Marathon runner Alicia Heyne often meets God out on the trail. As a member of Sweaty Sheep in Louisville, Kentucky, she’s part of a new brand of church. Instead of putting running in competition with church on Sunday morning, she sees running as a form of church.

“Most races are on Sundays,” says 30-year-old Heyne, who is a schoolteacher turned housepainter. “You have to choose whether you’re going to be at church or do a run. I like Sweaty Sheep because I don’t have to choose. Jesus said that when two or more people come together in his name he’ll be there. If you’re in a building or if you’re in a race, it doesn’t matter. It brings people together.”

Sweaty Sheep is one of a wave of churches that are embracing physical exercise in their ministries. Some enlist Christian runners as evangelists, giving them T-shirts to wear during races and training them both in fitness and in sharing their faith. Some reach beyond their own running communities to established churches: the parachurch group Run for God, for example, shares its curriculum with more than 450 churches in the United States and Canada. Other congregations have started running clubs as a way of encouraging members to care for their bodies as well as their souls. Sweaty Sheep takes it a step further: its participants celebrate running and the community it creates as a spiritual practice.