Crossfit, Community, and the Church | Tim Sweetman

Recently I joined a CrossFit gym. I’m sure you’ve probably seen those crazy people running around in garage-looking gyms throwing around barbells and rowing like mad men. I’m one of them now.

Beyond the intense throbbing my body has felt in the post workout, I’ve been struck by something quite unexpected after joining these crazy people.

I’ve seen real, deep, community at CrossFit gyms.

Now before you strike me down, you have to understand that it’s all there. The welcome at the door. The encouragement to grow and develop yourself. The deep care and concern for one another. Friends inviting other friends into their homes and lives. The sharing of the message of CrossFit with the world.

Others have noticed, too, including Harvard Divinity School. In a recent panel discussion with a co-founder of the fitness phenomenon, they couldn’t help compare CrossFit’s community to that of the local church.

In a discussion at Harvard Divinity School on Thursday night, Greg Glassman, the co-founder of CrossFit, spoke of the intangible, mental, and social benefits that he says his fitness company delivers to customers.

Moderators at Thursday’s event likened the communal environment at CrossFit to the type of community that Americans have historically received from church. They asked Glassman to address the similarities between his fitness company and these religious communities.

According to Glassman, people often begin CrossFit simply to join a group that will motivate them to work out; ultimately, many find something much deeper and transformative.

The fitness is the glue that holds everyone together,” Glassman said, but there’s something even more cohesive, even a stronger glue than the fitness.”

I was shaken by both this description and my own personal experience.

What really makes the community at my local church any different from the community at my local gym? Or for that matter how does the community in my local church contrast differ from the local high school football team, the LGBT community, or my extended family? Many groups offer deep community in the world. 

So what makes supernatural community?

Thankfully we have the wise words of the Apostle Paul to remind us exactly what supernatural community looks like.

“For through [Christ]we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:18-19).

We are people coming together that have absolutely nothing in common.  In fact, the people of God ought to be strangers and enemies — but God has brought us together through the one thing we have in common – Christ. 

The local church is a community that is known for a diversity of people from all parts of society who otherwise would never come together — black and white, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor. And even more than that, the gospel is a stronger glue than sharing similar passions. The cross killed the hostility that once separated us and has brought us together to go deep into the richness of the gospel (Ephesians 2:15).

Jamie Dunlop reminds us in his excellent book The Compelling Community that “Supernatural depth and breadth of community make the glory of an invisible God to be visible…this is the ultimate purpose statement for community in churches today.”

That supernatural community is a direct result of understanding the gospel–our sin and God’s grace given us through the cross. That simple truth causes a deep love and affection between fellow sinners who otherwise might have little in common.

Unfortunately, too many local churches offer CrossFit-level community.This community is not bad, but it’s not a gospel community. It’s not a supernatural community.

Our aspiration is for a community that shows the power of God and the power of the gospel.

Here a few ways to continue the walk towards clear community:

  1. Ask if your community is one that gathers because of the gospel or because of shared interests.
  2. Read The Compelling Community by Jamie Dunlop and Mark Dever.
  3. Check out “How to Get Real, Honest Community,” an article on The Gospel Coalition’s website.
  4. Pray that God would allow his people to understand more deeply what true, supernatural community is and that they would not lose sight of the truth of the gospel as the core of real community.

Tim Sweetman (’12) is an entrepreneur by day and a writer by night. He graduated with a degree in Biblical Counseling from Boyce College and resides in the Washington, D.C. metro with his wife Emily (’12) and his daughters, Grace and Adelyn.