Get educated on Parachurch Ministries

“Jesus is knocking and many are slamming the door in His face. “


“Parachurch” is a term that (as best as I can tell) emerged in the US in the 1960s. It is used almost exclusively in Protestant evangelical circles as a label for faith-based non-profit organizations. For purposes of registering with the government, these groups are included under the exempt section 501(c)(3) of the United States tax code. Parachurch ministries, as defined by Willmer and Schmidt in their book The Prospering Parachurch, are tax-exempt organizations that also meet three other criteria:

they are independent of traditional congregational or denominational structures

they are organized by a Christian mission statement

their work is focused on a specific area of ministry

This name “parachurch” is formed from the Greek prefix “para-” which means “alongside” or “surrounding.” In its best sense, a parachurch organization is meant to come beside and support local congregations, assisting them in their mission and ministry.

While the word “parachurch” has gained traction in America since the 1980s, the terms “nonprofit,” “mission board,” “voluntary organization,” and “special purpose group” were used before that time, and these terms are still preferred in other countries. Indeed, there is nothing especially American about parachurch organizations; they existed a long time before the church was concerned about US tax laws. Timothy, among others, argues that Paul and Barnabas formed the first parachurch organization way back in the first century, moving out from the congregation at Antioch on what we call the “first missionary journey” (see Acts 13). Released from the ministry of looking out for one single congregation, Paul and his fellow missionaries were free to spread the gospel wherever they went. Accordingly, it is possible to claim that as long as the church has existed, a parachurch has supported it. Think of some of the most significant mission movements of the past three hundred years — they were mostly groups that worked outside the confines of local congregations.

Here are just a few historical examples:

The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, formed in 1698 out of the Church of England to set up schools and publish books.

The American Bible Society began in 1816 for the purpose of providing a copy of the printed scriptures for every household in the newly independent American colonies.

China Inland Mission (1865), later renamed OMF, originally equipped and sent missionaries from Europe into the interior regions of China.

Some denominations today were initially parachurch movements. For example, the United Methodist Church grew out of the Wesleyan renewal movement, which was never intended to be its own separate organization. John Wesley was a priest in the Church of England, and his desire was for Anglicans (and members of other church groups) to have life-changing experiences with God, all while staying faithful members of their home parishes. As happens with movements, these Methodist groups soon became their own organization. Indeed, the methods for spreading the movement were so rigorous that they were easily transformed into denominational structures, especially in the American colonies during the time of the Revolution.

Today some of the more prominent US parachurch ministries, which meet all the four criteria listed above, include:

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Youth With a Mission

Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ)

I spent more than 12 years working full-time for a parachurch organization. These groups can be wonderful blessings to the church, providing resources and energy to do things that solitary congregations are not equipped to handle. For example, most congregations have neither the resources nor the vision to launch an audacious task like translating the Bible for every language group that needs it. When they are at their best, parachurch groups like Wycliffe Bible Translators bring together many local churches to work in partnership, focusing on an aspect of mission or outreach that no single congregation can tackle alone.

However, the reality of parachurch-to-congregational relationships is trickier that than. Instead of working in partnership, many Christians find that these non-profit organizations provide an avenue to do mission work outside — not with — local congregations. In some cases the parachurch is more like extra-church. In fact, David Murrow wrote (quoting another author) about people who seek out parachurch groups because they do not like worshiping in local churches:


Many of society’s most powerful Christian men don’t go to church at all…Lindsay found these high-achieving men typically practiced their faith alone or in small groups, far from the public eye. He writes, “Executives and politicians are often distressed by the way churches are run…Others described local congregations as ‘unproductive’ and ‘focused on the wrong things.'”

Again, this desire to go it alone is not a new problem — it was with the church from the beginning. Paul and his main missionary partner, Barnabas, got in a dispute over ministerial authority. When they could not resolve their differences, they split up and went their separate ways, creating their own separate mission teams. Perhaps there was a time when the church could afford to be dispersed, when there was “enough work for everyone.” Today, when the US church is losing power in the culture, hemorrhaging both people and money, I expect that sincere cooperation between church and parachurch will need to increase.

These are facts. Don’t shut the door on Jesus. There are good people out there trying to help Small church’s grow. We can’t pretend to know it all.

Together we are better!!

This is a reblog with additional material added.


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