Beyond the Congregation: The World of Christian Nonprofits

Beyond the Congregation: The World of Christian Nonprofits

Beyond the Congregation: The World of Christian Nonprofits

Beyond the Congregation: The World of Christian Nonprofits


Christianity in the United States has long been organized around congregations and denominations. However, a different type of organization operating outside of these traditional structures is claiming an increasingly important place in the religious market. The growth of Christian nonprofits, popularly called "parachurch" organizations, has been recognized by churchgoers and social scientists alike as an important development that is transforming the composition and dynamics of American Christianity. The size, resources, and activities of this population have made it the public face of American Christianity and altered the relationship between individuals, churches and denominations. Beyond the Congregation utilizes data on almost 2,000 of the largest and most influential Christian nonprofits in the United States to answer some of the key questions raised by these organizations. What explains the growth of Christian nonprofits? What activities are they pursuing? How are they funded and how do they use those funds? Beyond the Congregation provides a much needed examination of these issues that is accessible and informative for scholars, nonprofit executives, religious leaders and the general public.


These kinds of special purpose groups seem to be gaining importance in
American religion. Students of American religion have generally paid lit
tle attention to these kinds of organizations, relative to the extraordinary
interest that has been devoted to churches and denominations.

—Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion

Think for a moment about the last news story you read or heard about Christianity. Maybe it was a Washington Post article about “a nationwide Christian ministry for teenagers with disabilities.” Or it could have been a cnn feature on a Christian organization serving men addicted to pornography. Then again, it might have been usa Today’s article on a ministry trying to preserve “girls’ chastity by building healthy father-daughter relationships.” Or it could have been one of several stories in The New York Times, such as the one about a faith-based organization providing chaplains for corporations or the story about a youth ministry causing controversy for a proposed event in San Francisco or the article describing the acquisition of decommissioned coast guard ships by a Christian medical relief organization.

While the specifics undoubtedly varied, one fact likely remained— there is a very good chance that the story was not about and did not involve any congregation or denomination. Instead, it was likely about a type of Christian organization entirely independent from those “traditional” structures. While these organizations use many of the keywords we associate with churches or denominations … “faith,” “Christian,” “ministry” … they differ greatly in both appearance and action.

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