(Second of two parts; click here to read part 1)

Giving to the parachurch
The great unknown in calculating Christians' charitable giving is the explosion of parachurch organizations. Research shows that churches are getting less money, proportionately. Are nonprofit organizations with more sophisticated fundraising methods getting more?

There are 600,000 nonprofit charitable organizations in the United States, and they appear to be growing fast. The number of those required to file returns with the IRS increased 78 percent between 1977 and 1990, while their revenues went up 227 percent in constant dollars. (Churches and organizations with less than $25,000 in income are not required to file.) By contrast, GNP increased only 52 percent. These nonprofits grew to almost 8 percent of the total American economy.

Church-growth expert David Barrett estimates that, worldwide, parachurch budgets are growing far faster than church budgets. He calculates that in 1900, parachurch organizations received $1 billion compared to $7 billion for churches. By 1970, the ratio had changed drastically—$20 billion for parachurches, $50 billion for churches. In 1996, by his estimates, parachurches had outgrown churches in total budget, $100 billion to $94 billion.

That analysis makes it sound as though the church is being submerged by a new species of institution. To some extent, that may be so. From another perspective, however, growth in parachurch giving is at least partly a return to nineteenth-century giving patterns when giving was more independent of denominations and "unified budgets." Missionaries were often sent out by independent or semi-independent boards, such as the American Missionary Association or the American Board of Commissioners ...

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