Church/Parachurch Relations: The Body of Christ at Work

Churches and parachurches are
increasingly seeing the importance
of working together.

Helping the members of his congregation prepare to share their faith was a dream for Glenn Driedger, pastor of Carman Pentecostal Assembly in Carman, Manitoba, Canada. It is a dream that most pastors share. Yet after six years, Driedger found his dream was still just a dream. Most church members still did not know how to give their testimony in a way they were comfortable with.

“I dreamed I could help every person in my church become a little bit more like Christ,” Driedger said. “From Monday to Saturday I wanted them to be able to tell their story in a way that wouldn’t turn off the community. I wanted them to lead others to Christ.” Campus Crusade for Christ Canada, a ministry based in Langley, British Columbia, soon came and presented their Power to Change program to the local pastors. Driedger saw new hope for his dream and accepted help from the outside ministry.

Campus Crusade for Christ Canada supported Driedger’s dream by teaching his church members how to share their faith in three minutes. They then created events which both gave members opportunities to invite others and did not cost the church a lot of money. All the members had to do was invite people.

Leonard Buhler, president of Campus Crusade for Christ Canada, was involved at the time with the team that came to Carman. He states, “Glenn’s church just started growing immediately with new believers. His church was one of the most fruitful churches I’ve ever seen. I thought, ‘Wow, what a great thing for the church!’”

Carman Pentecostal Assembly was transformed when it saw they could change their town. Driedger was amazed. “We never dreamed in a month of Sundays that we could influence our community [like this],” he said. As a result of his experience, Driedger eventually went to work for Campus Crusade for Christ Canada, where he now serves as director of church relations. This story of a church and a non-denominational ministry organization working together to build the Kingdom of God is an example of a church-parachurch relation at its best.

Surveying Church/Parachurch Relations
The last time anyone asked pastors and parachurch leaders in Canada what they thought about their relationship with the other was in 1983. At that time, both parties had serious complaints about the other. But this is 2007. Has anything changed?

In 2006, the Canadian Council of Christian Charities conducted the largest ever survey on this

Key Findings of the 2006 Canadian Council of
Christian Charities Survey

  • 75% of pastors and 85% of leaders of non-
    denominational ministries (parachurches)
    believe parachurches augment the work of
    the local church.
  • 89% of pastors and 91% of parachurch
    leaders believe the major contribution made
    by parachurches is in specialized ministries.
  • 43% of parachurch leaders think the biggest
    problem pastors have with them is that they
    compete for donations from church members.
    Not so, according to the pastors. Only 7% feel
    the parachurch is a drain on their church's
    finances. The biggest problem according
    to pastors (59% agreeing) is lack of
  • Pastors today are quite open to parachurch
    ministry. 75% affirm its theological legitimacy
    and 78% say that if a church member chose
    to give their volunteer service to a parachurch
    ministry, that would be just as acceptable to
    the pastor as volunteer service within their
  • Pastors and parachurch leaders see eye-to-eye
    on the quality of their relationship. Exactly 50%
    of both groups rated the relationship as “good,”
    while about 15% of each group rated it as “not
  • Both pastors and parachurch leaders want new
    terminology to describe their organizations.
    Many of those surveyed feel the term “church”
    confuses the local congregation with the Body
    of Christ and places parachurch ministry outside
    of the church.

topic in Canada, with 376 pastors and 136 parachurch leaders participating. The survey confirms a significant shift in opinion has occurred. Current attitudes support greater collaboration between ministries to advance the cause of Christ. What has led to the change?

1. Parachurches rethink their ministries. Across Canada, parachurch ministries are rethinking how they do ministry and what their relationship to the local church should be. Eighty-five percent of parachurch leaders say that partnership with local churches is a priority for their ministry.

Melodie Bissell, executive director of Child Evangelism Fellowship Ontario (CEF), made this priority tangible by using a grant to hire five staff members, train them to do evangelism and then offer them to churches as full-time workers for eighteen months. The churches paid only a small portion of the costs.

Rod Valerio, pastor of Christ the Living Word Church in Toronto, is one of the pastors who has worked with CEF. His church was regularly losing families because of an undeveloped children’s ministry. His church could not afford the full cost of the CEF program. Instead, CEF asked the church for only twenty-five percent of the cost. CEF came to the church, trained children’s teachers and helped with outreaches.

Valerio had a dozen children in his church at the time. Today, there are almost three times that number. Additionally, fifty children at a nearby elementary school and their parents have come to an evening program run by his church.

Christ the Living Word is growing today because Melodie Bissell and CEF made the decision that CEF would commit to the local church. Instead of running CEF programs under their own name, they do all their ministry in partnership with the local church. Last summer they partnered with ninety-six churches, and it was each church’s name that was featured, not CEF’s. Nearly 2,600 children participated in the programs, and each one was introduced to a local church. CEF lost some of its public identity but saw its mission advanced.

This kind of radical paradigm shift has also occurred at Campus Crusade for Christ Canada, under the leadership of Leonard Buhler. According to Buhler, “We coined this phrase where we shifted from saying, ‘Come join us’ to ‘Come use us.’ Where before we would say, ‘Come join our project, our time, our place,’ we now say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing to build your community, your church, to reach the people that you want to reach.’”

An example of how this change is worked out is the Athletes in Action program. In the past, it took kids out of their communities to attend a soccer camp run by Campus Crusade personnel. Today, Campus Crusade trains local church members to run their own camp in their own community. During the first year under the new model, the number of soccer camps increased from nine to twenty-seven.

2. Churches rethink their ministries. The change must not be only from parachurch ministries. Pastors must come to realize that nondenominational ministries can help them overcome some of their own limitations. Lloyd Eyre, senior pastor of Peterborough Free Methodist Church in Peterborough, Ontario, says his church wanted to plant a church, but at the same time his youth pastor wanted to reach a downtown group which would not come to a conventional church. This group believed their cultures were too different.

The solution to the cultural limitation was to plant a church jointly with Kawartha Youth for Christ, who did know how to reach the downtown people. The resulting church, Third Space, now has between sixty and seventy people attending.

Local churches are also limited by their geographical locations. Parachurch ministries can help local churches with global vision extend their reach. Jim Maley, missions program manager at Metropolitan Bible Church in Ottawa, says his church decides where it wants to work and then finds nondenominational ministries doing the work it wants done. He cites an example: “Wycliffe Bible Translators, based in Calgary, gives us an opportunity to get the gospel into an area where they wouldn’t otherwise have the gospel. We don’t expect Wycliffe to do anything for our church other than do this work for us.”

It Is a New Day
The Canadian Council of Christian Charities survey shows a widespread improvement in relations. Pastors are open to parachurch ministries that fit their needs, and vice-versa.

John Wilkinson, executive director of Toronto Youth For Christ, was asked to preview the results of this study and comment. “This study,” he says, “helps dispel many of the falsehoods existing on both sides of the debate and brings to the forefront the need for new definitions and working relationships. I couldn't agree more that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the conventional terms. During the past five years, there has been a growing dissatisfaction amongst parachurch bodies over the word 'parachurch' and that angst is only going to increase. They see themselves as viable expressions of the Church and want to be identified as such.”

This survey suggests that it is time to put the old stereotypes behind us and move on as churches and ministry organizations to see what we can do together for the Kingdom of God.

Driedger, in his current role as director of church relations for Campus Crusade, wants to bless pastors as he was blessed, he says. Certainly he is not alone in believing that parachurches are offering local churches the ability to more effectively carry out the Great Commission locally and globally.

John Pellowe is Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC), located in Elmira, Ontario, Canada. CCCC serves Canada’s local churches and parachurch ministries.