“The Why Church” Transforms Life at The “Y”
A new model for ministry in Minnesota is lifting up Christian principles at the “YMCA” branches in Elk River and New Hope[dropcap]F[/dropcap] rom cradle to grave, the YMCA prides itself on serving all members of our society. The “Y” has become a regular part of many people’s lives in our communities; a place to work up a sweat on the treadmill, where our children learn to swim, where our seniors do aerobics.
There’s mutual blessing in this relationship…
A new model for ministry in Minnesota is transforming the “YMCA” branches in Elk River and New Hope; it’s called The Why Church. As its name suggests, it’s offering a place for the community to wrestle with questions of faith and find a convenient places of worship. Five years ago, Bjorn Dixon planted The Why Church in Elk River’s YMCA gymnasium. What started out as a facility rental agreement, has developed into one of the branch’s most valuable partnerships.
“There’s mutual blessing in this relationship,” said Dixon. “We found a place in helping the Y fulfill its mission. We could say to the Y, ‘Your mission statement talks about putting Christian principles into practice, and having a healthy spirit. We’d like to help you do that.’”
Over the years The Why Church in Elk River’s YMCA organically grew from a Sunday morning ALPHA course, to a thriving church that is reaching the community, in large part due to its location inside a hub of activity.
“The Y is open on Sunday mornings, and our mission field is right there. The whole community is coming to the Y, it’s full of life and activity on Sunday mornings, the very people we are trying to reach,” said Dixon.
…it’s full of life and activity on Sunday mornings, the very people we are trying to reach.
The Why Church pastoral staff works out of the YMCA building, and has made it a point to volunteer for YMCA programs, share their equipment with the YMCA and hire YMCA staff to run their Sunday morning child care center.
“Our most important places of pastoral ministry, is encouraging and supporting the YMCA staff. Whether that is friendship and conversation, or praying with a staff member who is grieving, or visiting YMCA staff in the hospital,” said Dixon.[dropcap]L[/dropcap] eaders at the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, or YGTC, have taken notice of this mutually beneficial relationship.
“This has been an organic process that has developed into an amazing partnership between the YMCA and The Why Church,” said Todd Tibbits, COO of YGTC.
“The Why Church members volunteer for everything, whatever is happening at the YMCA, they are there and are stepping up,” said Ron Touchette, YMCA Board Member.
We view us a place for people to experience Christian principles through our actions, our volunteers, and staff…
The YGTC formed a Christian Principles Network last year, to evaluate how the YMCA is putting its Christian principles into action. In choosing who to chair that network, the YGTC didn’t have to look very far; Bjorn Dixon was already successfully navigating the YMCA’s core principles of welcoming all people to the YMCA, and staying true to the Y’s Christian foundation.
“We view us a place for people to experience Christian principles through our actions, our volunteers, and staff, but not a place where people feel faith is force on them,” said Tibbits.
“The Y wants to be diverse and inclusive, and we as the church can live out the Christian principles portion of the Y’s mission statement; while the Y keeps its doors open for all people,” said Dixon.[dropcap]T[/dropcap] he Why Church now has another church plant growing out of the New Hope YMCA branch, led by Pastor Joshua Whetstine.
But Pastor Bjorn Dixon says lifting up the ‘C’ in YMCA (originally an acronym for “Young Men’s Christian Association) can happen in many ways at any of the YGTC’s 23 branches.
“Living out Christian principles is not just about church planting. It can be a prayer ministry with a prayer request box in the Y, it can be a volunteer chaplaincy program started at a Y branch,” said Dixon.
For example, the YMCA at Heritage Park branch is offering a gospel aerobics class called “Prayer, Worship and Workout.”
“We workout while gospel music and Christian worship is going forward,” said Velma Harris, Active Older Adult Program & Fitness coordinator at YMCA Heritage Park.
Harris also launched a pancake and prayer breakfast around Easter this year.
YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities Mission Statement: “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”
“Part of my role is to help emphasize the “C” in YMCA. I believe God has to put me here to help do that,” said Harris.
While the YMCA seeks to embrace its Christian mission, Tibbits emphasizes the inclusive nature of the organization’s mission statement: “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”
“We embrace the last two words of the mission statement “for all” regardless of faith or beliefs, everyone is to feel welcome,” said Tibbets.