Church vs. Parachurch

878087606_aMEqi-X3[1]Think of Campus Crusade, hospital chaplaincy, seminaries, prison ministries, private Christian schools, Bible societies.

These ministries are classified as parachurch (“alongside the church”): Christian ministries that are NOT churches.

You might say I’m a convert. When I first began to follow Christ, I quickly fell in love with parachurches and found little purpose for the local church. Today I support both.

I’m a huge fan of parachurch organizations.

I’ve been on staff with one, and I’m actively involved with many today.

Given recent trends, can I tell you what I think describes the ideal parachurch (assuming purity of doctrine and integrity in leadership, of course)?

1) You don’t site the church’s failure to justify your existence.
The parachurch concept started as a genuine effort to assist the church in the gospel ministry, not to complete what the church failed to do.

Beware of the superhero complex: stating that “the church has failed” and then pretending that you haven’t.

Your trite formula for fixing the church won’t fix either of us.

2) Your target audience is clearly defined.
Frankly, this is the genius of the parachurch: you get to choose who you minister to!

You get to specialize.

You are called to college students, or hospital patients, or Christian students who can afford your private school tuition, or prisoners. Naturally, this makes your organization potentially very effective. Use that niche strategically.

And keep in mind that each local church must minister to every person without specializing.

3) You work collaboratively with other parachurch organizations.
If your target audience is the same as a dozen other parachurch organizations, join forces. For years you’ve accused the church of ineffective fragmentation, but I see tons of churches working together today.

Don’t fail where the church has been historically weak.

4) You work collaboratively with the local church.
I’ll finish with one bad recent trend and one good one. It seems that parachurches have experienced three phases in the last 100 years: a. you began alongside the church, b. you attempted to replace the (irrelevant, broken, ineffective) church, and c. you now seek to control the church.

This certainly doesn’t apply to every parachurch organization, but enough that I’ll get at least three invitations this week to yet another group whose goal is to “mobilize churches in your area.” It always involves a big meeting with big names telling church leaders how to “win their city” (often with clashing methods).

I get that the goal is to jumpstart all of these ineffective, fragmented churches–but why are so many different parachurch organizations trying to steer the church in ultimately different directions?

Return to your original spot alongside the church.

5) Your staff is actively involved in their local church.
Another recent trend…and a good one. This is a blessing at my church. Dozens of parachurch staff are members at the church I serve. They are eager, mature, church men and women. They understand that the church is broken and so are we all. They also understand that Christ promised to build His church.

They want to be part of this movement.

I’m actively involved in a dozen strategic parachurch ministries, many of which you can find on my about page. I’m thankful for them all. And that’s certainly not an exhaustive list of groups I’m grateful for. I like parachurches!

But I love the church. [link]


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