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Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA)

FORKS OF ELKHORN, Ky. - Todd Lester, pastor of Forks of Elkhorn Baptist Church near Midway, knows people don't always come to church through the front door.

In fact, he understands the sentiment so well his congregation is investing millions of dollars in a recreational facility to rival many commercial gyms, hoping that people who come to play will stay to pray in his rural Kentucky church.

The church is building a 61,300 square foot addition that will include an elevated walking track, two basketball courts, a workout room, weight rooms and all manner of classes and athletic leagues.

Lester said the new CROSS center (which stands for Christian Recreation Outreach Strengthening Souls) is an amped up version of a tool he's used for years in his ministry - the church basketball or softball league.

Lester hopes it will both be a service to, and an invitation for, the community.

"They might come in through the back door or side door," he said, "hopefully we will get them into the sanctuary."

The planning for the recreation center began about four years ago, Lester said. At the time, in the midst of the recession, the economy didn't seem ripe for a large building campaign. But, he and the congregation were rapidly outgrowing its current space and needed a larger area for children's ministry. The church also hired a recreation director, Lee Rainwater.

"The body is the temple of God," said Lester. "When we give our lives to Christ, we have to try to take care of the temple."


February 1, 2014


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So . . . this is a good way for the church to spend a few million dollars? How about a homeless shelter? A job training center? An after school program? Senior center?
And they are going to sell enough memberships to maintain the day to day operations? Ohhhhh, that's right, as a non-profit (competing against commercial clubs) they will be tax exempt.
Rob, let's play what if for a moment with this story:
What if the church were already involved in the programs you mention: homelss shelter, job training center, after school program & senior center?
What if the church were able to sell enough memberships to maintain day to day operations?
What if the church discovered that this was their primary and most effective ministry tool to THIER community and discovered this wasn't being addressed in any other way by a commercial or governmental organization?
What if you as a gym owner had the actual knowledge if they are competing with a local business?

It is MUCH too easy to ASSUME you know exactly what the conditions are in that environment and the scope of their ministry to have a myopic view of what they are trying to accomplish.

I am currently an Assistant AD at a currently small public university, but also served a two year commitment with a missionary organization in Baja California, Mexico building homes for the poorest of the poor, which was the largest ministry for that organization. There was also a field turf covered soccer field that was used as a tool in the same way this church is using their tool.

Please don't assume you know the whole story as I am confident that neither you nor I know this.


Robin, I'd be sooooooo happy if this church (or ANY charitable organization) had solved all the problems in their corner of the world and could then concentrate on running a great health club.
Rob, I'd also be sooooooo happy if this church had solved all the problems in the corner of their world! That however, was not nearly the content of my message to you and I am not even close to suggesting that they have solved these. I am simply stating that this and other attempts to address what may be real health issues via this program only plays a part in their overall strategy to improve and enrich the lives of their members and/or the larger community.

Neither you or I have real specific knowledge of this church, their mission statement, values, etc., but if the goal is to improve the health and lifestyle habits I heartily applaud the program and shouldn't that be what we as fitness, health, sports, and recreation professionals ultimately be about or is it all about the revenue someone else is "taking" from a business owner by having a tax exempt status? It is again MUCH too easy to ascribe motives to others actions without knowing firsthand and placing them in a public forum such as this. Also knowing the difference between "any charitable organization" and a single, specific church would be helpful before criticizing them by making an assumption that they are in it for the oodles of money they will be making and lining their pockets without giving anything back.

Blessings to you!
Of course, "for profit" clubs are concerned with the money that a non-profit "takes" away from them and their business. A business has ONE purpose and that is to make money. Different businesses make money in different ways and I'm thankful that my industry makes money by providing a valuable and much needed service to the public. And many of us do it well and have lots of happy customers that we strive to help each and every day.
Why would we agree with another entity that offers the same services we offer but at a distinct advantage? They get the land they build on donated to them. They can ask for donations to help cover the cost of building the facility (a "capital" campaign). They ask for more, tax free, donations renovate or to buy new equipment without having to earn that money by running a good business. They don't have to pay tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds of thousands) in property taxes. Then, when their competitive advantage drives a commercial club out of business, everyone is upset about a shrinking tax base. And my concern isn't that they will make "oodles of money." Just the opposite. What happens if, because of a lack of business skills and shortsightedness about just what it takes to run a business like this, they can't make enough money with membership dues (since they sold memberships for a fraction of what it would cost to keep the fitness center operating)? They will then have to ask for more donations just to keep the doors open. Donations that could have gone to more worthy cause than keeping a church based fitness center operating.
So, my comment went more to this--why a fitness center, with huge up front costs and large operating expenses? What charter or mission could this church possibly have that would drive it to open a fitness center (especially one as large as described in the article)? Wouldn't it make more sense to focus on a project that would have a direct and immediate impact on the people in their community that might need the most help?
Rob, I can only conclude that this church has determined that this IS the place that would have the most direct and immediate impact on people of their membership and community as they may view those other areas as already addressed. Your best course of action instead of us speculating on this is to contact them directly and ask that simple question. I am simply pointing out that THEY are the experts on this issue, not you or I.

BTW, every church I have been a member of has purchased the land they build their facilities on, of course some do obtain a donation of land from some benefactor or member, but to make the blanket statements and assumptions you are making about how this and other churches operate is in general inaccurate.