The Pillars Of A YMCA Church

Recently, I attended a conference in Nashville centered around making disciples of today’s young people, ages 0-18. The main thrust of the conference was that today’s churches are using ‘old maps’ of child discipleship in an era where ‘new maps’ might be required. A modern-day explorer would not use a map from the 1500s. Are we as church leaders and disciple-makers using ‘maps’ from an outdated era of church ministry? The conference defined the old maps and new maps of making disciples like this:

Focus on RelevanceFocus on Community
Bible Lite, Moral TeachingGospel-Centric Teaching

As I’ve spent time recently considering the Old Map vs. the New Map for making disciples of children, I can’t help but think that it’s about more than just today’s young people. These values – focusing on formation, community, and the gospel – are some markers of a healthy church, and a big reason why I am convinced that planting churches in YMCAs is a bullseye in this next generation. As I have continued to reflect on this since the conference, it has brought me back to the values and commitments of a YMCA church; values that shape who we are as a church-planting movement that I believe God will use in this next generation.

A Commitment to Incarnational Ministry

Jesus was all about relationships. When He called the twelve to follow Him, He was calling them into a relationship. At the CITY Movement, we want to model our churches after this core part of the ministry of Jesus. Having a church in a YMCA isn’t just some strategic move that saves you money and gives you access to great facilities (although it can do both!). It’s about relationships. Where else can we plant a church in a facility where there are thousands of people all throughout the week? Talk about opportunities to build relationships!

Being a CITY Movement church means committing to build relationships with people through the platform of the YMCA. It means being present with people, just like Jesus was. As CITY Movement Pastors, when we go to the Y – we are going with a purpose. Playing basketball and looking to spread the hope of the gospel. Lifting weights and looking for the person going through a lonely, difficult season. Reaching out to the YMCA staff and shining light in the darkness. It means modeling our ministries after Jesus and committing to people instead of programs.

A Commitment to the Long Game

Another thing that I have noticed about the ministry of Jesus – he was in it for the long-haul. I’ve always found it intriguing that, given His sovereignty, Jesus could have grown his ministry to millions of followers in barely any time at all. But instead, he chose to use people – normal people. It’s clear that Jesus was in it for the long-game. He wasn’t trying to get as many followers as fast as possible – it appears that He knew that committed disciples take time. 

A CITY Movement church is about formation of the gospel in disciples, not about attracting a crowd.

We are modeling our churches, and our relationships with YMCAs, in the same way. We don’t want our churches to be a ‘flash in the pan’, to grow to thousands of members in just a few years. We want to make committed disciples. A CITY Movement church is about formation of the gospel in disciples, not about attracting a crowd. And our relationships with the Y’s that we serve is the same way. Our churches are committed to the Y long term as a platform of ministry, not just when it is easy and convenient. We are committed to love, serve, and care for the YMCA – because the YMCA is about people, not a building. And we want to model our ministries off of Jesus, who is committed to people. 

I am convinced that as we move into the next generation of church-planting and making disciples, churches will have to re-think some of the ways we do ministry. We will have to consider what we are doing that focuses on attraction versus formation of followers of Jesus. We will need to really assess if we are driving people toward biblical community. As churches in YMCAs, we believe that this platform of planting churches urges us on towards those goals.