Bibles and Barbells: Kentucky Church Promotes Spiritual and Physical Fitness
By Stefanie Leiter
Like it has for most Church of God congregations, 2020 has created new challenges; however, new opportunities have emerged in how to serve the community through new ministries. First Church of God South Shore in Kentucky learned not only how to adjust their Sunday gatherings, but how to offer a healthy outlet for those cooped up at home during the pandemic.
Bibles and Barbells was an addition to the church’s ministry in January prior to the pandemic. With renovations to the youth center, the addition of a ministry where students and adults could work out in a safe space tied well into the normal New Year’s resolutions of getting fit. Youth leader Jeremy Brewer felt a ministry that prioritized physical well-being and nutritional information to be a unique offering for South Shore. Stemmed in spiritual wellness, Bibles and Barbells flourished to a weekly fellowship with all ages joining leading up to the pandemic.
“The first thing we always told each other is that we wouldn’t panic,” said Brewer. “We would take it one day at a time, praying for the ministry’s future and safety. The biggest mistake we could have made was being afraid of making a decision during the pandemic.”
In the end, church services resumed and so did the Bibles and Barbells ministry. Brewer described the best social distancing event was a hike to the top of a hill just a mile from the church. Since the outdoors provides plenty of space, the church felt a weekend hike was a good place to start for those eager to get outside with friends.
By choosing the hill for their first hike, Brewer thought it would be appropriate to tie in the hike to a cross that can be seen from the church. Once the hike stopped at the top of the hill, each person was given the opportunity to take a rock and lay a prayer request at the foot of the cross. Brewer noted that incorporating the cross into the hiking activity was key in helping the youth know that we have a place to lay down our worries.
Senior pastor Donny McKenzie noted that, aside from their new fitness ministry, South Shore has offered services to members who are unable to pick up groceries or medicine. Families have stepped up to take care of each other and check in with a simple phone call to members of the church.
“Sometimes it is a visit which consists of standing on the front porch looking through a window and conversing,” said McKenzie. “But you can see their faces light up because one on one interaction is limited.”
For Brewer’s ministry, the weekend gatherings provide a chance for young people to pray together, eat a healthy meal, study Scripture, and work out with some accountability. Brewer noted some of the youth were not receiving healthy meals during the pandemic at home, and it was important to provide a safe space for fellowship alongside fitness. Though their protocols had to be adjusted to make it safe, individuals working out can partner with a team or friend inside or outside.
Even though most churches have added virtual services and scrapped in-person ministries, Bibles and Barbells has seen success because of their concern for the safety and well-being of participants. Many bring friends or family members along each week. McKenzie said their online virtual community has grown, as well, among those who may have been reluctant to join in person. Ministries like Bibles and Barbells elevate the church’s presence and what they can offer the community during a socially distanced pandemic.
“Even with meeting again at the church, we have continued to stream sermons because we still have many who are afraid to come to a service and many who aren’t affiliated with the church,” added McKenzie. “This seems to be a great avenue to reach people with the gospel.”
In taking Brewer’s advice, remaining calm and taking one day at a time has taught the South Shore congregation many lessons in relying on God’s will for their congregation. After one sermon this summer, a person who was streaming the service who was not a part of their congregation prior to the pandemic reached out to McKenzie and asked to be baptized. By creating new avenues for their own congregation and all who stream in, South Shore has taken care of their community and God’s flock.
Stefanie Leiter graduated from Anderson University with a BA in mass communications and a specialization in public relations. In 2016, she graduated with her master of science in communication from Purdue University and received a graduate certificate in strategic communications in 2015. She is currently an assistant professor of public relations at Anderson University and is earning her PhD in communication from Regent University. Stefanie has been married to David since 2005 and they have two children: Ava and Jackson. The family attends Madison Park Church of God.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.