Christian Association of Young People

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Logo of the YMCA

The Christian Association of Young People ( YMCA ) is the world's largest youth organization with over 64 million people reached . This organization is non-denominationally Christian and in practice evangelical-Protestant oriented.

Internationally, the movement is known under the English name Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and is affiliated to the YMCA World Alliance ( English World Alliance of YMCAs ) based in Geneva , Switzerland . It is made up of 120 national associations, including in Germany the CVJM Germany (CVJM-Gesamtverband in Deutschland e.V.). In Switzerland it bears the name Cevi and is an amalgamation of the YMCA (here for “Christian Association of Young Men”) with the Christian Association of Young Women .


The YMCA triangle

Logo of the YMCA in the USA

The symbol of the YMCA movement is a red, equilateral triangle with a horizontal black bar on which the respective abbreviation (e.g. “YMCA” or “YMCA”) is written in white capital letters. It is a reminder that in all of the YMCA work, the whole person is in the foreground. The upper bar stands for "spirit", supported by the two bars for "body" and "soul".

It was designed by Luther Halsey Gulick at the end of the 19th century and was first officially used by the YMCA in Springfield in 1890/1891 . The symbol quickly developed into the unofficial identification mark of the YMCA, other designs met with rejection and were discarded. Gulick's triangle became the official symbol of the English YMCA during the First World War , and later also of the YMCA World Federation. In Germany it did not gain acceptance until after the Second World War . In North America, a variation of this symbol, where the triangle represents the two arms of a "Y", is used.

YMCAs (World Alliance of YMCAs)

World Federation badge in the YMCA archive

The YMCA World Federation has its own symbol. It consists of the open Bible with text reference ( Joh 17.21  EU ) with the Christ monogram "ΧΡ" (Greek letters Chi and Rho ) deposited . This is framed with the names of the five continents in Latin, which are connected with monograms of the YMCA in different languages. The motto of the YMCA World Federation is in the Bible in ( Joh 17.21  EU ): "so that they may all be one". It was introduced in 1881 at the 9th YMCA World Conference and is still used today.



At the beginning of the 19th century, industrialization led to Christian revival movements in Europe and America. Numerous associations, including Christian ones , emerged ( abstinence associations , virgins associations, etc.). These joined together to form national associations.

During this time, too, evangelical youth clubs were established in Germany . Many YMCAs later emerged from them. The first youth club (and thus basically the first German YMCA) dates back to 1823, with the establishment of the mission youth club Barmen-Gemarke by F. W. Isenberg.

George Williams

On June 6, 1844, the first YMCA was founded by George Williams in London . His aim was to give young men in the big city a faith and life orientation. This was given in the own club house on a biblical basis. A worldwide movement emerged from this idea in just a few years.

In Germany, the "Rhenish-Westphalian Youth Association" was founded in Elberfeld (today part of Wuppertal ) as the first regional association. In 1883 the first German association with the official name "Christian Association of Young Men", or CVJM for short, was founded in Berlin .

The YMCA in Paris was founded on March 19, 1852 after there had been regular meetings from autumn 1851. Two young Swiss from Geneva, French and English were involved. George Williams visited Paris three times in 1851 and 1852.

The first YMCA in the New World was formed on December 9, 1862 in Toronto , Canada . On December 29, 1852, the first YMCA was founded in the United States . In 1880 there were 972 YMCA clubs in the USA with 70,000 members.

The Paris base and formation of the World Federation

The idea of ​​a worldwide movement with an international administration came from the then secretary of the YMCA Geneva, founded in 1852, Henry Dunant (who later also founded the International Committee of the Red Cross and was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize). Dunant was able to convince the YMCA Paris to organize a first YMCA world conference. This took place on August 20, 1855 with 99 delegates from a total of 338 youth clubs and YMCAs from nine countries. They drafted a statement, the Paris base :

“The purpose of the Christian Young Men's Associations is to unite those young men who, according to the Holy Scriptures, recognize Jesus Christ as their God and Savior, who want to be his disciples in their faith and life and who seek together to subdue the kingdom of their Master young men. "

The “Central International Committee” also emerged from this conference. It initially operated without a seat until an organization and structure based in Geneva was created in 1878. The "Central International Committee" was finally named "World Alliance of YMCAs" (German: "YMCA World Association").

The associations that emerged as a result include professional associations such as the Swiss Christian Association of Young Merchants .

Expansion to Asia

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was a massive expansion BC a. of the North American YMCA / YMCA to Asia, u. a. to India, China and Japan. In the context of social gospel , missionary work was linked to the improvement of the living conditions of the population, which included health campaigns, literacy campaigns, sports, higher education, etc. One result was the founding of the Far Eastern Championship Games as a platform for the dissemination of western sport and corresponding Protestant ideas ( muscular Christianity ). Together with the International Olympic Committee, the YMCA / YMCA was therefore the central institution in the integration of Asian (and many other) countries into international sports organizations and the dissemination of Western scientific notions of "modernization".

YMCA / YMCA activities during World War II

During the Second World War, despite the “total war” declared by Joseph Goebbels in February 1943, the German Reich observed international rules. One of them was the Geneva Convention of 1929 for the Protection of Persons Who Do not or No longer participate in combat operations. On the basis of this recognized international law, two international organizations were allowed to inspect the German camps for internees from Western European countries and the Commonwealth during the Second World War: the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) / International Red Cross Committee (IRCC) and the YMCA / YMCA . Prisoners kept by nations which had not ratified the Geneva Convention, mainly the Sovjet Union and Japan, could not benefit from the work of international organizations; neither could Russian and political prisoners in Hitler's Germany including those in 'concentration' camps. But Germany was a party to the Convention; work among POWs and civilian internees was allowed.

There was a kind of division of labor between the two organizations. The IRCC controlled and catered to the material needs such as medical treatment, heating, clothing and general treatment. They were, of course, backed up by the national Red Cross organizations in the home countries of the POWs. After the American entry into the war in December 1941, he was joined by the Geneva-based "War Prisoners' Aid of the International YMCA", whose work was mainly carried out by the Swiss and Swedes. The task of the YMCA was to assist the prisoners and internees to establish and maintain physical, intellectual and spiritual activities. In such context certain 'tools' were essential: books, musical instruments, sports equipment, theater costumes and stage decorations, religious items ranging from bibles and hymnbooks to organs and communion equipment etc, etc.

According to Henry Söderberg, around 250 YMCA delegates were deployed around the world - with more than 5 million prisoners of war in over 30 countries. Only 15 YMCA employees were allowed to work in Germany, and only 7 of them were allowed to enter the prison camps; all other employees were employed in the Berlin office or in the material warehouse. In 1943, when the bombing raids on Berlin became more and more violent, the YMCA headquarters was relocated to Sagan in Lower Silesia and was therefore in the immediate vicinity of Stalag Luft III . Of the seven YMCA delegates active in the German Reich, each was responsible for a geographical region, in some cases for more than a million prisoners of war in the east. They were denied the opportunity to look after the Soviet prisoners of war.

Söderberg first describes the more formal work of the YMCA delegates:

“At camps visit, after preliminary contacts with the camp commandants, we met with the leaders of various activities within the POW communities. Each nationality presented its specific needs. As far as possible we tried to meet the requests. [...] The delegates in the field had to share with the population and the prisoners the horrors of war including bombings, sabotage and suspicions of those in power. "

“During visits to the camp, after initial contact with the camp commanders, we met the heads of the various activities of the prisoner-of-war groups. Every nationality had its special needs. As far as possible, we tried to comply with the request. [...] The delegates in the field, like the population and the prisoners, had to endure the horrors of the war, such as bombing, sabotage and the suspicions of those in power. "

In addition, there was a second, interpersonal level, which was about providing mental support to the prisoners:

“One of the most important tasks of the YMCA delegates was, if time permitted, to sit down and talk to the internees about their personal problems and, thereafter, try to establish the contacts with families and friends in the outside world and to secure the items wished for. "

“One of the most important tasks of the YMCA delegates was, as far as time allowed, to talk calmly with the internees about their personal problems, and then to try to establish contact with family and friends from the outside world and to get what they wanted. "

How necessary and important this support was for the internees can be seen several times when reading William Hilsley's camp diary, when he reports of breakdowns due to the wives' wishes for divorce, of disputes between the prisoners or of attempted or completed suicides. At Hilsley you can also read that the internment camps controlled by the two international organizations - IRCC and YMCA - offered comparatively good chances of survival and enabled a rich internal cultural life, from Latin courses to concerts and film screenings. This was based on the internees' own initiative, supported by the IRCC and YMCA, but also on the long reluctance of the German camp guards.

“The German military establishment (Army, Air Force and Navy) was looking after the military and civilian prisoners of the Third Reich. With few exceptions there seemed to be a desire to give the prisoners a fair treatment - but of course with the devastating war coming closer to the Reich itself the German resources were decreasing every day. During the last year of war, especially after 'the great escape' from Stalag Luft in March 1944, conditions became tougher, SS and Gestapo became more active in surveillance and control of POW camps. ”

“The German military leadership (army, air force and navy) supervised the military and civilian prisoners of the Third Reich. With a few exceptions, efforts seemed to be made to give the prisoners fair treatment - but as the devastating war approached the Reich itself, the German options naturally diminished as well. During the last year of the war, especially after the 'great escape' from the Stalag Luft in March 1944, the conditions became more difficult, the SS and Gestapo intensified the surveillance and control of the POW camps. "

But even under the difficult conditions in the last year of the war, the international helpers did not stop looking after the prisoners of war. Henry Söderberg, one of the seven YMCA delegates active in the German Reich, accompanied the evacuation of the prison camps from Silesia to the Austrian Spittal an der Drau , where in early May 1945 British soldiers took over the camp command from the capitulating Germans.

Barbara Stelzl-Marx points out another activity of the YMCA . The YMCA had tens of thousands of so-called "Wartime Logs", diaries with integrated photo albums, distributed to the American, British and Canadian prisoners of war interned in Germany. They should record their impressions of the camp in the form of diary entries, drawings, short stories, poems, records of meals or sporting and cultural events. A cover letter from the YMCA was attached to each of these "Wartime Logs", explaining the purpose and possible uses. In her study published in 2000, Stelzl-Marx assumed that these "Wartime Logs" represent scientifically hardly considered historical documents in German-speaking countries, which she partly attributes to the fact that the "Logbooks" are almost exclusively in private hands and are considered valuable family memorabilia are guarded. William Hilsley's diary of an interned musician can serve as a prime example of what was intended with the warlogs; He had started to write long before the YMCA campaign, but he reports several times that it was the writing utensils obtained by the YMCA that enabled him to continue his diary.

Kampala Declaration

At the 6th World Council of the YMCA in 1973 in Kampala , Uganda , the following was decided in addition to the Paris base:

“The Parisian base states that Christ is the center of the movement, understood as a worldwide community, in which Christians of all denominations are connected with one another. It follows the principle of open membership, which includes people regardless of their belief, age, gender, race or social circumstances. The base is not intended to serve as a condition for individual membership in the YMCA, which is deliberately left to the discretion of the membership movements of the Federation. The foundation makes it clear that the member movements are free to express their objectives differently, in ways that more directly correspond to the needs and aspirations of those they serve. It is crucial that the objectives in the assessment of the World Federation are in line with the Paris base. In view of the nature of the YMCA in the world today, this act of recognition of the Parisian base places demands on the various associations and their members as co-workers of God, which include.
  • To work for equal opportunities and justice for all.
  • To work for the creation and maintenance of a world in which the relationships between people are characterized by love and understanding.
  • To work towards conditions and their maintenance in the YMCA and in society, their organizations and institutions, which give space for honesty, deepening and creative ability.
  • To develop and maintain forms of cooperation and the program that reveal the diversity and depth of Christian experience.
  • To work for the development of the whole person. "

Men and women in the YMCA

The YMCA emerged as an association of young men. Today membership is open to all young people in many countries. In Germany this becomes particularly clear in the renaming of the individual YMCA from “Christian Association of Young Men” to “Christian Association of Young People” in the 1970s. In addition to the “men's associations”, pure “women's associations” called YWCA emerged worldwide, unlike in Germany. People from all races, denominations and social classes form the worldwide community in the YMCA. The Paris basis applies today in the YMCA-Gesamtverband in Deutschland e. V. for working with all young people.

Alignment and Activities

Borkum holiday camp 1949


The sport within the YMCA has an essential meaning, since moving together belongs to the holistic basic concept (body, soul and spirit) of the YMCA work.

The sport in the YMCA has given itself basic goals:

Sports Forum Gera 2003:

  1. Sport is an indispensable part of the missionary work of the YMCA. Mission is understood as the interaction of diakonia, teaching, preaching and pastoral care.
  2. The YMCA recommends that the governing bodies of the general association and its member associations make themselves aware of this understanding of mission. Concepts for practical implementation are to be developed with all branches of the YMCA.
  3. Sport offers a training field for personal development and the acquisition of social and sporting skills.

Sports Forum Dassel 2007:

Position for the YMCA sports work

Sport is a mainstay of the YMCA work and should be used as a missionary opportunity. The missionary sports work of the YMCA addresses people in their entirety.

The basis is the biblical image of man and the Parisian basis. The conveyance of values ​​is made possible by the lived faith of the employees and promotes a balanced art of living. Employees accompany and inspire people in their various areas of life and help them develop sustainably. CVJM-Sport lives from authentic, well-trained and enthusiastic employees. The YMCA helps to consolidate the future viability of sports work through targeted promotion of employees. The professional competence of YMCA sports and the work with young people is noticed in public and builds bridges to other areas. With a balanced and varied offer, traditions and trends in YMCA sport are taken into account, spaces for movement are opened up and opportunities for new forms of work and innovative projects are created.

International activities

The YMCA movement has spread across the globe. Since the movement is predominantly led and shaped by the grassroots, it is very pluralistic today. The religious spectrum of the affiliated groups ranges from evangelical to open to everyone regardless of their religion . In some places the YMCA is a real youth organization, in other places the age of the members is mixed - but there is a focus on young people everywhere. The programs and activities of the national associations that are part of the YMCA World Federation also differ greatly.


  • United StatesUnited StatesIn the USA , where sports clubs are far less common than in Germany, for example, the YMCA (there: YMCA, often short: "Y") runs sports centers, health programs, preschools, holiday care programs for children, youth hostels, travel and much more. It has over 17 million members.
  • NorwayNorwayYMCA Norway includes youth clubs, sports clubs, youth choirs ( Ten Sing ) and recreational programs for children.
  • Palastina autonomous areasPalestineThe YMCA in Palestine has set up vocational training centers in Jerusalem and Jericho and runs educational programs in refugee camps. It is dedicated to the psycho-social and professional reintegration of traumatized young people, career orientation programs, cultural, sports and youth programs as well as the promotion of small businesses and the creation of jobs.
  • ArmeniaArmeniaThe YMCA runs a youth center in Armenia , giving children and young people new perspectives.
  • PeruPeruIn Peru , the YMCA has a large center in Lima that offers programs for children, adolescents and adults. There are also YMCA associations in other cities in the country (e.g. Arequipa )
  • EcuadorEcuadorIn Santo Domingo ( Ecuador ) the YMCA promotes urban development with the creation of democratic neighborhood organizations.
  • ColombiaColombiaIn Colombia , the YMCA has centers in several cities. In Bogotá he runs over 20 facilities, for example kindergartens, projects for the prevention of child labor, for young people who have committed offenses, etc.
  • Sierra LeoneSierra LeoneIn Sierra Leone , the YMCA runs a peace education project.
  • GermanyGermany For the CVJM in Germany see CVJM-Gesamtverband in Deutschland eV
  • SwitzerlandSwitzerland For the YMCA in Switzerland see Cevi .
  • DenmarkDenmarkThe Danish YMCA was founded in 1878 by the Lutheran Church of Denmark. Since 1976 the previously separate organizations of men and women have merged to form the KFUM . With 9,000 members aged between 6 and 19 in 150 associations, the association is now ecumenically oriented. As part of his international projects, the focus is on the annual exchange programs with the youth sports organizations of Palestine .



Web links

Commons : Christian Association of Young People  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The YMCA Blue Book - World YMCA Movement Statistics 2018. July 10, 2018, accessed May 27, 2019 (American English).
  2. The YMCA Blue Book - World YMCA Movement Statistics 2018. July 10, 2018, accessed May 27, 2019 (American English).
  3. a b Jürgen Tibusek: One faith - many churches. The Christian Religious Communities - Who They Are and What They Believe. Brunnen, Giessen 1994, ISBN 3-7655-1008-4 , p. 177.
  4. Siegfried Fischer: The size of the small beginning. An idea goes around the world. George Williams (1821-1905). Aussaat, Wuppertal 1982, ISBN 3-7615-2282-7 , p. 103.
  5. Siegfried Fischer: The size of the small beginning. An idea goes around the world. George Williams (1821-1905). Aussaat, Wuppertal 1982, ISBN 3-7615-2282-7 , p. 83.
  6. History of the World YMCA (English)
  7. ^ Stefan Huebner: Pan-Asian Sports and the Emergence of Modern Asia, 1913–1974. NUS Press, Singapore 2016, Chapters 1-2.
  8. a b c d e f Henry Söderberg: My Friend William. P. 107. For the general organization of the prisoner-of-war camps see the article main camp .
  9. On Henry Söderberg's work there, see YMCA representative Henry Söderberg
  10. Barbara Stelzl-Marx : Between Fiktion und Zeitzeugenschaft , pp. 111-114.
  11. ^ Aims of the YMCA Sport
  12. Else Trangbaek : Denmark. In: James Riordan , Arnd Krüger (Ed.): European Cultures in Sport: Examining the Nations and Regions. Intellect, Bristol 2003, ISBN 1-84150-014-3 , pp. 47-56.