An Atheist, a Vegan, and a CrossFitter Walk into a Bar…

An atheist, vegan, and a CrossFitter walk into a bar. I only know because they told me within two minutes.

Allow me to be that CrossFitter for a moment. =)

Last September, I walked into a CrossFit box (gym). I knew a couple people who did CrossFit and really liked it; and I was looking for some cross-training to gain some strength.

What I found in CrossFit is more than just fitness – I learned a few things along the way about what the mainline church, my own congregation included, could be doing a lot better.

First lesson, I was welcomed and included from day one.

Congregations are notorious for believing they are welcoming – but usually they aren’t. Between the fact that most mainliners are all too happy to talk only to those people they know and like combined with the fact that, unless people grew up worshiping in the same style and know their way through the service like they know their house, things are likely to be unfamiliar and awkward for new folks.

CrossFit can be similar to new comers, especially the unfamiliar and awkward portion. Even after my initial four “basics” courses, I was still getting used to new terminology and technique. Even six months later I’m working on my technique (but now I know what snatch, clean and jerk, and thruster mean among others). But where CrossFit is decidedly different is I never felt isolated in being among the newly inducted – never a complete outsider.

Gary, the head coach at my box, has known my name since the moment I walked in the door. I really admire him for that because I don’t easily remember names and have to work to remember someone’s name a day or two after I meet them. He makes it look natural and effortless. But more importantly, I feel known whenever I walk in the door.

But while in a church, the pastor may know who you are the second time you show up, many other folks probably don’t (and don’t spend time introducing themselves). Not so much with CrossFit. The rest of the people who WOD (another term – means workout of the day for those uninitiated) at the box have always been friendly and helpful. They’ve introduced themselves or given helpful tips on lifts when I’ve struggled. Even when I showed up yesterday, a woman I’d never seen before immediately introduced herself to me. Even though I’ve been around and she has too, we’ve never been in the same class together.

We could use more people in congregations who notice when someone is staring at the hymnal, not sure if the 98 in the bulletin refers to a hymn number in the back or a page number in the front (while I don’t know of a better system, it can be terribly confusing for new folks) and then go over to help them.

It would be awesome if more folks took notice of the fact that they don’t know somebody and introduced themselves – even if it means they don’t know each other simply because one has always gone to the early service and the other to the late. There’s no shame in not knowing each other or not being around for a while but have recently come back.

Mainline congregations and the people in them are not terribly good at welcoming and hospitality. Sure, there are a few, mine is better than most but it’s still not a natural posture.

Characteristic of this, I remember a Super Bowl Party in seminary where the hosts had invited some mutual friends of ours that were not known to the rest of the group. When our friends showed up, the only people who engaged them were the three of us who already knew them. I was saddened that a room full of soon-to-be-Lutheran-Pastors didn’t notice there were people in the room they didn’t know and if they did, they didn’t feel it necessary to welcome them.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (Matthew 10:40)

So much of our faith is wrapped up in hospitality, in welcoming new people as we welcome guests into our home.

Those who participate in CrossFit seem to be naturally good at this – I think it’s in the sport’s DNA because I’ve heard of it happening at boxes all around the world. Why wouldn’t we want to do the same for people starting a new faith journey or at least journeying with new people in a new congregation? Or even simply people who have been around but we’ve not met before?

Lesson number one, CrossFit is better on the whole at welcoming people and making them feel welcome than the church is.

This is the first post in a series – look for more lessons here soon.

Image credit: CrossFit Revamped (my box) –


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