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How to Lose Weight and Gain a Congregation
A recent Weight Watchers convert discovered unusual parallels between weight loss classes and healthy church growth.

Weight Watchers® taught me everything I need to know about congregational growth. My own personal girth growth that took me to Weight Watchers in the first place, crept up on me slowly. At first my clothes seemed slightly smaller. Then, after my jeans were washed I had to breathe deeply and hope that I could do them up without permanently scarring my stomach with my zipper. Control top pantyhose became the order of the day—every day. My mirror was either getting narrower or I was getting wider.

It was time to take action.

I swallowed my pride, stuffed myself in my car, and drove to my first Weight Watchers meeting. The program helped me lose weight by teaching me effective lifestyle and dietary changes.

But that's not all I learned.

I believe that if more churches followed Weight Watcher guidelines, not only would their members' waistlines shrink but their congregations would grow.

Weight Watchers emphasizes a commitment to attending weekly weight management meetings. I go to an 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning meeting. If I even hope to get a seat in the packed room, I need to show up half an hour early. Week after week, the same people attend and if they have to miss their regular meeting they go on another day.

Imagine if all Christians were that committed to weekly worship?

Weight Watchers members feel accountable to themselves and their group. If you lose weight the entire group celebrates. If you have a bad week you share your downfalls in a supportive atmosphere. If you attain your weight loss goal there is a chance for the successful dieter to tell the whole group how their goal was achieved.

What if churches made times in their worship for public confession, personal victories and individual testimonials? Sanctuaries would be packed.

Weight Watchers leaders are enthusiastic, well-informed and articulate. Staff members have lost weight on the program and kept it off—they have been there. Their personal experiences figure prominently in weekly talks that are concise, employ visuals and fall within the timeline of the meetings.

Maybe church attendance would increase if more church leaders shared their own faith journeys, used multimedia to make their points, and did this while keeping within timelines.

Weight Watchers members are encouraged to be patient, positive and determined in order to reach their goal. Negative self-talk is discouraged and members are told not to dwell on past mistakes.

What would happen if church members were more positive with each other and truly heeded St. Paul's words to "run so that you may obtain the prize"?

Being active is one of the essential keys to weight loss. You don't just sit there: you run, jog, walk, and do whatever it takes to get fit. You get out into the world and strut your stuff.

What if Christians were that active in sharing their faith? Statistics show that most people start attending a church because they're invited by someone else.

Finally, Weight Watchers members are advised never to go it alone, but rather interact with fellow members, family and friends. If your lifestyle change is difficult for family and friends to comprehend, you are encouraged to have a "heart to heart" talk with them in order to enlist their involvement. You're even told to let them know what's in the program that could benefit them.

Can you imagine if more people shared their Christian faith like that?

Maybe, as the Bible and Weight Watchers both recommend, we should set aside any weight that hinders us.

Congregations and their members would be infinitely happier and healthier.

I know I am.

Dawn Martens is a freelance writer based in Hamilton, Ontario.

Originally published in Faith Today, March/April 2006.




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