Home Christian News Near Chicago, a Lutheran Church Finds New Life at the YMCA

Near Chicago, a Lutheran Church Finds New Life at the YMCA

“They’ll do their church plant at the Y for a couple of years,” said Hallman, “and everyone knows the plan is that they move out.”

But some decide they love the Y so much they end up staying long-term.

That’s the case for St. Joe’s United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, which launched a new campus at Jackson R. Lehman Family YMCA when it opened in 2018. Ashley Moreland, pastor of St. Joe’s at the Y, says that — in a time when people don’t go to church — bringing the church to where people are already gathering makes sense.

St. Joe’s holds services on Sunday mornings and has a “ministry of presence” that provides prayer chaplains for Y members, said Moreland. The church also cohosts events during the year with the Y, providing volunteer support, and opens up some nearby athletic fields it owns (known as Praise Park) to the Y for its summer camp programs.

She said folks who come to the Y already want to make changes in their lives — to lose weight or feel healthier — so they may be open to improving their spiritual health, said Moreland.

Plus the church can also offer a friendly and supportive presence.

“It allows us to meet people where they are and show them that there’s a God who loves them and there are people who love them,” she said.

Mike Newman agrees.

Newman, who pastors a church that makes its home at the Countryside YMCA in Maineville, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati, said that folks sometimes wander into his office looking for spiritual counsel or conversation.

“What pastor gets the community knocking on their door asking for help?” he said. “Usually, we’re the ones pursuing and going out to meet people.”

Newman is a leader in the CITY Movement, which hopes to start more long-term partnerships between churches and the YMCA. The group, whose name stands for “Church in the Y,” hopes to get pastors to stop seeing the Y as a short-term option for a meeting space and to see the Y as a long-term partner.

Sometimes, a religious group will make space for the Y in their own building. That was the case in Memphis, when Church Health, a major nonprofit that provides care to the uninsured, moved into a new building in 2017 and offered part of its space to the YMCA.