What Denomination Is YWAM?
October 19, 2020 - January 1, 2030
What Denomination Is YWAM?
Since 1960, literally millions of young people have been criss-crossing the globe, all seeking to spread the love of Jesus to those around them through varied acts of Christian service and ministry, all in pursuit of the Great Commission of Jesus found in Matthew’s gospel (28:18-20). They’re called YWAMers, and they are a part of YWAM (Youth With A Mission). The heartbeat of YWAM and YWAMers around the world is to “Know God and to Make Him Known.” And while some find it difficult to define the movement, YWAM unequivocally falls squarely within the global Christian Missions endeavour, having mobilised more people into Christian missions than any other mission effort.
So what denomination is YWAM? Where does it fall on the seemingly endless spectrum of Christian doctrine and theology? What can you expect when you attend a YWAM DTS (Discipleship Training School)? These are excellent questions, and we’ll do our best to tackle them here. Let’s dive in!
So What Denomination Is YWAM?
By definition (in reference to the YWAM Foundational Values, Value #8), YWAM is interdenominational.
This stands in stark contrast to many other so-called ‘parachurch’ or missions organisations who hold to certain denominational lines, as well as to some churches/ministries which claim to be ‘non-denominational’.
YWAM is neither.
Here are two clear ways YWAM has benefitted from being interdenominational, rather than non-denominational, or simply belonging to a single denomination.
YWAM Is A Vessel
The first way YWAM has benefitted comes directly from YWAM’s origins. From its inception, YWAM was designed to be a vessel for young people to be launched into Christian missions. Born out of a vision its Founder (Loren Cunningham) had as a young man of waves of young people from everywhere going to everywhere, YWAM has facilitated young people carrying the gospel of Jesus to every nation on earth, and covering the entire planet.
In the 1950s and 1960s in Western Protestant Christianity, young people were more or less barred from going into missions due to their youth, their inexperience, and their lack of training. Loren believed God was calling him to establish a missions movement where unnecessary barriers that kept young people out of missions were pulled down.
While some of these barriers have their value in certain contexts (and YWAM is certainly not immune to the struggles of youth-led and youth-focused ministry!), stripping down the prerequisites for people to enter the mission field to the bare minimum has enabled millions of young people, regardless of denominational affiliation, to be equipped and sent out on short term mission trips. Denominational requirements generally limit participation, and God was calling Loren (and YWAM) to the “alls and the everys”, to make YWAM “global, comprehensive, and inclusive.”
Being interdenominational has allowed YWAMers to come from everywhere and to minister everywhere, opening the door for young people around the world to join the Great Commission.
A Diverse Movement?
Owing partially to the fact that YWAM is a decentralised movement (rather than an organisation), YWAM has been able to grow and develop by leaning into the strengths of different denominations working together.
What’s the difference between an organization and a movement? The difference might seem small, but in reality, it’s monumental.
As a movement, YWAM has no centralised structure, funding, or governance, something all organisations must have. Rather, God has led YWAM to be a “Christ centred, faith-based, global volunteer movement, united by shared vision, core beliefs, foundational values, and relationships” (https://ywam.org/about-us/values).
Though YWAMers around the globe share a core set of beliefs, that’s all they are: the core beliefs to which most (if not all) Christians can give assent.
YWAM’s core beliefs make little to no claims about the doctrines and beliefs that have led to the denominational fracturing of the Christian church over the past 2000+ years, and the various YWAM ministries around the world operate with effective autonomy from each other. Each YWAM ministry has the “privilege and spiritual responsibility to develop and maintain healthy relationships with appropriate authorities and circles of elders” (ibid).
What’s the benefit of this?
Strength through healthy diversity.
The Church of Jesus is an international body of believers, with a rich diversity of languages, practices, ethnicities, and histories. In Chapter 7:9 of The Revelation, the author witnesses “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”. YWAM seeks to honour and reflect that beautiful diversity by uniting around the core tenets and practices that have bonded Christians for generations, and moving out in the strength of that unity.
Different denominations seem to have different strengths as well as weaknesses; vision and blind spots; successes and failures. By accommodating people from multiple denominational backgrounds, YWAM opens the door for the strength of each denomination to come forth, while also creating opportunities for the weaknesses to be fortified.
It creates an environment where people can learn from one another, and in so doing, grow to be more like Christ. Of course, this sort of environment can only really thrive if there is plenty of humility, curiosity, and a wholehearted commitment to truth above party lines (among a host of other character traits).
So What Can You Expect?
If you’re interested in attending a YWAM Discipleship School, you’ve probably already wondered about what sort of Christian experience you’re likely to encounter once you arrive.
Will it be charismatic? Mainline? Traditional? Liturgical? New-age (eek!)?
While YWAM doesn’t hold to one particular denomination over another, it does trace its roots back to its Founders, Loren and Darlene Cunningham, who were a part of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal, Evangelical, Protestant denomination. Obviously, the Founders (and their personal roots) have had a significant influence on the day-to-day experience of many YWAMers since its origins in 1960.
But since YWAM is such a global, international movement, it’s impossible to paint the entirety of it with one denominational brush.
If you’re curious, your best bet is to actually get in touch with the YWAM ministry you’re interested in, and ask them directly. You can ask them about the founders/core leaders of that particular ministry, whether everyone attends the same church, what sort of practices are typical of the average corporate gatherings, and so on, and you’ll likely get a pretty good sense of what you’re in for.
So, to answer the question of “What denomination is YWAM?”, we affirm that YWAM is interdenominational. As YWAMers, we love and make room for people from all Christian denominations, so long as they hold to the core tenets of historical, biblical Christianity, and carry those key character marks of Jesus’ followers, without which unity is nearly impossible: humility, curiosity, and a commitment to the truth.
“Through prayer and passion stream, I was able to see how prayer could be a place of so much intimacy with God. Finding my secret place with Him allowed me to fall in love again with His beauty and goodness. At the same time, God revealed to me the secrets of His heart- how He saw me and how He saw the world. It’s such a privilege to know that there’s a big God up there who trust us and partners with us to bring the kingdom of heaven down on to earth through our prayers!!! And never once did He let me down.”
Jesse Chua, 22, Singapore
“My life used to be run by my fears, my struggles, and my failures. I had no way of fighting them because I didn’t know the truth. Over my time with YWAM and beyond, I have encountered so much freedom as God has shown me the truth of who He is in His Word. Dive into the Bible on Cover to Cover and watch God transform you as He begins to show you who He really is and who you were really made to be.”
David Souter, 22, England
“Since being here at Marine Reach, my hunger for God has continued to grow more and more. In the Kingdom Come stream, our heart is to see the world changed by the message of His love and the demonstration of His power. It’s such a privilege to be apart of a group of people so on fire for Jesus!”
Joseph Pope, 25, Virginia, USA
“In the worshipstream I learned why we worship God, because he loved us first and because he’s worthy to be praised!
Also I learned that If you lead worship you have to be filled first in order to lead others into worship because you lead others in the intimacy that you have for yourself.”
Jaspar Wandtke, 20, Germany
“Wild at Heart? Yes, of course! But whatever adventure I went for, I wanted to be the one in control. During my DTS, God changed my heart to go wild with Him. I learned to trust in God and that I don’t have to be in charge, as long as I know the One who is!”
Silas Bauer, 21, Germany
“For the past two years God has called me to go deeper in the word and not just let it be a surface level experience with Him. However I didn’t really have the tools, knowledge or understanding for how to go about this. God spoke to me months before I knew I would be able to do the DBS, during lockdown, that those who get into the word would see the face of Jesus. I am realizing that as I get into the word for hours a day with really helpful teachings to go alongside the readings, that is exactly what is happening. I am gaining such a deeper understanding of who God is and who I am, in relation to Him. There have been weeks where doing the homework assignments just completely wrecked me by seeing the love of God and in the moments of reflecting how God has moved so radically in my life. Even when I wasn’t walking closely with Him, He has always been drawing me back into a close relationship with Him by His love and mercy and grace.”
Anika Hochstedler, 26, New York
“SPHC was a transformational turning point in my faith walk where I learned to focus on others, serve, and honour others with my skills. Everything I learned in the course I put into practice to serve in the mission work that we were doing in Vanuatu. In changing me the Lord has changed my future and I walk with him and others in everything that I do.”
Paul Kerpel, 23, Alberta, Canada
“Being part of the Go Pacific Stream really opened my eyes to experiencing and living in other cultures, particularly that of the Māori and South Pacific. Being able to be so relational with others, a key part of their culture, meant that we could witness God move in peoples’ lives on such a personal level, which has impacted me ever since. It also helped me discover my heart for evangelism, encouraged me to step out in faith, and stirred a passion to share the life-changing love of God I came to know during this time.”
Emma Sear, 19, England
“Did you know that according to WHO more than half the world does not have access to healthcare? After seeing those statistics first hand, while in the mission field, I was heartbroken, but I was not without hope. God used my SPHC team and me to meet the needs of many individuals both physically and spiritually, and He opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in healthcare. I now attend the University of Missouri and I am pursuing a degree in Public Health. I hope to one day work for the WHO and take on the challenge of reaching those without healthcare with God’s healing hands.”
Caroline Wilson, 21, Colorado, USA
“Before joining the Medical Compassion stream, it was hard for me to understand what total surrender looked like in my life. I realize now that it is not my own compassion that compels me to love and care for others, but rather, it is the Father’s heart through me. I realize now that He is the true Savior, and I am simply a vessel chosen to carry His love and mercy to those hurting around me.”
Maeve Cooney, 18, Maryland, USA