As we enter the second week of the New Year, the shine begins to wear off some of the new year resolutions. Nobody knows this better than my friend, Jonny, who is the manager of the re-branded gym at Portadown Rugby Club. Under Jonny’s management, it will now be known as One Fitness, with the promise of a complete make-over of the facilities.
Many people join the gym in the new year with the intention of taking exercise more regularly as part of a weight reduction programme or the desire to move to a more healthy lifestyle. But every gym manager knows that maintaining the initial good intention is a huge challenge, with the average retention rate being as low as 30%.
The experts say that health clubs and gyms that focus on sales and neglect customer service may bring in waves of new members, but if their clients are sneaking out the back door as quickly as they came in the front door, their low retention rates may be chipping away at their bottom line. Case in point: it costs two-and-a-half times more to recruit a new member as it does to retain an existing member, says Bob Esquerre, president of Esquerre Fitness Group, a consulting company.
“You’re wasting money every time you lose a member, and no one is in this business to lose money,” he says. “If you do a great job of taking care of your members, they’ll refer their friends and coworkers and become your club’s business card, article in the newspaper or advertisement on the radio, and it won’t cost the club a penny.”
It seems to me that there are many parallels between the gym and Christianity. Firstly, some people start off well, but just don’t continue. Retention is a problem for the church as well as for gyms and health clubs. Churches may have an open front door in terms of evangelism, but discover that many people, for various reasons, are leaving through the back door. But then did Jesus, in the parable of the soils, not say that it would be like that? Only one of the four types of soil actually yielded a harvest.
Secondly, many people admit that exercise is something they ought to do regularly, but they don’t get round to doing it. Like reading the Bible or praying, we know we ought to do it, that it will benefit us, but we often falter and fail. Paul says that we may have the desire to do the right thing but just can’t carry it out because of our sinful nature (Romans 7:18-23). According to Paul, it’s a war.
But I think that there is another, perhaps more important lesson to be learned. When I make it to the gym regularly, I feel good, even self-righteous. When I don’t get there, I feel guilty. All performance-based religions have the same effects. Pharisaism produces either guilt or pride. Jerry Bridges puts it like this:
Pharisee-type believers unconsciously think they’ve earned God’s blessing through their behaviour. Guilt-laden believers are sure they’ve forfeited God’s blessing through disobedience or lack of discipline. Both have forgotten the meaning of grace – God’s unmerited favour to those who deserve only his wrath.
Most of us probably entertain either of these attitudes on different days. On a good day (as we perceive it) we tend towards self-righteous Pharisaism. On a not-so-good day we allow ourselves to wallow in a sense of failure and guilt. Either way we have moved away from the gospel of God’s grace, trying to relate to God directly on the basis of our performance rather than through Christ.
The Discipline of Grace
The fact is that we are never good enough to be acceptable to God, no matter how many resolutions we keep. The life, death and resurrection of Christ is meaningless and superfluous if we can be right with God by our own efforts. The only way we can relate to God is through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19-21).
It is the riches of God’s grace that gives us the power and motivation to serve Him. So there’s no pride or guilt when we are focused on Christ. That’s the greatest resolution I need to make and keep: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1,2 ESV)