What I Learned About Going to Church by Joining the Gym

It’s far more intimidating than “regulars” remember.

Stepping through the front doors, not knowing where to look. Ok, there’s the front desk. How do I ask for information without sounding like a moron? Just play it cool.”

Those were my first thoughts when I walked into Gold’s Gym about two months ago. I went in to get information about joining because there was a sign out front advertising a good promotion. It’s something I’d wanted to do for quite a while. I knew my health is important. I was an athlete in high school (not a very good one, but an athlete nonetheless) and since graduating from college over a decade ago I had pretty much stopped any regular exercise until jumping back into the game a few years ago.

Deadlift GripMy very non-professional observation about exercise is this: you’re a cardio person or you’re a lifting person. Very rarely do you genuinely enjoy both. We all know that both are important, but most people truly enjoy one or the other. I’ve always been a lifting person who puts up with cardio because it’s a necessity.

This is all to say… when I walked into the gym I felt like I needed to carry myself as if I belonged (even though I obviously didn’t). I felt the need to talk a good game. To prove why they should want meI know what I’m doing in here! Put out a strong vibe and hope they buy it.

During the tour I was totally overwhelmed. All these machines looked way fancier those from my high school and college weight rooms. Two months later and I’m finally getting the hang of a few of the newer machines that weren’t around two decades ago. I honestly still don’t know how to program a treadmill. I’m convinced I’ll go flying off and make a total fool of myself. So I stick with the rower or the bike. There are many types of ellipticals, treadmills, bikes, and rowers. Which do I choose? Where do I go? How do I program this thing without taking so long it’s obvious to everyone that I’m new here? 

And as I looked around, I noticed that I don’t look like a bunch of the other people here. I used to. There was a day when I could probably keep up with a bunch of them. But those days are gone, because I let it go… and getting back into shape is way more difficult than getting out of shape!

And as I’ve processed “becoming a gym person” again, it’s made me realize what it’s probably like for people who used to be a “church person” but aren’t anymore. They kind of know what to do and what to expect, but they know it’s going to be awkward and more difficult than it should be.

Walking into the front door, wondering where the sanctuary is. Hopefully the website helped me figure out if I’m dressed appropriately or if I’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Now where do I sit? Too far forward and I’ll just be too close to the stage. Too far back and it’s like I’m trying to hide something. But the middle is already full of church people and if I sit in someone else’s seat then I’ll risk drawing more attention to myself. OK… the third from last row it is! 

Thoughts on Welcoming Newcomers
1. Welcome them without making a fuss. Notice them. Greet them. Make sure there’s someone to say hi who can answer some of their questions (especially if they have kids who will be attending a nursery or other children’s program). Try to remember names (or at least faces). There’s nothing worse than visiting somewhere the fourth time and having the same person introduce themselves to you for the first time “again.” Also, the last thing a visitor wants is to be singled out. You might as well give them a large hat to wear with blinking lights. I got a free t-shirt for joining the gym but I’m yet to wear it because I feel like it just screams “LOOK AT ME, I’M NEW HERE!”

2. Be patient. It’s awkward and difficult to feel comfortable. Sometimes the issue is with the newcomer simply needing time to realize that people aren’t staring at them or watching them like a hawk. I used to feel that way in the gym, like people were looking at me or noting how much (or little) I was lifting. Eventually they’ll realize, Hey, that person recognized me. That guy remembered my name. I guess I’m not a “visitor” anymore. Cool! But a newcomer isn’t there yet. Be patient and understand their hesitation about getting too involved too soon. The more consistently they come the shorter this transition will take. And to a large degree, that timeframe is totally in the hands of the visitor. Accept that, and be patient.

3. Finally, the greatest lesson I’ve drawn here is this: remember what it’s like to be new somewhere. You feel intimidated, watched, and like you’re totally on the outside looking in. You’re there because you know there’s something worth having, but you’re not sure if you belong. Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t place your expectations over them, truly attempt to experience a church service with eyes and ears that have never been there before.

We can’t do the work for them. They need to choose to join or not join. But we can all probably do a better job being welcoming and making sure that when they visit they’ll experience a church worth joining.

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