Founding enthusiasm and leadership charisma have matured into a new spirit of professionalism.

A wave of Christian organizations rolled across the U.S. at the end of World War II. Energetic, visionary young men boarded DC-3s and crisscrossed continents. With evangelistic zeal and a sense of America’s new leadership, they mounted a sort of spiritual Marshall Plan. They held large meetings, printed literature, made movies, and sought out the needy and displaced people in former theaters of war.

They also touched the open nerve of Christian charity, built long lists of supporters—and formed nonprofit organizations such as World Vision, Youth for Christ, Overseas Crusades, Greater Europe Mission, and many others.

Over 30 years have gone by; many founder/visionaries have passed leadership on to others who were not around at the beginning. Further, most original supporters are gone, and a constituency that knows little of the early glory days now stands behind the work.

What is happening to parachurch organizations today? Have the old ones lost their reason for being—along with their old donors? Are they floundering in the morass of government interference, or breaking up from the recent cultural upheaval?

Only an occasional volley from the parachurch-versus-the-church debate echoes across today’s scene. We are seeing more new, more specialized groups. Prisons, or ethnic groups, or a simple lifestyle are their concern, or they may be gathered under one theological banner. They are as diverse as Jews for Jesus, Evangelicals for Social Action, or the Christian Broadcasting Network. And over 100 overseas agencies were founded in the last decade.

These groups, following the older pattern, have generally grown up around a strong founder/visionary. ...

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