Parachurch organizations are religious organizations that do not operate under the auspices of a particular faith tradition. In the context of the broader Christian church, a parachurch organization can be the means to allow Christians from different denominations to come together in pursuit of a common objective. Because the organization is not accountable to any one denomination, it is free to function within the parameters of its own charter and has only to report to the members of the organization for any actions taken.
The idea of a parachurch organization has been around for a number of years. During the 19th century, abolitionist organizations that were not tied directly to one particular denomination provided a means for persons who were against slavery to unite their efforts without having to report to any one Christian church. During the early 20th century, parachurch organizations formed for other purposes, such as providing relief in war-torn areas of the world, or providing soup kitchens or other support during the American Depression.
Along with many worthwhile purposes, a parachurch organization can also be a means of bringing together people who wish to promote a belief system that involves bias toward others for any number of reasons. Many hate groups that organize around a particular faith-based doctrine are parachurch organizations. The rise of hate groups has somewhat given this type of organization a bad reputation, despite the continuing presence of many such organizations that serve a number of constructive purposes in the wider community.
A parachurch organization can be built around any common set of values and goals. This means that it may focus on promoting well-being among a particular gender, age group, economic group, or race. At the same time, one may develop in response to a need present within a given community, such as assistance to the poor, or providing ongoing ministry to persons with mental disabilities.
People who join parachurch organizations normally do not have to sever ties with any Christian denomination. The work of the organization is often seen as giving expression to a particular religious principle that may not be fully possible within the scope of one single denomination. Many such organizations are started by a core group of persons who are associated with a given denomination, but open their membership to all persons who identify with the mission statement and basic values of the organization.