A Kentucky congregation is taking on an unconventional approach to community outreach by building a recreational facility, with hopes to attract gym members that eventually become churchgoers.
Forks of Elkhorn Baptist Church in Midway, Ky. is currently building The CROSS Center, which stands for Christian Recreation Outreach Strengthening Souls, on their church grounds where pastor Todd Lester believes people will be able to strengthen their body, mind and soul.
"They might come in through the back door or side door," said Lester, reports Knoxnews.com "Hopefully we will get them into the sanctuary."
The 61,300-square-foot gym will be a full-service fitness and recreation center complete with two regular size basketball courts, a weight room with strength equipment and cardio-machines, a fitness class area, private locker-rooms and an indoor walking track.
Church members will be able to use the facilities for free, while members of the community will pay a nominal fee. However, Lester assures they will not pursue members to join their church through hard selling tactics but are hoping they will come across church going individuals at the gym who can invite them to a Sunday service.
In addition, Lester is building the site because he believes in the importance of physical health and also noted that he will visit the basketball court often because does not want to be someone just "in a suit on Sunday morning at the pulpit."
"The body is the temple of God. When we give our lives to Christ, we have to try to take care of the temple," he said.
Lester recently hired a recreational director, Lee Rainwater, who said The CROSS Center will differ from other gyms in the area as they will enforce a modest dress code for the family-friendly facility to avoid people from feeling intimidated, he explained.
Rainwater also plans to work with local colleges to offer internships to students majoring in recreation or similar fields.
"The CROSS Center will provide an excellent venue of programs and facility to cultivate and promote physical fitness and social interaction, but most importantly, provide an opportunity for spiritual growth and fellowship," said Rainwater to the Christian Post.
He added, "Our purpose is to promote the health and well-being of participants who engage in fitness training, educational programs, sporting events and other recreational activities in a Christ-centered, servant oriented environment."
The idea for The CROSS Center started in 2010 when the congregation began to experience rapid growth and needed a larger space for their children's ministry. Upon weighing their options for additional room, the church also realized the community had a recreational need that was not being met and decided to begin the gym's planning process.
However, the project is not Lester's first effort in attempting to grow his church past its current size. About 15 years ago, he found it difficult to get past 35 members who had been meeting at a historic building since Elkhorn's inception. At the time, Lester posted a sign alongside a major Kentucky to let passerby's know about their small church located among farm land. Now, the congregation has grown to 2,000 members and meets in a new worship facility.
Lester anticipates the gym to open in late spring or early summer.