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.