D. G. Hart asks some penetrating questions related to the question of giving to church vs. parachurch organizations:
"...why do parachurch organizations have no problem looking far and wide for contributors while churches don’t expect non-members to give to denominational or church causes?"
His questions are withing the context of a critique of the fundraising efforts of The Gospel Coalition, but without delving into the specifics of that issue I think there's something broader we can learn from the kinds of questions Hart is asking. His criticisms of TGC could apply equally as well, it seems to me, to the Fellowship of St. James, the Acton Institute, ACT 3, the Institute on Religion & Public Life, or any other non-institutional (used in a technical sense) expression of the church.
In fact in this week's commentary at the Acton Institute I make the claim that "Christian Giving Begins with the Local Church." But, unlike what Hart seems to think, I don't think Christian giving ends there.
And so the question becomes one of priority rather than exclusivity. It's not clear to me, for instance, that any super-congregational structure (e.g. a denomination or ecumenical body) has a greater claim to Christian giving than parachurch organizations or religious charities. Why give directly to a denomination, as Hart (half-jokingly?) proposes? Shouldn't that denomination simply be supported by the contributions of its member congregations?
As Hart puts it, "...the parachurch folks only consider such questions impertinent because they have no sense of propriety. They have no idea that they are duplicating the work of the church and then taking energy and support from the very churches that they supposedly seek to serve." It's not clear to me at all that parachurch organizations and other religious charities simply "duplicate" the work of the congregation. We should understand the congregation as a form of the institutional church. These other parachurch organizations ought to, in my mind, be considered forms of the organic church, which happens to institutionalize itself in various ways and for various purposes given different contexts.
My own congregation came up with a number (perhaps arbitrary, perhaps not) that roughly 8.6% of the Christian tithe should be directed to the congregation, with the rest of this minimum level of giving to be directed by individual Christians and families as they are led to give.
Why should all Christian giving should be directed through the local congregation, especially given the reality of the institutional/organic church distinction that is a hallmark of Reformed ecclesial thought? There is a vibrant and important place for voluntary Christian institutions and their work in a healthy civil society, and they need not all depend on direct denominational or institutional support.