Why a parachurch may get more young people than your church

In a recent post I wrote about the 10% limit to the size of any youth group compared to the Sunday congregation.  But I bet that some of you know a youth ministry that breaks that 10% rule.  What I have discovered is that some parachurch groups are able to recruit far more members than the 10% limit.  Having worked in and with parachurch groups, there are a few key factors which enable them to reach more young people than a local church can.

Firstly what do I mean by a parachurch group?  In this context I am talking about any agency within the Church that has a specific mission to minister only to young people.  Put it another way I am talking about ministries that don’t belong to “full service” local churches.  These parachurch groups have the specific mission of meeting the needs of young people and usually they have a particular style.  These groups are a valuable part of our Church; they have a specific Charism to a specific group of people.

A few examples might be:

  1. Charismatic prayer groups
  2. Campus based ministries
  3. Market place ministries, some that meet in Pubs
  4. Social Justice groups

So why are some parachurch groups able to recruit more members than many local churches? Here are four reasons that a parachurch group might be able to get more young people than you.

  1. Narrow the focus – many parachurch groups are able to focus on one or two key activities and do them well.  When a ministry only has few things to focus on they are able to tailor everything in the ministry to these one or two activities.  In contrast a full service local church has about 20-30 groups and ministries running.  Often the resources of a local church are spread thinly across a wide range of activities.
  2. Like-minded people – there is an old saying that like attracts like; a parachurch can attract young people with a common interest.  It is easier to attract a group of like-minded people than it is to keep the interest of everyone.  Often the local church is trying to cater to the needs of everyone in their community.
  3. Independence brings freedom – many parachurch groups are able to stay independent of the mechanics of regular church councils and committees.  I was once part of a parachurch group that met every Monday night and we could plan what we wanted with the leaders whenever we needed.  In contrast when I was part of full service local church the parish council met monthly and you needed a months’ notice to get an agenda item on there, meaning it could be two months before we could make a decision.
  4. Larger drawing area – usually a parachurch will draw members from a bigger geographical area than the local suburban church.  A parachurch might host an event for 100 young people that come from 10 suburbs where as you are trying to host an event for the young people in your suburb.

Before finishing I want to add that I am not against parachurch groups, they are vital part of the Body of Christ.  Given that I have been a part of both parachurch groups and local churches, I wanted to pass on some of the reasons why the parachurch groups might get more young people than you can get at your local church.

There are many positives of connecting young people to a local church; the main reason is that the local church is intergenerational.  In a local church young people learn to connect with a wider experience of the Body of Christ.

The real lesson for both parachurch groups and local churches is to focus on what God has called them to do rather than comparing each other.  I hope this helps you in your situation.

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