YMCA Changes Historical Acronym: The Real Reason

On Monday, the YMCA changed its name, leaving behind a 166-year history. The new name and sole survivor of the renowned acronym is simply “the Y”.

What once was born as the Young Men's Christian Association, a Bible study group founded in London in 1844, is now something else entirely. The change is an effort to rebrand. YMCA president and chief executive Neil Nicoll said the change was necessary to communicate “our story, bringing more people to the place where they can realize the benefits we bring,” reported FaithfulNews.com.

“We’re trying to simplify how we tell the story of what we do, and the name represents that,” said Nicoll about the YMCA, whose membership peaked in 2007 and has since remained flat, per the New York Times. The change comes after more than two years of research that showed many people lack understanding about what the group does. But does shortening the name make it clearer?

I could understand changing the Youth to All. My 45-old-husband still sinks many a basketball at our local YMCA. (Of course, doing so makes him to think he’s still a youth.) I could also understand their changing Men’s to People’s. I’m frankly surprised that feminists hadn’t already seen to this. It is still an Association, albeit one of all ages and all genders. But I wonder if it is still Christian. Could this have been the real reason behind the change? Did the word Christian not tell the right story?

Lacking full insight into their decision, I’m not here to judge and certainly not to condemn. I only share my reflection. It seems to me that in a country that has become all but hostile toward Christians, removing Christian from the name of an organization might seem a good idea. After all, Christian denotes exclusivity. Some might infer: If you are of another religion, then you are not welcome here. But the YMCA – or rather, the Y – is known for its open doors and warm hospitality, at least in our town, and growing membership is always a focus.

If the YMCA is not about furthering the gospel of Christ, then perhaps it is right for them to disassociate themselves from His name. I wonder if some major universities will soon follow suit, and perhaps they should. Don’t get me wrong. I want nothing more than to further the name of Christ. But His name is to be honored and revered, not used in vain.

Sometimes, the word Christian is used inappropriately to appeal to an audience when Christ is not the focus. Other times, the word Christian is not used, yet Christ is squarely at the center.

There’s nothing wrong with a Christ-centered organization choosing not to use Christ in its name. S. Truett Cathy didn’t name his corporation Christ-fil-A, but most everyone knows he strives to keep Christ at the center of his leadership, whose restaurant’s corporate purpose includes: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward to all that is entrusted to us.” Cathy has always maintained a “closed on Sunday” policy for his restaurants, and refers to the great success of his Chick-fil-A company as “blessings from the Lord.”

But there is something wrong with an organization that is not based on the truth of the gospel setting itself apart in name only as being Christian. It’s dishonest and deceiving. It can misinform the world of what it means to be a Christian, and may not serve to advance the Kingdom.

Whether or not “Christian” is in the name of an organization has little to nothing to do with spreading the truth of Christ.  Furthering Christ’s name happens when believers open their mouths to tell His story and give Him praise.

Question: How can you further the name of Jesus Christ in your circles of influence?

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  1. Momfox1960 said:

    Thank you for an intelligent reflection on this news. I am a Christian who has devoted two decades to a YMCA career and am currently on the national staff. The Y’s mission remains: “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.” That’s why I do what I do as my true vocation. (Not also that the new logo incorporates the letters YMCA in smaller type to ensure that the history is not forgotten.) A story from my time in Seattle helps illuminate why this new way of speaking is so important. In the late 1990s, I was interviewing a young Cambodian teen who was a leader in our Y Earth Service Corps. She shared how the first time she came to the landmark downtown Y building at the urging of friends who thought she’d enjoy getting involved, she didn’t think she was supposed to come in. The main entrance had “Young Men’s Christian Association” carved into the stone. Since she wasn’t male or Christian, she thought maybe there was another entrance. She could see a smaller set of stairs down the block. That one had “Boy’s Entrance” similarly carved in stone. Scratching her head, she continued around the corner to the last set of stairs, only to find “Army-Navy Entrance.” Fortunately, at that moment a group of her new friends from her high school came up the hill and swooped her up and walked her through the main entrance. Once inside, she saw that everyone was welcome — but she almost hadn’t come in, a new speaker of English making very literal translations. This teen went on to lead YESC at a regional level and has the Y’s support to help her with college applications and reference letters. The last I heard, she is a successful doctor. We almost missed the chance to make a difference in her life simply because of language.

    July 14, 2010
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  2. bmill9xx said:

    If you change the name of something then it becomes what you changed to, and stops being what it was. If you stop talking about something then it will soon be forgotten.

    July 14, 2010
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  3. bmill9xx said:

    Chick-fil-A is selling sandwiches, he is not selling Christ. The owner is a Christian. He runs his business on Christian Principlies.

    July 14, 2010
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  4. bmill9xx said:

    To answer your question, You would write His Name on everything and talk and tell everyone about Him and not hide His Name. BE CAREFUL NOT TO FALL INTO THEIR TRAP OF REMOVING CHRIST FROM EVERYTHING.

    July 14, 2010
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