Faithful Politics

Being faithful with our politics, not political with our faith.

Effective Giving: The Church-Parachurch Tension, Part 2

A few weeks ago we discussed the fact that many people direct their giving towards parachurch ministries instead of their local church, something that poses a few potential problems.  This week we are going to expand the conversation and discuss why people may be drawn to give to parachurch ministries instead of their church, why it matters where we give our donations, and finally, a few possible solutions to this issue.

In his excellent book on evangelicalism and culture, Faith in the Halls of Power, D. Michael Lindsay points out that the top 5% of evangelical donors give 51% of all the charitable dollars, mainly towards parachurch organizations.  This means that many ministries are largely dependent on the philanthropy of a few select individuals.  These donors, Lindsay points out, find it more exciting to give to groups that aren’t spending their time “playing church” (pg. 207).  Now, the term “playing church” could obviously have many different connotations, but what is most likely meant is that these wealthy donors are uncomfortable giving to churches because of their own poor stewardship and management of resources.  Many local churches use the vast majority of their finances on simply perpetuating their own existence; never getting out into the battlefield and making a difference for the Kingdom.  Parachurch ministries, however, are on the front lines, bringing healing to lost and hurting people in all corners of the globe.

But directing all one’s giving outside the local church has many potential problems.  One such problem is that it creates a sense of isolation from community.  The joy of doing something productive with one’s finances can be tempered by the loss of connection with other Christians committed to the Body.  By giving to a church we are connected to a group of believers who more fully represent what it means to be the Body of Christ.  Churches bring together people of all walks of life with all kinds of different passions and dreams.  By engaging community at the local church level we should be exposed to a whole set of issues that, while we are not particularly drawn to, can be close to the heart of God.  A healthy church should broaden our horizons about what is going on in the world and what we should be concerned about.  A specialized non-profit does not have this ability.

What then is the answer?  As we said last time, parachurch ministries should do better at living up to their name (“para” means alongside or next to) and actually come alongside the work that churches are doing instead of doing their work in a vacuum.  More importantly, this requires a reciprocal response from churches.  The local church must rededicate itself to engaging society, which may require a radical reorientation of their respective budgets.

Churches are connected to many people who aren’t giving as much as they should or could.  At the same time, parachurch ministries have developed networks and connections that allow them to be more efficient and effective than a local church ever could be.  If the local church and non-profit ministries were to work together they would both increase their effectiveness.  Churches would probably see an increase in giving because their members would recognize that the finances weren’t going to simply “play church.”  Non-profits would have the benefit of a local church body praying for, supporting, and giving to the work they do.  It is time for the Body to once again act like a body.  Collaboration between churches and parachurch ministries is one way to make this happen.


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  1. Thanks for this insightful post, Kolburt. As an employee at a parachurch organization, I think it’s right on. The organization I work for has as its mission “to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable,” but sometimes the biggest stumbling block to fully living out that mission is that we get far more funding from government grants (and sometimes secular foundations) than we do from local churches. But were it not for those grant funds, without an exponential increase in the amount of funding from churches and individual Christians, we would be able to do only a tiny fraction of the ministry that we can do today.

    There are some wonderful exceptions, but most local churches spend only a tiny fraction of their budget on addressing anything outside of their own walls (whether they do so directly or by supporting the work of a parachurch organization), as most of their income is eaten up by building costs and salaries for staff who primarily serve members of the church. If (whether directly or in partnership with parachurch organizations) local churches spent more on ministering to those who are not (yet) their members–particularly the vulnerable for whom, Scripture makes very clear, God has a special concern–I think that many individual Christians would be inclined to give more through the local church.

    I wish that I could do all my giving to the local church and trust that it would work with appropriate partners when necessary to effectively share the gospel, make disciples, and care for the impoverished and marginalized both in our community and around the world. But my church allocates just 2.5% of its budget on ministry to the poor, and just a few percentage points more to international missions, so while I do tithe I direct all giving beyond that directly to parachurch organizations (the one that I work for and others that I’ve seen doing important and effective work).

    • Matt, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately your church does better than most on giving to the poor. The church I grew up in had a $14,000,000 budget and allocated $80,000 for the needy, a measly .5%. We certainly need a priority shift within the church if this is going to get better.

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