Is The Young Men’s Christian Association “Christian”? Some Historical And Contemporary Research Examined -- By: Donald K. Shaw

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 12:1 (Spring 2014)
Article: Is The Young Men’s Christian Association “Christian”? Some Historical And Contemporary Research Examined
Author: Donald K. Shaw


Is The Young Men’s Christian Association “Christian”?
Some Historical And Contemporary Research Examined

Donald K. Shaw

&

Douglas E. Potter

Donald K. Shaw, P.T., Ph.D., D.Min., FAACVPR, is a Professor at Nova Southeastern University, and Douglas E. Potter, D.Min., is Director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Southern Evangelical Seminary.

The presence of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)1 in the United States has been a staple feature of our society for over 150 years. Few can grow up in the U. S. and not in some way benefit from the multitude of programs provided by the more than 2,500 YMCAs2

across the nation. Its long standing tradition of fostering spiritual, social and physical health for the entire family cannot be denied. This includes the authors, who have been involved in the YMCA both as youths and adults. Neither author wants the YMCA to go away nor is there any intent to give the organization a bad name or to even change its name. However, it is important to recognize and document the gradual shift in Christian emphasis manifesting since the organization’s inception in the mid–1800s.

In this article the authors will (1) briefly lay out the YMCA’s history, especially identifying its Christian beginnings, even its deep “evangelical” roots and purpose, (2) compare the historic beginnings of the YMCA with recent research,3 and (3) show internal changes and suggest external influences for change in the YMCA. In addition, there are lessons to be learned from YMCA history that have direct and indirect implications for churches and any evangelical para–church organization desiring to retain their evangelical roots.

The Beginnings Of The Y

Tradition has it that young George Williams, an English lad born October 11, 1821 in Somerset, England, was far from an agrarian role model.4 Eventually sixteen–year old George, at his father’s insistence, left his country home to seek his fortune in London.5 Once in London, George found work as a sales assistant in a draper’s shop. Soon thereafter he had a Christian conversion experience and joined a Congregational church, becoming active as a Sunday School teacher. He, along with a few like–minded young men, found himself drawn to the teachings of American evangelist Charles G. Finney. George was

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