Gary Derbyshire

6 Signs You're Treating Your Church Like a Gym

Gary Derbyshire
August 28, 2017

Every Sunday and throughout the week, millions of Americans are attending or gathering with other people in this phenomenon called Church. What does your church mean to you? How do you know you have a church? In the New Testament, a local church was a "called out assembly" or ekklesia, of people, whose foundation was Jesus Christ the Son of God and goal was to magnify and reproduce the glory of God. Certainly, local churches express this definition a little bit differently depending on their cultural and even geographic context, but the goal is the same. I believe many Christians in Western cultures have a poor understanding of what a local church is and it is having a drastic impact on the health of their churches.


As Christians lack a biblical understanding of what a church is, they end up treating the church like something it is not. Here are six ways for you to know you are actually treating your church like a gym:

1. Your involvement is confined to specific programs

When picking a gym, a lot of people are looking for a specific program: swim classes for their kids, martial arts, or maybe a sports league. They don’t even go to the gym to work out, it’s just because they have a certain program. This is particularly relevant in the area of children’s and student ministries. A lot of Christian families are attending service at one church, but sending their kids to a children’s program at another. This would be a great idea if churches were gyms, but they are not. Dividing your family’s commitment between two or more churches will turn you and your kids into what my pastor likes to call “spiritual ping pong balls.”

2. You don’t spend time with any church members outside of the church property.

Yes, it is important to enjoy “going to church” and have good interactions with people when we are within its walls, but community is something more. The first church certainly gathered in a central building, but also met regularly in each others’ homes (Acts 2:46). If there is no one at your church you regularly spend life with, it’s probably not a church to you.

3. You pick a church because of its facility amenities.

When we shop for a gym, what do we look for? I am a basketball guy, so I have to have a basketball court. Maybe you want a swimming pool or a sauna. For some Christians I know, it really came down to how comfortable the seats were. The church where I was baptized had its own skating rink! It is good that churches in this country want to invest in their community by having facilities that can be a blessing to their worshipping body, but they cannot be what calls someone to a church. I am not saying if you commit to a church for these reasons, it can never work out; God makes good out of poor motivations all the time. However, we have to be careful not to treat the church like it’s LA Fitness.

4. You don’t know the leadership outside of those who affect your program.

I am not aware of anyone who joins a gym because they had lunch with the director and really got along with him. Sure, we might know our kids’ karate instructor, but a relationship with the actual gym staff is not necessary to get what I want. As long as a gym’s leadership stays out of your way and all the stuff you like about it stays the same, you could care less. That is too often how we treat the church; I care about who the pastor is only after he stopped letting me use church facilities to lead my Crossfit class, made up of people from other churches, in favor of a prayer meeting.

5. As soon as disappointment comes around, you move seamlessly to another church that has the same amenities the other one did.

When I found out my city parks and recreation department didn’t have a basketball league, I just found a city next to mine that did. No big deal. No confrontation. I just did that. That is exactly how people treat the church sometimes. Where has the Smith family been? Oh, they left a couple of weeks ago because the church decided to change its service schedule. Did they talk to anyone? No, they just didn’t want to get up earlier and the church across the street has six services every weekend. Absolutely, there are times God may be moving you on to another church, but give the leadership of your church an opportunity to either repent of wrongdoing, better communicate a misunderstanding, or confront you about unbiblical beliefs. Certainly, a church’s main gathering is the most important time. However, if the Holy Spirit is leading you to a body of believers, he is probably not doing it because it gives you an extra hour to do your makeup.

6. Because you “pay your dues”, you are entitled to what you want the church to do for you.

The church is not a country club, for us to pay a monthly fee to get admission and acceptance. As pastors, it’s not uncommon during a confrontation, for a church member to say something like, “My tithe pays your salary,” in order to invoke some kind of power and authority over the situation. On a side note, pastors of healthy churches don’t know what members give. I certainly don’t know and don’t want to know what someone gives when I am about to disappoint them with an executive decision. That is between them and God and it should not affect what we do as the people of God. Tithing does not give members leverage over leadership; it is a worshipping act that makes the givers obedient to Jesus.

This is not meant to be pessimistic or overly critical. However, if a church’s members don’t know what a church is, it will become sick. What would happen if people treated a gym like a school? The only classes or gatherings they would attend would be those that taught new information. Why didn’t you go to the gym last week? I don’t learn anything lifting weights. Uh… that’s not what lifting is supposed to do.

As a pastor, I have been guilty at times of trying to make my ministry in the church something it was not meant to do. At times, I have tried to function much like a director of a gym, because that’s what I thought I had to do to grow. In many ways, I was feeding into the problem. If you are attending a church, be on the lookout for these symptoms. A local church is a called out assembly, whose foundation is Jesus Christ the Son of God and goal is to magnify and reproduce the glory of God. If that is what you are trying to be a part of in your church, you will take your church one step closer to being healthy. If you don’t, be careful, you may just be a member of a Christian gym.

Gary Derbyshire

Gary is the Senior Pastor of Apollo Baptist Church in Glendale, Arizona. Gary's biggest life influence is his loving parents, who originally taught him the Gospel and biblical exposition, and still live as missionaries in Asia. The next biggest influence is his loving wife, a gifted worship leader and evangelist to their children.

© 2021 Gary Derbyshire   -   Website by Brendan Brooks (

Gary Derbyshire