By Michael P. Murphy
There was a reason why Jesus, weary from the day’s journey, chose to sit and rest beside Jacob’s well while his disciples ran errands in a Gentile community—he wanted to connect with those who had yet to hear the good news. That same purpose is a big reason why there is CrossFit on the campus of Chaparral Christian Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. Some church gyms are just for individuals to get in a good workout, but CrossFit Chaparral (CFC) is not a traditional gym. It’s a group-based, community-based fitness program with the purpose of ministering to those who have not heard the good news.
A Supportive Culture
Scottsdale is a community with plenty of residents who live busy lives. For too many the church as an institution is irrelevant because they never saw it as reaching out to them, so they don’t reach out to the church. But when they come to a fitness program such as CrossFit Chaparral, they can see something they may not have expected—the church interacting with them.
“Everything we do is in a class format,” said Pastor Frank Shirvinski. “It’s not just a workout-on-your-own program. We want to create an opportunity for people to interact and to encourage each other. Our culture is designed to be supportive. CrossFit itself has been growing through that model. Our goal is to make people more fit through the power of community.”
The ministry effort of this program is to simply represent who they are as Christians. There is a daily update on the board for Goals, Prayers, and PRs (personal records) to ask for prayers, set goals, and celebrate individual accomplishments. During the course of the year the coaches will assess where the athletes are physically but also on their goals in life.
“CFC provides a context for athletes to meet the coaches and participating church members as Christians in a low-pressure setting,” Pastor Shirvinski said. “Before learning about the Christian faith, we feel it is important that they meet Christians on common ground. It may take a few months before they understand it’s all related. There have been many individuals and families who never or rarely went to church but have now made their way from the gym to the church.”
Building a Community
Pastor Shirvinski, who started CrossFit Chaparral in 2010 with associate pastor Nick Stavlund, believes one of the measures of the gym’s success is not in the physical prowess of the gym or how many people come, but how they hang out and connect with each other afterward. The church campus has been rebuilt to encourage such fellowship through the development of a working coffee shop that offers a healthy drink menu including protein shakes. A perfect setting to engage in fellowship.
It pleases Pastor Shirvinski to see the interaction between the athletes who are Christians and those who are not. They may someday explore the church. Many have. Perhaps it’s the uniqueness of having a CrossFit gym on a church campus, but the Field of Dreams movie quote, “If you build it, he will come” seems to apply here. With reasonable pricing, excellent coaching, and a great location, it’s easy to see the attraction for people who might have been wary of ever stepping foot on a church campus.
Back to Jesus at the well. Because he was there, he met a Samaritan woman who was receptive to his words. Actually, she was downright excited. This man whom she considered a prophet had done more than speak to her. He gave her hope.
Reaching out—it’s all about honesty and integrity, with a little bit of sweat.
Michael P. Murphy is a freelance writer in Scottsdale, Arizona.
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