This morning I quoted from portions of Howard Snyder’s address and paper at the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. Here are some more of Snyder’s thoughts on the relationship of church and parachurch, along with a helpful chart differentiating the two. (As far as I have been able to research it, Snyder is the one who coined the term “para-church,” so his thinking on the matter carries some scholarly weight.)
We see that biblically, the Church is the community of God’s people, not an organisational institution. But when we look at the contemporary church, we see not only the community of God’s people; we find also a proliferation of denominations, institutions, agencies, associations, and so forth. Such structures obviously have no explicit biblical basis. How should we view them?
The two most common tendencies have been to say these structures are actually a part of the essence of the Church, and thus ‘sacralize’ them, or else to take an anti-institutional stance and say all such structures are invalid and must be abandoned. A more helpful option, however, is to view all such structures as para-church structures which exist alongside of and parallel to the community of God’s people, but are not themselves the Church. They are useful to the extent they aid the Church in its mission, but are man-made and culturally determined. Whereas the Church itself is part of the new wine of the Gospel, all para-church structures are wineskins—useful, at times indispensable, but also subject to wear and decay.
…Since they are man-made and culturally determined, all para-church structures should be subjected to continuous rigorous sociological and theological analysis to determine their effectiveness as instruments of the Church. We should not hesitate to make the most exacting sociological studies of mission agencies, evangelistic movements, denominational structures, and so forth. History teaches us that many such structures will eventually succumb to institutionalism and become hindrances rather than helps to the Church. The fact that God has raised up a movement is no warranty against eventual infidelity or self-centredness. Having clearly distinguished such structures from the essence of the Church, we can freely ask to what extent these forms are actually functional.