The Young Men's Christian Association ("YMCA" or "the Y") was formed in London, England, on 6th June 1844, by Sir George Williams as a result of his desire to "win souls to Christ" in the midst of the unhealthy social conditions in London during the Industrial Revolution. Since then the YMCA has grown to become a world-wide movement of more than 45 million members from 124 national federations affiliated through the World Alliance of YMCAs.The YMCA is a worldwide, non-denominational (which means open to all denominations), non-sectarian and apolitical social movement with a special emphasis on community development and young people. Using a holistic approach to individual and social development, it encompasses spiritual, intellectual and physical methods. This approach is symbolised by the inverse red triangle used by YMCAs around the world representing the YMCA mission of building a healthy spirit, mind, and body.
1844, William's concept was unusual because it crossed the rigid lines
that separated the different church denominations and social classes of
England, making the YMCA a pioneer of ecumenism, as well as evangelical
outreach. This openness would eventually lead to the inclusion of women
and an open culture of acceptance of people of different faiths and
backgrounds. Today, the degree to which religion is emphasized in
programs varies between individual YMCA associations. Generally, YMCAs
are open to all, regardless of faith, social class, age, or gender. I
certainly see this as a positive force for evangelism, rather like the
Salvation Army place their emphasis on openness and helping everyone.
YMCA is organized as a federation of local associations and national
YMCA movements, the individual YMCAs are related primarily by overall
strategy and direction only. Volunteers and local employees operate the
individual YMCA associations. This federated model of governance has
created a diversity of YMCA programs and services, with YMCAs in
different countries and communities offering different services in
response to local community needs. In the USA, the YMCA is often
believed to be only a community sports facility. This is not so, it
offers a broad range of programs such as sports, personal fitness,
child care, overnight camping, employment readiness programs,
conference centers and educational activities. In many countries it is
seen only as a place to find cheap, clean overnight accommodation: it
is, but again this underestimates the contribution the YMCA offers.
19th century YMCA inspired the creation of the Young Men's Hebrew
Association and Young Men's Buddhist Association. Its original male
focus similarly inspired the establishment of a parallel Young Women's
The 'Paris Basis'
YMCA leaders of individual YMCAs from Europe and North America met for
the first time prior to the 1855 Paris World Exposition to discuss the
possibility of joining together in a federation to enhance co-operation
amongst individual YMCA societies. This meeting resulted in the Paris
Basis which is still a guiding principle of the organization today. Two
themes resonated during the council: the need to respect the local
autonomy of YMCA societies and the dogma that Christian churches are
united and the YMCA is a way of manifesting that unity: "The Young
Men's Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who,
regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour, according to the Holy
Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their faith and in their life
and to associate their efforts for the extension of His Kingdom amongst
1998, at the 14th World Council of YMCAs, the World Alliance of YMCAs
adopted Challenge 21 as its modern day statement of mission for the
"Affirming the Paris Basis adopted in 1855, as the
ongoing foundation statement of the mission of the YMCA, at the
threshold of the third millennium, we declare that the YMCA is a
world-wide Christian, ecumenical, voluntary movement for women and men
with special emphasis on and the genuine involvement of young people
and that it seeks to share the Christian ideal of building a human
community of justice with love, peace and reconciliation for the
fullness of life for all creation.
Each member YMCA is therefore
called to focus on certain challenges which will be prioritized
according to its own context. These challenges which are an evolution
of the Kampala Principles:
Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ
and striving for spiritual, intellectual and physical well-being of
individuals and wholeness of communities.
especially young people and women to take increased responsibilities
and assume leadership at all levels and working towards an equitable
Advocating for and promoting the rights of women and upholding the rights of children.
dialogue and partnership between people of different faiths and
ideologies and recognizing the cultural identities of people and
promoting cultural renewal.
Committing to work in solidarity with
the poor, dispossessed, uprooted people and oppressed racial, religious
and ethnic minorities.
Seeking to be mediators and reconcilers in
situations of conflict and working for meaningful participation and
advancement of people for their own self-determination.
God’s creation against all that would destroy it and preserving and
protecting the earth’s resources for coming generations.
these challenges, the YMCA will develop patterns of co-operation at all
levels that enable self-sustenance and self-determination."
George Williams was a 23-year-old draper, typical of the many young men
who were being drawn to big cities by the Industrial Revolution. His
colleagues were similarly employed, and they were concerned by the lack
of healthy activities for young men in cities such as London. The
alternatives were often taverns, brothels, and other temptations to
sin. On 6th June, Williams founded the first YMCA in London for "the
improving of the spiritual condition of young men engaged in the
drapery and other trades."
1851: There were YMCAs in Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and France.
YMCA delegates met in Paris, France, at the First World Conference of
YMCAs, marking the beginning of the World Alliance of YMCAs. The
conference adopted the Paris Basis, a common mission for all present
and future national YMCAs. Its motto was taken from the Bible, "That
they all may be one" (John 17:21). Other ecumenical bodies such as the
World YWCA, the World Council of Churches and the World Student
Christian Federation, reflected elements of the Paris Basis in their
founding mission statements.
1865: The Fourth World Conference
of YMCAs, Germany, affirmed the importance of developing the whole
individual in body, mind and spirit. The concept of physical work
through sports was also recognised. This was a new concept for the time.
1878: The World Alliance offices were established in Geneva, Switzerland, where they have been ever since.
In some of the member countries the YMCA was the first national
organization to adopt a strict policy of equal gender representation in
committees and national boards. Norway adopted this policy in 1880.
Camp Baldhead (later known as Camp Dudley), originally located near
Orange Lake in New Jersey, was established by YMCA workers George A.
Sanford and Sumner F. Dudley as the first residential camp in North
America. The camp moved to Lake Wawayanda in Sussex County, New Jersey
the following year and then to the shore of Lake Champlain near
Westport, New York in 1891.
1900: North American YMCAs, in
collaboration with the World Alliance, began working in European ports
with millions of migrants leaving for the USA.
1910: The YMCA
was an early influence upon Scouting, including the Boy Scouts of
America (BSA) and German Scouting. Edgar Robinson, a Chicago-area YMCA
administrator, briefly left the YMCA to become the BSA's first director.
K.T. Paul became the first Indian National General Secretary of India.
Paul had started rural development programmes in India through
co-operatives and credit societies. These programmes for self-reliance
of marginal farmers became very popular. He also coined the term "rural
reconstruction", and many of the principles he developed were later
incorporated into the Government's nation-wide community development
1923: Y.C. James Yen of the YMCA of China devised
the "thousand character system", based on pilot projects in education.
The method became very popular, and in 1923, it led to the founding of
the Chinese National Association of the Mass Education Movement.
The YMCA became very involved in war work. The YMCA increased its
international work with displaced persons and refugees and set up War
Prisoners Aid to support prisoners of war by providing sports
equipment, musical instruments, art materials, radios, gramophones,
eating utensils and other items.
1947: The World Alliance of YMCAs gained special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
The First African President of the World Alliance of YMCAs was elected,
Mr. Charles Dunbar Sherman from Liberia. At 37 years, he was the
youngest President in World Alliance history.
1973: The Sixth
World Council in Kampala, Uganda, was the first World Council in
Africa. It reaffirmed the Paris Basis and adopted a declaration of
principles, known as the Kampala Principles, which include the
principles of justice, creativity and honesty. It stated what had
become obvious in most national YMCAs, that a global viewpoint was more
necessary, and that in doing so, the YMCAs would have to take political
stands, especially so in international challenges.
World Council of YMCAs passed a resolution against apartheid, and
campaigns against the system began under the leadership of Mr. Lee
Soo-Min (Korea), the first Asian Secretary General of the World
1998: The World Council in Germany adopted "Challenge
21," giving even more focus to the global challenges, like gender
equality, sustainable development, war and peace, fair distribution and
the challenges of globalization, racism and HIV/AIDS. All these topics
are viewed as challenges against the will of God.
2002: The World Council in Oaxtepec, Mexico, called for a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis.
The YMCAs, especially in Western Europe and North America, have helped
to build national YMCAs in Eastern Europe, with some success. Also in
2003, a youth convention was arranged in Prague with attendance from
almost all countries in Europe to celebrate the healing of the wounds
from the Iron Curtain.
2006: YMCAs are present in 124 countries.
The current president of the World Alliance of YMCAs is Martin Meissner
from Germany, and Bartholomew Shaha of Bangladesh is Secretary General.
first YMCA was concerned with Bible study, although the organization
has generally moved on to a more holistic approach to youth work.
Around six years after its creation, the YMCA conference in Paris 1855,
decided that the objective of the organization should be "Christian
discipleship developed through a program of religious, educational,
social and physical activities". The YMCA UK website includes no
reference to discipleship. The Restore Ministries of the YMCA of Middle
Tennessee, USA provides an example of how the Christian influence in
the YMCA still exists today. Founded in 2000 by Scott Reall, Restore
provides support groups and individual counseling with an aim of
“lifting the ‘C’” of the YMCA. Aside from Bible study, many
colleges and universities owe their creation to the YMCA. Springfield
College was founded in 1885 as an international training school for
YMCA Professionals, while Sir George Williams University—one of the two
schools that eventually became Concordia University—started from night
courses offered at the Montreal YMCA. Northeastern University (Boston,
Massachusetts) began out of a YMCA in Boston, and Franklin University
began as the YMCA School of Commerce. The YMCA pioneered the concept of
night school, providing educational opportunities for people with
full-time employment. Many YMCAs offer Evening School programs,
alternative high school, day care, and summer camp programs.
1891 James Naismith, a Canadian, invented basketball whilst studying at
the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts
(later to be named Springfield College). Naismith had been asked to
invent a new game in a desperate attempt to interest pupils in physical
exercise. The game had to be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to
play indoors in winter. Such an activity was needed both by the
Training School and by YMCAs across the country. It was a success from
the very first game. Naismith and his wife attended the 1936 Summer
Olympics when basketball became one of the Olympic events. In 1895,
William G. Morgan from the YMCA of Holyoke, Massachusetts, invented the
sport of volleyball.
YMCA In War Time
the early days the YMCA provided nursing, shelter, and other support in
wartime. During World War I, Irving Berlin wrote Yip Yip Yaphank, a
revue that included a song entitled "I Can Always Find a Little
Sunshine in the YMCA." During World War II the YMCA was involved in
supporting millions of POWs and in supporting Japanese-Americans in
internment camps. This help included helping young men leave the camps
to attend Springfield College and providing youth activities in the
camps. In addition, the YMCA was one of six organizations that helped
to found the USO during World War I
YMCA in the USA
YMCA World Alliance