-ed program available at Heritage Baptist Church. Community and church members can join the Heritage Family Life Center to take advantage of the campus weight room, walking track, basketball court and fitness classes like Christ Adores You Always (CAYA) yoga, sculpt classes, bootcamp and Soul-Fit 4 Seniors.

Family Life Center director Nanci Berch coordinates the fitness program and offers personal training to direct those looking for instruction or deeper focus. According to Berch, programs at Heritage are designed to help participants become healthy in body, mind and spirit.

Berch helped to design services like Soul-Fit 4 Seniors after joining the Heritage staff when she realized that many aging adults were only using the walking track and not taking advantage of the weight room and fitness classes.

‘Sharing the love of Christ’

“We work on balance, we do resistance and we do brain exercises,” Berch said. “It provides a social time as well and that’s important, especially when you have an older group. There are some widows [in the classes] and this is so important to them. It gets them involved.”

According to Brian Smith, associate pastor at Heritage, the program began just under 30 years ago when member Lamar Parker began putting together a weight room in an area that also served Sunday School classes. 

Heritage views the program as an outreach ministry and Berch said more than half the participants are not Heritage members.

Classes pray as a group, gathering after each session to lift up prayer needs and requests.

“Certainly we want people to be in better shape but that doesn’t just mean physically, that also means spiritually,” Smith said. “That’s why we take the time to pray with these classes. We don’t just want to be a gym. We have an overall purpose of sharing the love and the hope of Jesus Christ. That’s our overall goal but it’s in a little different medium than a sanctuary.”

EDITOR’S NOTE (Aug. 23, 2019) — A new exercise program for women inspired by the F3 movement, called Females in Action (FiA – pronounced Feeeah), will launch two Birmingham workout locations on Sept. 14. The national fitness organization for women provides free peer-led workout sessions to all women and focuses on fitness, fellowship and faith.

The Birmingham locations are the first in Alabama and held their first meetings on August 10 and Veteran’s Park and Liberty Park Middle School.

Birmingham co-leaders Amberly Burrows and Beth Phillips formed the region after witnessing the benefits their husbands received through F3.

“Seeing our husbands and how they love F3 made us want the same thing,” said Burrows. “The community and fellowship they have made of want to be a part of it.”

FiA Nation leaders from nearby states will attend the launch on September 14, providing examples of how to do a normal workout session.  On the third Saturday following the launch, national representatives will host a “Q school” to teach group members everything they need to have a successful group.

Burrows said the first few meetings were well attended, with 48 ladies joining in the first week. All women involved will eventually lead a workout.

“This encourages women to be leaders and to develop the leader inside us,” Burrows said.

Faith is a big part FiA model. At the end of each workout, women gather in a “Circle of Trust” to offer encouragement, ask for prayer requests and to pray together.

FiA Birmingham plans to add Bible studies and service projects as the groups grow.

To learn more about FiA Birmingham or to find a workout group near you, check out FiA Bham on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.