Evangelism Exposed

“Jesus wept.” Joh 11:35

Churches make fitness a new commandment


At a Bible study class in Roswell, six women recite Corinthians 6:19 — “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God.”

Then they set about the earthly task of shrinking that temple.

They swap low-fat recipes, share food diaries and chat about late night cravings. They end the meeting by briskly walking around the church property.

They begin the weekly get together by stepping on a scale.

“We really stress how valuable you are and you have to take care of yourself,” said the Roswell Presbyterian Church group leader Carmen Newsom, who is 37 and has lost 18 pounds during the 13-week program. “I know that if I am up at 10 p.m. and want a bowl of ice cream, I can call these women for support.”

Across Atlanta, some places of worship are being enhanced with weight loss programs — boot camps, walking groups and healthy cooking demonstrations.

Beulah Baptist Church in Decatur boasts a 70,000-square foot state-of-the-art – you could even call it swanky – fitness centers complete with basketball courts, indoor lap pools, yoga classes and massage therapy.

And thousands of Atlanta area church members have recently joined the “50 Million Pound Challenge,” a weight loss program launched last year by Dr. Ian Smith, the diet expert for VH1’s “Celebrity Fit Club.”

The 50 Million Pound Challenge, sponsored by State Farm Insurance and targeting the African-American community, is a free online program that keeps track of weight loss and offers shopping lists, 30-day-meal plans and exercise regimens. Smith also talks about making dramatic lifestyle changes — including lightening up church pot lucks.

Atlanta boasts more registrations than any other city, with 44,499 weight loss enthusiasts. Although not all are church groups, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church alone has 1,700 of its church members signed up.

Smith said churches’ space, numbers and infrastructure make them an ideal resource for helping people get in better shape.

He said teams of people typically lose 25 percent more weight than people who try to lose weight solo. And since churches typically sign up as a group, they are automatically more likely to shed more pounds than those trying to do it alone.

“Call it new age if you want to, but churches today are adapting nicely to what is happening instead of playing just the traditional role of spiritual guidance,” he said. “They are getting into the practicality of what someone needs to take care of their lives.”

Telleha Howard of Atlanta decided to join the 50 Million Pound Challenge several months ago after she was put on blood pressure medication several months ago. She also signed up her church, Citadel of Hope, and 13 fellow church members got involved. The group have started doing cardio before their weekly liturgical dance class. They also keep food journals, and weigh themselves every week.

Howard has lost 53 pounds and went from a size 20 to a size 12.

“When Dr. Ian Smith said our eating habits are putting us on the sick and shut in list, it really resonated.”

Lamont Johnson, pastor of Shy Temple CME in Atlanta, admitted he was “the last person” from his church to join the challenge. Old habits, he said, are hard to break.

But he said the emphasis on health in churches — stemming from a growing concern about obesity and related diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure — has stretched — all they way to the church pot lucks.

He said he knew his congregation was serious about losing weight during a recent pastor’s appreciation celebration. Tables were covered with one kind of dish — salads. There was spinach, chicken salad, fruit salad and arugula salad.

“When you are talking church dinners, you are expecting fried chicken and rolls and collard greens,” he said. “But you know what? This was really nice. A blessing actually.”

“People today are more health conscious,” said Johnson, who said he’s drinking more water, eating better but wants to do more to get healthier. “And when you look at the church as a family, this is something you can do as a family. We have to do a good job of taking care of our bodies. That is scripture. We have to do a better job.”

August 19, 2008 - Posted by | Evangelical Tricks, Presbyterian

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