Despite the retention of the name, membership is not limited to Christians, and since World War II women and girls have been accepted as members.
The first association was launched (1844) in London by Sir George Williams and a group of young men in business as a place to help other young working men find God through prayer and Bible study.
In 1851 the movement took root in North America. Following the lead of Montreal and Boston, a number of other cities soon formed their own YMCAs, and in 1854 the first convention of North American associations took place in Buffalo, N.Y. A world conference in Paris (1855), attended by delegates from eight nations, led to the formation of the World Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Associations in the same year.
The organization now has branches on every continent. Originally focused on Bible study and religious activities, the YMCA has greatly broadened its mission statement over the years. YMCAs often provide inexpensive housing, meeting space for community groups, gymnasiums and pools, and child-care programs. YMCAs serve 30 million people in 120 countries.