Healthy, long term health habits promoted via ‘ChurchFIT’

Mount Zion Baptist Church is launching ChurchFIT, an unprecedented free wellness program that takes a comprehensive approach to improving the physical, mental and spiritual health of the members of its 28,000-person congregation and beyond, and aims to establish a national model for churches to take responsibility for instilling a culture of wellness in their communities.

Participants in the 12-week ‘ChurchFIT Challenge,’ which kicks off January 25 at the mega church’s Antioch location, will be placed into teams appropriate to their age and fitness level, and will vie for distinctions such as ‘Most Exercise Classes Attended’ or ‘Greatest Overall Change in Lifestyle.’ A total of up to $10,000 in prizes will be awarded upon completion, and participants will be encouraged to continue participating in the wide range of health-related classes and services Mt. Zion will offer on an ongoing basis. The church’s goal is to establish healthy, long term habits related to issues such as exercise, stress reduction and nutrition. The data entered by participants, who will be assigned a number to protect their identity, will be used to assess health concerns disproportionately affecting the primarily African American community expected to participate, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and untreated depression.

“Understanding that the church is often the trusted cornerstone of the community, we believe it is our duty to provide the education and services that will help every individual reach personal wellness goals in an environment that is comfortable, supportive and just plain fun,” said Bishop Joseph Walker, the pastor of Mt. Zion and the Presiding Bishop-Elect of Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International (FGBCFI). “ChurchFIT is more than an event. It is a movement designed to teach and help facilitate long lasting, life changing behaviors.”

Bishop Walker will ascend to his position as Presiding Bishop of FGBCFI in July 2015, and plans to implement the ChurchFIT model among the fellowship’s churches, which serve approximately 2 million members worldwide. An unprecedented component of ChurchFIT is the collection of comprehensive physical and mental health data from participants.

Each person who registers is guaranteed privacy and receives a numbered membership card, which will be used to not only track participation and progress but update his or her health status. ChurchFIT’s data collection component will be supervised by the program’s founder, Dr. Stephaine Walker, First Lady of Mt. Zion and a neonatologist with Vanderbilt University Children’s Hospital.

“It has historically been very difficult to collect health data from the African American community, which is resistant to participating in any kind of research because of documented abuses by healthcare institutions in the past,” said Dr. Walker. “And yet research is crucial to understand and alleviate some of the persistent health issues our community faces. That’s why we’re creating an environment where people not only have the best chance to succeed, but also can be confident that their information will be zealously guarded even as it is used to strengthen the community’s collective health—today and in the future.”

ChurchFIT, which underwent a trial run in 2011 among members of the congregation, is open to everyone in the community and will feature weekly cardio and Zumba classes; bi-weekly cooking and nutrition demonstrations; and a series of seminars that address mental health, lifestyle and spiritual issues. Participants also will be encouraged to weigh in every other week. The two-hour program launch is Saturday, Jan. 25, from 8-10 am at Mt. Zion’s Antioch location, 2261 Murfreesboro Road. Online registration is now open for adults, children ages 4-11 and youth ages 12-18. If you are interested in forming a ChurchFIT team or registering, or if you have questions about ChurchFIT, visit or contact the church office at 615-254-7296.