Church and Community

I know several people – loose acquaintances from bygone days – that are CrossFit people.  If you aren’t familiar with CrossFit, it’s a self-described “elite” training program.  It’s not just going to the gym (in my understanding), but rather working intensively with a small group of other people dedicated to personal fitness.  It becomes, for those who make this their way, not just a matter of health but a matter of community.  Just the other day a Facebook acquaintance made a post to the effect of how her CrossFit comrades helped rally her when she was feeling tired.  For many people, CrossFit is a big deal.

Which set me thinking about this article I ran across a few weeks ago.  The article is fascinating as it touches (albeit lightly) on the issue of what defines religion and religiosity.  Does CrossFit count as a religion?  What makes a religion?  Belief in a deity?  A sense of community?  Do football fanatics count as religious people?

I would offer that a religion offers a complete world view.  It explains the Big Picture as well as the personal picture.  It affects (ideally) every aspect of a person’s life, from how they spend their personal time to their relationships with other people, the sorts of vocations they choose or avoid, and how they prioritize their life.  Does CrossFit fit into a definition like that?  Perhaps there are many people who would say yes.

Clearly, community is an important thing, as anecdotal comments as well as the article point out.  But one aspect that the article didn’t pick up on was the personal commitment.  People commit themselves to CrossFit in a way that people don’t often seem to commit themselves to church.  Why is that?

Some of these same acquaintances of mine consider themselves to be spiritual people, perhaps even religious.  But I also know some of them are very critical of Christianity and the Church.  Yet they hold CrossFit in a different category.  I never hear them complaining about what jerks some of their workout community are (maybe because they’re all on Facebook!).  Could it be that focusing together on a single aspect of life, physical health, is less threatening and invasive than a religion that intends to affect every aspect of our lives?

Is it that people see clearly the personal benefit of strength training but no longer understand the direct, personal benefit that active engagement in a Christian community can offer?  Is it that people no longer see as valuable the time spent around a table covered in hot dishes and various salads?  Is it that people no longer see as relevant people who share their overall understanding of the universe but might choose to apply it in different ways?

What if people were as committed to their congregation as their CrossFit experience?  Demographically it is clear that this isn’t the case any more.  While there are plenty of people who are deeply committed to their local congregation, the numbers of those who aren’t are growing quickly.  Younger people in our country are, as a whole, increasingly less likely to make deep persona investments to a community of faith, while yet somehow considering themselves still spiritual.  It’s hard to conceive of someone who refuses to go to CrossFit regularly yet who would still consider themselves a part of CrossFit community.  It’s even harder to imagine that the CrossFit community as a whole would perceive someone who maybe went to CrossFit a few years ago but doesn’t go any more still part of their community.

I imagine if you asked a CrossFit person to imagine their life without CrossFit, they could speak in tangible terms about the loss that would correspond to for them, personally.  I wonder how many Christians could do this.  My suspicion is that many younger Christians couldn’t.

Christian community needs to be built on more than just people who think the way I do.  I imagine that vast political and religious differences between CrossFit members are not important because they are very committed to something in common – personal health.  Is it possible, or even advisable, for Christian community to focus in the same way?  What aspects of life and opinion would be off the table for discussion?  What would be the central focus and how would it be expressed?

How would you define religion?  What is the difference between Christian community and community in general?

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