Can you imagine a day where parachurch has evolved to such an extent that it encompasses all the ministries and functions we traditionally ascribe to church?

Christians are used to speaking of parachurch mission agencies, those specialist teams who take on the challenge of mission in a way few churches ever come close to. But what about the other dimensions of church life? Can we conceive of them being outsourced too? What about parachurch discipleship, parachurch fellowship, parachurch worship? Here’s just a thought experiment for my Christian readers. Can we imagine a day where people begin to choose to network and circulate between specialist ministries in preference to static church membership?

I wonder if that day has not already arrived. Consider how more and more of the Christians attending colleges are doing so, not to become ministers, but to get better discipleship. Consider how many people have regular pilgrimages to Hillsong, not for the whole experience, but simply to get a worship fix. Consider how many Christians join up with youth groups and small groups that have nothing to do with their home church simply for social reasons. Why bother with static church membership at all?

In some ways I find this appealing, the option of connecting with ministries that suit me, but in other ways I find it disturbing. Is this not just consumer culture gone mad? Won’t this just further contribute to the fragmentation of our societies and very identity? When we talk about emerging church, what precisely is emerging beyond all the rhetoric? At one end of the spectrum, sure, we have neo monasticism. But at the other we are also getting the diffuse network, the parachurch church. What do you make of all this?

4 thoughts on “The Parachurch Church

  1. having worked in the parachurch world for over 7 years and now working for the “church” i can tell you that my feeling is that the parachurch was usually a better expression of church… the church AS mission…. right now i want to see the church awakened to its call to mission but it is a heavy sleeper….
    it is true that the scenario you spoke about is already happening… it is quite often unhealthy but at the same time i think about my own life and ask “what is my church?” is it purely the people who meet Sunday in the same building as me? is it my friends now scattered amongst many different churches (and states).. is it the people who’s blogs i read? is it the people i look up to? is it the people who look up to me?
    i think that the concept of a “portfolio church” is close to most peoples experience… we can choose to be committed to our core community where we live… but our spiritual formation is determined by more than just that community…
    it is scary in some ways… but is it something to speak out against? or to embrace?

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  2. It’s something I’ve been pondering for a while (probably not enough blogposts though!). To me it makes a lot of sense and I would love to see denominations move into more parachurch ways fo doing things (though that could breed accountability issues – don’g get me started on church politics).
    I would throw another bone out there – is the church of the future more like a cathedral?

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  3. Over time, the parachurch church morphs into the static church.
    For a historical example, just look at the Methodist movement. It started as an itinerant ministry to reevangelise Britain in the 18th century. They had an itinerant apostolic preaching/teaching ministry to the unchurched. They left the local church ministry, the sacramental ministry, to the Anglican ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.
    But when they split from the Anglicans they started to need the local church ministry as well, and their “societies” became local congregaqtions, their “circuits” became insistinguishable from Anglican deaneries, their itinerant ministers settled down, and they’ve battled ever since, trying to fit a square model of ministry into a round hole.
    St Cosmas the Aetolian, the John Wesley of the Balkans, didn’t have to face that particular dilemma. He got martyred by the Turks.

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  4. Interesting thoughts. I’ve been thinking about what the church can learn from the parachurch for quite some time. Particularly because the parachurch typically seems so much more effective in mission and healthy community-wise–which certainly isn’t to say it doesn’t have its own set of problems.
    But I find your train of thought here interesting, which connects the two somewhat. Definitely solid food for thought.

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