Missional Fitness

By Frank Shirvinski

We didn’t intend to be missional. In 2007, we were simply a group of guys from the church who enjoyed studying jujitsu and working out together. Our niche was fairly small and limited. However, as word spread, we invited friends to join us, and some of those friends even came to services at Chaparral Christian Church on Sunday.

So, as our ranks grew, we began to wonder if we were doing something right. Was general fitness a place the church could connect with an existing need in the life of our community? How could we extend our reach to provide a program that would provide both a positive, encouraging athletic environment and a safe place to develop meaningful relationships? Without athletic fields or a gymnasium available on our campus, our options seemed limited.


Warming Up

Enter CrossFit. Chaparral executive minister Nick Stavlund was familiar with CrossFit’s prescription for “forging elite fitness” from his service as a chaplain in the Army special forces. Nick introduced our group to a fitness program based on “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement,”1 harnessing the power of camaraderie and competition. We were hooked.

12_Shirvinski1_JNHowever, Nick did not stop there. Instead, he proposed a new model of partnership. What would happen if Chaparral Christian Church started and managed an official CrossFit affiliate as a new ministry to our community? After all, CrossFit is an internationally recognized, growing fitness program, which is infinitely scalable, relatively inexpensive to start, and does not require expansive or expensive facilities. In January 2010, CrossFit Chaparral opened it doors and became the first public, nonprofit CrossFit box in the United States. (“Box” is CrossFit lingo for a bare-bones gym.)

So, what does life at CrossFit Chaparral look like? On the surface, it doesn’t look much different from most other CrossFit affiliates. Each CrossFit class lasts one hour, during which athletes warm up as a group, learn or expand their knowledge of a variety of gymnastic or lifting movements, perform the “workout of the day” (WOD), and then cool down together.

The athletes may talk about their day or their families, exchange the latest “paleo” recipes, or just encourage each other during the WOD. In fact, athletes who finish the workout commonly go back and either encourage others who have not yet finished or work alongside those who might be struggling. These community- and relationship-building moments form the core of our vision and direction for CrossFit Chaparral, and serve as a meaningful bridge to sharing more than an interest in general fitness.


Why Partner with CrossFit?

Strength—CrossFit has grown exponentially since its inception. From 2005 to 2013, CrossFit has grown to more than 5,500 affiliates worldwide.2 Therefore, as an official CrossFit affiliate, CrossFit Chaparral has been able to tap into the marketing resources of a well-recognized and widely respected organization. Since our first day, we have seen a steady stream of new athletes joining our ranks from a wide variety of backgrounds.

However, this mar-keting strength also needs to be managed. Since CrossFit is a secular organization, we customized some aspects of CrossFit to meet the needs of the larger church community. So far, we have not had any complaints about our rules. Instead, many participants who are not Christians appreciate the positive, nonthreatening, and encouraging environment we have created.

Flexibility—The equipment and space requirements are relatively spartan, consisting mainly of barbells, kettlebells, bumper plates, plyometric boxes, a pull-up rig, old tractor tires, ropes, and sleds. Since Chaparral Christian Church had existing, underutilized space, we were able to start our affiliate with a small loan from the church to cover equipment, affiliation fees, insurance, and training certifications. In less than a year, we were able to repay the loan, double our equipment inventory, hire new coaches, and begin significant contributions to the church’s general fund.

So how much space is needed to get started? It depends on a variety of factors, including your willingness to think creatively. At CrossFit Chaparral, the building we use for our CrossFit program is also used every Sunday and for special events throughout the year. Therefore, we have found imaginative, inexpensive, functional, and quick methods to store our gear. Recently, we helped a local church start a CrossFit program in the narthex of their sanctuary, so almost any space can be adapted.

Agility—CrossFit Chaparral is designed primarily to be a “ministry of presence.” CrossFit provides a world-class model for fitness, and we focus on coaching and ministering to our athletes. As a missional program, our rates are approximately 30 to 70 percent less than surrounding CrossFit facilities. We also offer discounted rates for church members, military personnel, public service workers, and families.

To help form meaningful relationships outside of the gym environment, we sponsor a variety of events and social activities. Events range from outdoor movie nights and potluck dinners to CrossFit fund-
raising competitions. As a ministry of Chaparral, we advertise upcoming events hosted by the church to open doors to greater involvement and interaction. We also let members know we are always available if they have personal or family issues.

Functional—So far, our approach seems to be working. Since January 2011, CrossFit Chaparral has grown from the 10 original athletes to more than 200 members ranging in age from 7 to over 60 who participate in more than 40 classes throughout the week. Of those 200 athletes, approximately 35 percent have visited, joined, or have become regular attendees at the church, and more than 80 percent had never been on our campus before joining CrossFit Chaparral.

We also encourage our athletes, most of whom are still new to Chaparral, to share in the lives of others. Last year alone, we sponsored two outreach projects in conjunction with CrossFit HQ: Hope for Cures, a program to help fight childhood illness, and Hope for Kenya, a project to build wells and schools in Africa.

Recently, the fund-raising efforts at CrossFit Chaparral were ranked 11th worldwide in the Hope for Kenya campaign. Also, most of the donations for this project came from athletes who were not members of Chaparral Christian Church.

Endurance—We are investigating the expansion of CrossFit Chaparral into a different area of our community. We have identified an area of high-density family dwellings about nine miles from Chaparral. Currently, the area does not have a CrossFit facility or local church. Therefore, we are considering opening an extension of CrossFit Chaparral with initial funding for the new gym supplied by our existing CrossFit program.

Through the new CrossFit facility, we hope to leverage our experience with community-building events from the past two years to offer similar family events at the expansion campus. We also hope to connect with existing activities at local community centers within the housing developments to establish a ministry of presence. Depending on how the first year unfolds, we would consider starting a multisite extension of Chaparral Christian Church within the CrossFit facility.


Real Power: What We Are All About

CrossFit Chaparral is much more than a tale of collected statistics or a new method of introducing our community to the church. Instead, CrossFit Chaparral is about God interacting in the lives of our athletes. One of them, a CrossFit member named Jon, is just one story to illustrate what I mean.

Jon is one of our most dedicated masters [older] athletes who has been with CrossFit Chaparral for nearly two years. Not only does Jon set an example through his incredibly hard work and determination, but he is also continually motivating and encouraging those around him.

A few weeks ago, Jon’s wife died following an extended, excruciating fight with lung cancer. During the final weeks of Victoria’s life, Jon did not come to CrossFit. Yet daily, CrossFit Chaparral athletes, many of whom are not Christians, asked how they could help. They signed cards, sent flowers, and prayed. Throughout those difficult weeks, and after her passing, Jon has turned to his friends and coaches at CrossFit Chaparral for support and pastoral care.

Jon has an engaging personality and a caring attitude, and builds relationships easily among those with whom he shares a common interest. Those relationships are making a difference. Jon recently told us that CrossFit Chaparral has become his closest and most relevant community.

But CrossFit Chaparral would not be the same without Jon. Through Jon, everyone can see that God is active in the lives of his people. CrossFit Chaparral has simply provided the space where meaningful relationships can be formed and where integration into the larger church community can be natural and organic.


1Greg Glassman, “Understanding CrossFit,” CrossFit Journal, April 1, 2007, accessed July 20, 2013, http://journal.crossfit.com/2007/04/understanding-crossfit-by-greg.tpl.



Frank Shirvinski serves as senior minister with Chaparral Christian Church, Scottsdale, Arizona. He is also a level one CrossFit trainer.

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