Joel Schutte's picture

By Joel Schutte, Director of Christian Emphasis, YMCA of Greater Toledo

One common phrase that is trending in the YMCA movement is “member engagement.”  Leadership teams at the Y invest heavily in data-driven procedures and expensive technology to help members feel better connected at their branches.  The Christian community is in a unique position to help the YMCA “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”  YMCA leaders and volunteers have an opportunity to engage members spiritually in our corporate focuses of Youth Development, Healthy Living, and Social Responsibility.

One obstacle Christian leaders at the Y face in the implementation of “loving people spiritually” is how to move the ball for Christ at the YMCA.  One seasoned volunteer at the YMCA and JCC of Greater Toledo told their Christian Emphasis team twelve years ago that the secret of winning at football is to gain “quick yardage.”  This article is all about moving the ball for Jesus through the concept of “quick yardage” in impacting people spiritually at the YMCA.


One way to move the ball spiritually at the YMCA is by creating a culture of prayer in our centers.  The YMCA of Greater Indianapolis is pioneering a simple way to bring prayer into their branches.  Their work takes the “prayer request box in the lobby” to the next level.

Volunteers set up a small table in the lobby with welcoming smiles and snacks. During their time volunteering, they ask members and staff “May we pray for you today?”  If the patron says yes, they lead with this simple question:  “If you knew that God would give it to you, what would you ask Him for?”  In one two-hour block, several volunteers prayed with more than 50 members of their branch.

Creating a culture where prayer is normal, and even expected, will help us move the ball spiritually at our YMCAs.




Another way to impact people spiritually at the YMCA is by recruiting Volunteer Chaplains.  Volunteer Chaplains can be clergy, or lay people recommended by their pastors, that volunteer at the YMCA 3-4 hours per week to spiritually care for others.  YMCA’s run background checks and provide limited training, so candidates need only the attitude and aptitude to love, serve, and care for others.

The YMCA and JCC of Greater Toledo are having great success gaining quick yardage in the area of volunteer chaplaincy.  They currently have more than 40 chaplains loving, serving, and caring for members in Norwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan at 12 centers and 27 childcare locations.  Their chaplains often lead their conversations with a simple statement, “Is there anything I can do to serve you?”  This conversation starter has opened doors of spiritual impact for thousands of relationships over the past twelve years.

Not everyone prays with the chaplains or are even willing to talk about their faith.  Rather, chaplains build strong relationships with members that may become channels for spiritual care when the member is in need.  In the area of Volunteer Chaplaincy, quick yardage happens one conversation at a time.


Another way to move the ball spiritually at the YMCA is through life-giving partnerships in our local communities.

At the Anthony Wayne Community YMCA, the executive leadership team is always looking for ways to partner with churches in the area.  After a five-minute presentation on partnership with the Y, one local ministerial group moved their meetings and ministry into the YMCA.  Since doing this, the meetings have doubled in size, and they are engaging more clergy and churches than before.  The Anthony YMCA Community YMCA is helping local clergy impact the region spiritually, and the churches are assisting the YMCA in loving, serving, and caring for people at their local branch.

One of the best ways to gain quick yardage spiritually at the YMCA is to partner with local churches in your community.


Moving the ball spiritually at the YMCA comes through the old adage of keeping things simple.  A great way to gain quick yardage spiritually at the YMCA is by offering a 3-minute devotion at a staff meeting or gathering.

One constant in the life of the YMCA is meetings.  Every YMCA executive has had that dreaded moment of not having a high-quality “thought of the day” to open up a gathering with their leadership teams.

There is a large multi-site church in the greater Toledo area that approached the YMCA for an opportunity to move the ball spiritually at the Y.  Even this large local church, with pastors in great demand by their worshipping communities, are willing to provide a 3-minute devotion to share at their local YMCA.  Most pastors can pick a scripture, pray about the application, print out a handout, drive to the YMCA and back, and present their devotion in about an hour.  This impact, often shared with dozens of leaders at the same time, impacts thousands of staff and members at the YMCA annually. 

Some YMCA leaders may wonder about the politics of choosing Christian clergy or lay people to share devotions at the YMCA.  What about leaders from other religions? At our roots all YMCAs are Christian organizations. We may have leaders from other faiths serving at the YMCA, but our mission “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all,” should remain the foundation of the YMCA’s work in Youth Development, Healthy Living, and Social Responsibility.  Sharing a 3-minute devotion at a regularly scheduled meeting is a simple, thought-provoking way to move the ball spiritually at the YMCA.


Gaining quick yardage spiritually at the YMCA always includes life-giving volunteers.  Even YMCA staff living out the Christian Mission of the Y will often volunteer time outside of their work schedule to move the ball spiritually at the YMCA.

Churches and local faith-based not-for-profits are often looking for a safe place to share their faith in the community.  Why not at the Y?  The Countryside YMCA in Lebanon, OH hosts The Antioch Church of the Y in their facility.  This church loves to volunteer at the YMCA.  They serve at functions painting faces and handing out food, they provide sponsorships and meals for Y initiatives, and field volunteer coaches for YMCA leagues and sporting events. The Countryside YMCA receives life-giving volunteers and the church engages their membership in low-pressure opportunities to live out their faith in the community. 

YMCA leaders are very protective of members in their branches and sites and will not allow congregations to aggressively proselytize in their centers.  Our volunteers need to put down heavy-handed evangelism techniques, and to follow Jesus’ example of serving his friends.  We often tell our chaplains that they have a right to share the message of Christ because of what Jesus did on the cross, but they earn the right to be heard one relationship at a time.

The vehicle of life-giving volunteerism is one of the most effective ways to move the ball spiritually at the YMCA.


After reading through Five Ways to Move the Ball Spiritually at the Y you may still wonder how you can live out the Christian mission of the YMCA.  Truth is, this is up to you and how God is working in your life. 

The best way to gain quick yardage for Christ is to gain quick inches in serving Jesus.  You may not be ready to walk up to someone at the YMCA to offer a prayer, but you may be ready to volunteer at a 5K race handing out water and a smile.  You may not want to go to the local ministerial group to ask them to meet at the YMCA, but you may be willing to share a 3-minute devotional for a small group of childcare professionals.

In the work of moving the ball spiritually at the YMCA, inches become feet, and feet become yards.  YMCA professionals strive to engage members every day at their branches.  The desire to holistically serve their members creates space for Christians to impact people spiritually at the Y. Maybe Jesus is leading you to do this at your YMCA too.  

This article, 5 Ways To Move The Ball Spiritually At The Y, appears in the June/July 2016 issue of Faith & Fitness Magazine.

Read more related content found in your YMCA Focus Department.

This Y Is On Fire!

Back in the mid-1800’s America experienced a tremendous era of spiritual revival. People like D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday led a faith awakening that shaped American culture and positioned the YMCA as a dominant force for bring life-changing Christian hope to thousands. Could it happen again? We see evidence that a new fire of faith is being ignited today throughout the country. Help us tell your Y’s story and help everyone see how together, Y’s across the nation are fueling a new generation of passionate Christ-followers united with a consuming mission. We're writing the story now so CONTACT US to be part of this story.


About the Author

  • Joel Schutte's picture
    Joel Schutte is the Director of Christian Emphasis for the YMCA and JCC of Greater Toledo. He lives, works, and plays with his wife of 15 years and his seven children in Toledo, OH. For more information on how God is using the YMCA to impact people spiritually email Joel at

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