by Eric Croft
Eric is a recent graduate of Taylor University where he studied Biblical Literature and Christian Education, and was a member of the Track and Field team. He is passionate about the local Church and sharing Christ’s love with all peoples. He and his wife Kaylie currently reside in Grand Rapids.
“Why are twenty-somethings leaving the Church?”
This question is one often asked among Christians and the answer is still yet to be found. Studies have been done. Books have been written. Programs have been implemented. Still, millennials are not flocking back to the doors of the church. Why not? As a twenty-something, I have found this question rather puzzling and saddening, but also important to figure out. As I’ve mulled over this issue, I have had some thoughts come and go, but nothing resembling a solution stuck out. That is, until I started looking into CrossFit.
CrossFit is this generation’s workout phenomenon. From “WODs” (workout of the day) to burpees to thrusters and the “Filthy Fifty,” CrossFit brings people into the gym (called a box) to fight through some of the most difficult workouts imaginable. For some people, though, these workouts culminate in a national competition each year to determine who is the “Fittest on Earth.” CrossFit is not the answer for millennials in the Church because millennials need exercise. Nor is it because “CrossFit” could be turned into the next best Christian fitness pun since “Bibles and Biceps.” It is for another reason entirely.
One of the most distinguishing parts of CrossFit from other exercise programs is its emphasis on community. Workouts are not done alone, but each person works as a part of the whole. One gym even states under their “What We Expect” section on their website: “This is a genuine community. Headphones, lack of eye contact, and lone wolves not allowed.” No one who walks into a CrossFit box to workout will work out by themselves. Community is what brings large groups of people through grueling workouts successfully. In addition, even though the workouts are written for the fittest humans on Earth, everyone is welcome in a box. They understand that fitness is a journey and everyone has to start somewhere to reach their goals.
So, where is the connection again? Oh right. Church and CrossFit are both highly welcoming, transformative communities that focus on working through trials together no matter how difficult they are.
I apologize for the sarcasm, but this is not always the case. Church is not always a place where people feel welcomed to grow into who they are called to be rather than stay where they are. This is a must for millennials. According to the Barna group, life feels accelerated and culture is filled with a disconnect from institutions. Surprisingly, though, CrossFit is an institution and it has grown exponentially over the last five years. The truth is that while it is an institution, it is more so a community. This is one of the pieces that is vitally missing from the Church and driving millennials away.
To be clear, community is not a weekly small group or knowing the names of a few others in the Church. Community is walking through the despair of hardship and the joy of triumph together. Community goes out of its own way to be present for those who are in need and to throw parties for those in a season of celebration. In a community, no one is left behind. During one day at a box, someone might triumph through the workout, setting a personal record, but also stay after they are finished to encourage the person who is taking a lot longer to do the same thing. Everyone is loved and everyone is encouraged. Everyone succeeds, together.
Millennials need community. They need people to love them and to be present with them as they walk through the difficulties of being a twenty-something at the height of the Information Age. Millennials need encouragement; positive words telling them they are loved and are being transformed when they feel like they don’t see God working in their situation. They need someone to give them a cupcake when life has them down. Twenty-somethings need someone who will throw them a party when they finally finished a term paper or got a promotion. Twenty-somethings need love and, ironically, that’s what the Church is called to give.
For more, read this insightful article on the “theology of CrossFit.”