Multiple Models for Maximum Ministry
April, 2017


One of the questions we get all the time at the US Mission Network is, “what are we supposed to do to be a real Christian YMCA?” The fact is, we can’t tell you what to do, but we can tell you how to do it! As the old saying goes, “If you’ve been to one Y, you’ve been to one Y!”
Every Y and the community they serve is somewhat unique. Local Y staff and volunteer leaders have to determine what needs are prevalent in their community. Then they can decide what can be done to meet those needs.
If you look at the “Christian” Ys today, you’ll find lots of models and approaches.
Some Ys are fortunate enough to have a full or part-time paid chaplain for a single Y location. Chaplains, like Roger Button of the Clark County Family YMCA in Vancouver, WA, and Bruce Osborn of the Pabst Farms YMCA in Oconomowoc, WI, have the opportunity to be the shepherds of their local branch. They interact daily with kids, their parents, the Y staff, seniors, volunteers, local faith and community leaders, school officials, donors and many more—all through their connections at their Y branch. They take part in classes, counsel people in their offices, do weddings and funerals, make hospital calls, sit in on staff meetings, develop community partnerships, and assist the Branch Executive/CEO with administration. Their focus remains steady on the folks that come in and out of their branch’s doors each day.
Other Ys have hired an association chaplain and given them the opportunity to oversee the Christian mission work at many locations. Josh Heaston, of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, and Janele Nelson, of the YMCA of Pierce-Kitsap County, are two such examples. Josh works to develop Church Partnerships for his various branches and to recruit and train volunteer chaplains. Janele has Christian mission teams at each of her branches that carry on the plan based on an association-wide philosophy. She works with the CEO and HR department to carry out initiatives. Both Janele and Josh spend a good deal of time ministering to staff members at the various branches.
Another model does not include paid staff with the specific purpose of leading the Christian mission plan. Rather a committee or team of volunteers, including Y staff and Board members, meet to discuss how they can lift up the “C” in their area. These teams plan events, develop resources, start programs, and reach out to other local ministries to help their Y get connected to the faith community. Though everyone involved does these things on the side, these teams can make a huge impact in their Y. Cheri Pamer, of the Bellevue Y, and Michael Flott, of the Philadelphia Y, are two such leaders who coordinate the Christian efforts in their Y.
Finally, we find some Ys where the CEO or Branch Executive has taken responsibility to lead this effort. David Lewis, of the Prattville Y, and Jeff McBride, of the Orange County Y, have been leading their associations to be more involved in bringing the C to the forefront. Being with David around town is like watching a pastor making pastoral calls. He knows almost everyone and his personal faith is a part of that public knowledge. Since taking over as CEO, the Prattville Y has become more visible in the faith community and is working to make sure Christ is in everything they do. As part of a larger community in Southern California, Jeff has led the way in bringing together faith partnerships within the local community through a program he has been instrumental in developing called CARES. This program is being used to serve specific needs that touch lives for Christ in a variety of ways.
The point is, there is no one model that will fit every situation. Like the old business axiom, you have to “find a need and fill it”. For your Y that could mean a full-time chaplain or paid Christian mission staff member. Perhaps a team of volunteers may be the key to becoming more effective in your community. Maybe it’s finding a key leader who can develop faith partnerships and meet specific needs.
The USMN is working to provide resources and relational opportunities to help you strengthen the C in your YMCA, however you decide to do it. They key is to do something! If our C means something, let’s put it into practice as a significant part of our normal programming in our Ys.