Important Components of a Successful ChurchFIT Program

ChurchFIT is a comprehensive healthy living, healthy lifestyle wellness program developed to support individuals and families improve their overall health in a holistic manner. It is important to understand that we do not promote the ChurchFIT program as an event, but rather as a movement designed to educate, empower, and provide or improve access to resources and services that will enable individuals and families to reach their personal health goals.

In our congregation we have found that an active and effective ChurchFIT program has a number of essential components. These components can be broken down into two main categories: Foundational and Structural. Foundational components are essential to the acceptance and longevity of the program. These components have the capacity to drive or derail the direction and success of the program. Structural components are essential for the everyday operations of the program and are necessary for growth and depth in regards to information, education and access to resources over time.

A. Foundational Components:

  • One of the most important components of any successful Health and Wellness Ministry Program is pastoral support. It is critical that the pastor of the congregation believes in and supports the idea that one’s health is important and that taking care of your body should be a priority for the congregation. He or she serves as the BEST example for the congregants.
  • If the pastor exercises, eats healthy, gets appropriate health screenings and speaks publicly on these things, the congregants will see and hear the benefits of doing so and eventually follow. However, if the pastor is unhealthy and fails to prioritize his or her own health, it is increasingly difficult to convince the church masses to pursue different behaviors.
  • The pastor can use some of the following biblical texts/examples to support the importance of prioritizing one’s health when speaking to the congregants:
    • 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20
    • Romans 12: 1-2
    • Proverbs 17:22
    • 3 John 1:2
    • Matthew 6: 22
  • Indeed, it is important to understand that yes, it is good to speak to congregants about healthy eating, exercising, and health screenings. However, it must go beyond conversations and information pamphlets. What people see reinforced on a daily basis helps to encourage and drive habits. The goal is to move the ChurchFIT program from the place of being “something that we DO” to the place of being “something that we ARE”. You must consider other factors:
      • What are we serving for breakfast/lunch/dinner at our events or for guests? Are we, at the very least, providing healthy options? What time are we serving dinner to our guests?
      • What types of foods are being sold in the church cafe/cafeteria before/between services?
      • What are your institutional policies about smoking?
      • What are your institutional policies about taking time off from work for doctor visits for health screenings/procedures?
      • Do we encourage people to take the stairs?
      • Do we allow or encourage walking or exercise during breaks for staff?
      • Do we offer exercise classes at times that would allow our staff to attend?
      • Are there “walking paths” on or near the church property?

B. Structural Components

  • We often recognize the need to serve and provide health resources to other communities outside of our churches, but it is essential that we do not miss the needs within our very own congregations. Therefore, we have set up a Congregational Awareness volunteer team, understanding that it is essential to educate,  empower, and provide resources to your congregants around health topics and disease processes that heavily impact them. You can do this by some of the following:
      • Provide disease specific Public Service Announcement Videos in line with the designated topics which are easily found on reputable health organization websites online.
      • Host Health Professionals and/or organizations that can speak to the congregation during service regarding specific health issues
      • Have organizations host information tables that provide free handouts and/or other important information
      • Have related health organizations provide health screenings before and after worship services on site while congregants are already present (instead of requiring them to come back on another day or at another time they are not already at church). We have found success with these and more:
        • Blood Pressure screenings
        • Dental screenings
        • Kidney Disease screenings
        • Vaccinations/Immunizations for youth and elderly
        • Sickle Cell Disease screenings
        • Blood Donation Drives
    • To identify which disease process or topic to focus on and when, your team can follow a National Health Observances Calendar which tells you the national health focus based on the monthly calendar. (Refer to pages 18 -22 to learn about how your church can become actively involved in the promotion of various health initiatives throughout the year.) Your team can also choose to focus on an issue that has recently plagued your congregation for maximum impact.
    • Historically Community Outreach has been the mainstay of many Health and Wellness ministries through the avenues of hosting events in the community “for the neighbors” around the church.
    • This is wonderful, however it is critically important to understand that to create sustainable change in our communities, we have to focus on creating “programming”. So yes, we understand this is an important component of any health ministry but this cannot be the only component.
    • Events are momentary and last hours, yet programs have the capacity to last for weeks, months, years. It is here that you start to see measurable changes over time. This is the goal.
    • For example, our Health and Wellness Ministry has a Community Outreach volunteer team that focuses on outreach events. Yet, this represents only one of a number of components. Our major event is held in the middle of an underserved community, walkable from many nearby neighborhoods.
      • Historically we have found success with our “Back to School” Outreach Day. We partner with our Children and Youth Ministry leaders to provide free backpacks and other school supplies to children and youth, along with health screenings for the youth and adults. By attracting families with the free give-aways, we have a captive audience for providing health screening while present, thereby capturing a group that may not otherwise seek or obtain this type of care.  
      • While present, the families can also take advantage of various health screenings/resources such as:
        • Back-to-school/Sports Physicals (including physicals, hemoglobin testing, urinalysis, vision and hearing screens) are given by local community doctors
        • Immunizations – local drug stores/pharmacies
        • Oral Health Screenings – local dental school students/dentists
        • Eye exams- local optometrist doctors
        • Diabetes/Glucose Screenings – local medical students/doctors/nurses
        • Kidney Health Screenings – local kidney disease specialists
        • HIV/AIDS screenings – local pharmacies/local specialty clinics
        • Educational Resources: Lupus, HIV, Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Colon Cancer, Sickle Cell Disease, Blood Drive information, Mental Health information, Healthy Food Preparation/Healthy Eating demonstrations, etc.
        • Housing and other social services
      • We make sure to make it a fun event for everyone by including: free food, music/entertainment, inflatables,, face painters and balloon masters.
    • It is also important to note that although screening is important, it is just as, if not more important to make sure each screening resource has a system in place for ensuring follow-up, whether that be making a referral to a clinic, private doctor, or following up directly with the organization/resource provider who did the screenings.
    • This group of First Responders is a team of volunteers who serve on standby during worship services and other large church events to take care of any urgent or emergent health related events that may occur such as someone passing out in church, a mother going into labor, someone having a seizure, etc.
      • These individuals should be CPR/first aid certified and/or licensed medical professionals (RN, LPN, physician, etc.).
      • These individuals are NOT a substitute for 911, rather they help to bridge the gap in resuscitation/aid until additional help by EMS arrives.
    • Mental Health is an important component of any Health and Wellness Ministry. It is often an area of health that is considered last, if at all. However given the degree of mental illness we see right in our own congregations and in the community, it will be essential moving into the future that the faith-based community understand the need to be a leader in this realm.
    • Doing so would involve removing the stigma of having a mental health issue through education and helping our congregants understand that:
      • Mental illness is REAL!
      • It is OK to get help and assistance through counseling or other levels of medical expertise.
      • Pastors/leaders support the use of counseling services in addition to prayer and faith.
    • To build a strong Mental Health volunteer team you can start by identifying mental health and/or substance abuse professionals within the congregation. You can:
      • ask directly for volunteers and their credentials
      • ask congregants to complete a survey/questionnaire (See APPENDIX 2.2).
      • Here is an example of how we solicited volunteer interest for our mental health team (See APPENDIX 2.1).
      • additional resources (counseling centers, recovery programs, etc.) should be identified as well
    • Create a framework for referring individuals that need help and assistance for your congregation.  

If applicable and feasible, periodic group therapy or counseling sessions can be offered and advertised as well.

    • The Exercise/Nutrition team is made up of individuals who focus on identifying, organizing and/or teaching the exercise or nutrition classes offered to the congregants and local community. You may consider separating exercise and nutrition however the two go hand in hand. As a result it is important for the trainer who teaches the class to communicate with the nutritionists/chefs to make sure the messaging participants receive is consistent. Along with volunteers, this team is also made of the following:
      • Trainers/Wellness Coaches/Nutritionists/Chefs
  • Use members of the congregation and/or community partners to staff the program. These partners are crucial to effective management of the program and daily operations.
  • All staff offering tips and advice to the participants should have some type of certification and be experienced in the field. Ask for documentation of certification.  
  • When unfamiliar with the work of a trainer or coach, feel free to offer the instructor a “trial” class and obtain feedback from attendees to determine the longevity of the relationship.
    • Exercise Classes
      • Offer an assortment of classes. For example: Zumba, Cardio, Kickboxing, Pilates, Yoga,, Dance Cardio, etc.
        • We offer  a variety of classes  to expose our population to exercise styles they may not otherwise have access to, with the goal of energizing and empowering participants to increase their physical activity.
        • Music choice is important. Be mindful of your audience.
    • Run/Walk Groups
      • Identify team leads that organize meetups at local parks/paths in different areas around the city.
        • Train for local 3K and 5K run/walks, for all skill levels
        • Identify and partner with running companies in your community that have programs to help train people to run marathons, etc.
    • Cooking classes
      • The chefs/nutritionists lead our Nutrition/Cooking classes together as a team. They can however successfully lead classes separately.  
      • Daily tips should be offered  to participants to assist with making healthier lifestyle options, how to read a nutrition label, what does healthy snacking look like, etc.
      • Cooking Demonstrations
        • This class focuses on developing participants understanding of food and its usage, as well as examining proper identification, preparation, and evaluation of basic cooking ingredients.
        • Participates should learn the principles of cooking, along with proper cooking methods for different products.
        • Examples of what can be taught in this class:  
      • The proper usage of kitchen equipment
      • The purpose of everything having a proper place in a standard kitchen
      • Proper knife sharpening and handling technique
      • The proper food handling procedures
      • Personal hygiene practices while in the kitchen
      • Basic meat/seafood fabrication
      • The foundation of building a proper plate
      • Various cooking methods:
        • Dry Heat, Bake/Roast, Pan Fry, Sauté, Broil/Grill, Moist Heat, Blanch, Boil, Braise, Poach, Simmer, Steam
    • Nutrition Demonstration
      • A great resource for this portion of programing ist
      • MyPlate is a reminder to find your healthy eating style and build upon it throughout your lifetime. Eating healthy is a journey shaped by many factors, including our stage of life, situations, preferences, access to food, culture, traditions, and the personal decisions we make over time. All your food and beverage choices count.
    • MyPlate offers ideas and tips to help create a healthier eating style that meets individual needs and improves health. Use this credited resource to introduce different and healthier eating habits to your participants.
    • General Class Organization
      • Various classes can be held each night of the week. We have classes almost every evening, except Sundays).
      • Consider weekday morning exercise classes as well for those who work night shifts or are early risers.
      • Saturday morning classes can be offered.
      • Average class lasts one hour. Combined nutrition/cooking class averages 1.5 hours.
      • Take into consideration traffic patterns in your area to determine exact class times (rush hour traffic, location, etc.).
      • Avoid competing class times so that participants can take full advantage of class offerings and maximum class participation is obtained.
      • Identify backup or potential substitute teachers ahead of time. Establishing routines is vital to changing lifestyle habits, particularly exercising. In order to form habits over time, the momentum should keep going, without significant interruptions in routines. It is much easier to continue than it is to stop and establish the desire to start-up again. Therefore it is felt to be more beneficial to have a substitute instructor then to cancel the class.
      • Useful Class Handouts
  • These handouts can be used as supplemental information for congregants and participants.
    • KidzFIT
      • The purpose of this component is to provide education that equips children with the knowledge and skills necessary to make sound decisions regarding the health of their spirit, mind, and body.

The aim is to decrease the number of children diagnosed with childhood obesity and increase the amount of children who are healthy spiritually, mentally, and physically. (Download PDF)

C. Volunteer Recruitment

  • Volunteers are a vital aspect to the program, especially with limited funding.
  • Volunteers can offer a sound support system in the daily operations of the program.
  • They can assist with class check-in, periodic weigh-ins, passing out information, events, etc.
  • To identify and acquire volunteers you can ask for assistance from the pulpit, have sign-up tables between services, use electronic sign-up tools (VolunteerSpot, Sign-up Genius, etc), or some combination of all three.


D. Program Registration

  • We have established an online registration process that allows interested participants to complete the registration survey via a secured site. See APPENDIX 2.6  for an example.
  • It is important to recognize that this moment of registration is critical for data gathering. Currently we are able to capture the following:    
  • basic demographics (name, age, race/ethnicity, education level, marital status, address, socio-economic status, etc.).
  • basic health information (height, weight, blood pressure, medications, health history, stress level, sleeping/eating/drinking/smoking habits, family health history, etc.)
  • You can easily create a paper  process if online access is not feasible.    
  • One of the most important components of Registration is having the participant SIGN A WAIVER. Injuries and accidents are not always preventable, so having a document in place that each participant signs releasing all parties from liability is very important. Have an attorney approve the waiver created for the program. See CHURCHFIT WAIVER for a possible example. Integrate the waiver into the registration process whether it be online or paper registration.

E. Tracking Participation

We have established a basic electronic tracking system to observe which classes participants are attending, how frequently, and when.

  • At the time of registration, each participant is assigned a number. This number is the individual’s “ChurchFIT Membership ID Number”
      • Once an individual’s registration data is entered into the system, the person’s information is deidentified on the data collection end and is only then identified by number (not name) in an effort to protect their personal information.
      • We have designed our system, such that the person is represented by their ChurchFIT ID number rather than by their name in the system. This helps with privacy, not only for class participation, but more importantly for personal information collected at the time of registration.
      • Within a week’s time, each individual is issued their Official “ChurchFIT card”. This is a plastic card similar in shape and size to the average credit card. There is no electronic strip on the back.
      • Each card displays the individual’s name, membership ID number and a barcode for scanning.
      • Participants are instructed to bring their card to each ChurchFIT class and/or event.  
      • A volunteer scans the card of each participant BEFORE the participant enters class/events. This serves two purposes:

1) It shows the participate has signed a waiver

2) It allows us to track participation

      • We can see which classes participants are attending and how frequently, which classes have the greatest participation/success, along with seasonal patterns of participation. For example:
        • In Mt. Zion’s congregation, it is recognized that there is a lull in participation in May, June, and July, as we have a very large college and graduate student contingency at our church.
        • May is when graduation occurs and many families go on summer vacation. We can see this phenomenon in our participation numbers, so we try to adjust our calendar accordingly.
        • This system allows your team to track other patterns as well.
      • We also use these cards to track weight-loss during our Annual ChurchFIT Team Challenge Competitions (ChurchFIT Weigh-in Form)
      • Ultimately, the goal of data collection is to use it to determine the effectiveness of the ChurchFIT program by analyzing member health and behavior changes.  
      • See the APPENDIX 2.8-2.14 for other  online ChurchFIT data collection forms.

See Equipment List  for a list of equipment we used to create and scan ChurchFIT Membership Cards.

F. Weekly/Monthly Newsletter

  • This newsletter is a great tool to keep participants up-to-date on what is taking place in the program: class updates, upcoming events, monthly health initiatives, etc.
  • As participants register for the program, requiring an email address to compile a list of participants will be useful.


Download Example Newsletter.

G. Funding Options

  • Grant funding: Seeking grant funding is a great way to fund your local ChurchFIT program and create partnerships in the process. Many federal, state, and private agencies offer funding to serve minority populations in this capacity. These agencies should be researched to discover what is available, as all agencies (private/state/federal) have their own set of requirements and application processes.
  • Fundraising/Establishing Community Partnerships: Fundraising can be used as another source to fund this program. Partnering with community organizations or other faith-based programs with similar initiatives to do so can be very beneficial.


H. Additional ChurchFIT Events

Our Annual ChurchFIT Launch is held each year in January. We normally celebrate the launch by kicking-off a ChurchFIT 12-week Team Challenge Competition. At this launch event participants gather together in one large space to be introduced to the various exercise components of the year’s program. The various sponsors, trainers, partners, etc. are also present and participate in the day’s events.

The ChurchFIT Team Challenge Competition is a 12 week competition where participants form teams and work towards their personal health goals by attending ChurchFIT classes and educational events. In doing so, each team member collects points for their team. Their points are tracked using their ChurchFIT cards. They receive one point for each class attended. Participants are competing for prizes.

      • Participants also have an opportunity to weigh-in to track any weight loss every other week. Weigh scales are set up in the church on days for weigh-in and the findings are privately recorded by volunteers using each participant’s ChurchFIT card.
      • In addition to the overall 12 week challenge we also provide smaller Weekly Challenges that all ChurchFIT program participants can join to keep the momentum of the program going. Core team (various trainers, chefs, health-care professionals, etc. involved in the program) should select weekly challenges to promote friendly competition amongst participates.
      • Weekly Health Tips: these tips can be common facts associated with a healthy lifestyle or they can correlate with any monthly initiatives taking place and are normally shared through the Newsletter.
      • This event can be used to celebrate the end of the ChurchFIT Challenge Competition in order to honor the teams but also to provide a fun day for the entire family. We provided fun “field day” type of competitions for youth as well as adults, along with food,  fun games, music, etc.
      • This event can be strategically placed on the calendar to help maintain the momentum of program participation

I. Needs Assessment

  • No two programs will look the same because no two congregations are the same. Before incorporating a ChurchFIT program, you may wish to assess the actual needs of the community wishing to be served. This rich data can be observed in various ways (See APPENDIX 2.17):
      • Survey: list of questions to gather data from possible participants
      • Focus groups: may be defined as a group of individuals gathered to participate in a guided discussion around a particular topic:
        • Focus groups usually last no longer than 1-hr, and consist of 4-15 participants, a facilitator, and a note-taker.
        • During the focus group discussion, various questions concerning health-related topics/trends in the community should be asked, along with what would be ideal for the community the program would serve.
        • When choosing focus group participates, individuals from various backgrounds, age-groups, socio-economic statuses, etc. should be considered.

J. Outcome Measurement

  • As participants continue to participate in the program, there must be a way to track their progress; weight loss, BMI improvement, lifestyle changes, etc. Measuring outcomes can be done by:
      • Periodic weigh-ins
      • Follow-up Surveys to track progress