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The Young Men’s Christian Association is one of the oldest international nongovernmental organisations in the world. Today, the World Alliance of YMCAs reports having 45 million members and 14,000 local associations in 122 countries.
The YMCA emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century as a fruit of the Evangelical revival. Although the London YMCA from 1844 is normally regarded as the first YMCA, the older German Jünglingsvereine formed up to the WW II another stream in the YMCA family that in many respects differed from the British model. When there were similar associations in Belgium, France, Netherlands, North America and Switzerland they began in correspondence and decided to meet during the Evangelical Alliance conference in Paris during the World Exhibition in August 1855. In that first YMCA World’s Conference the movement founded its international body, World Alliance of YMCAs and adopted its Paris Basis.
The Paris Basis became the bond for the international movement and later it was a model for other ecumenical organisations (YWCA, Student Christian Movement, World Council of Churches) as well.
The Young Men’s Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and saviour according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be His disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of His Kingdom amongst young men.
The YMCA is primarily a youth organisation. It has been a pioneer in the development of organisational practices, youth work (clubs, camps, festivals, conferences), education (especially physical education), ecumenism and interfaith dialog, military canteens, services for refugees and migrants, and development cooperation.
In the Preamble of the Basis it is stated that while YMCAs “are one in principle and in operation” all local associations preserve their “complete independence as to their particular organization and modes of action.” This clause has several consequences. First, the emphasis of the movement is at the grassroots level. The World Alliance has significantly small international staff and budget in the light of the size of the movement. Most international YMCA projects are bilateral between either local or national associations. Due to this, nobody knows the total yearly income and expenditure of the whole YMCA movement. Second, the World Alliance has no power over the national movements or local associations. Third, local freedom has enabled the YMCAs to respond to the local needs and adapt to different cultures of the world.
During its history, the YMCA has diffused to all continents, developed organisational models and created new activities. Facing new challenges, the YMCA had to modify the interpretation of its mission to fit the needs of various niches but at the same time it has kept the Paris Basis untouched.