Diversity a Challenge for Evangelical Parachurch Organizations

First-century Christians preached a radical gospel of ethnic and gender diversity. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus, “wrote the apostle Paul in Galatians 3:28.

But white male leadership remains the norm for dozens of major national and international evangelical parachurch organizations, as I found out in a major research project.

I asked 33 ministries how many women and non-white males were in their executive leadership ranks and on their boards. More than half of these ministries–including the Navigators, a $116–million ministry, declined to answer.

But thanks to funding support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, I spent hours tracking down ministry info from 990 tax forms and their own websites to get the answers:

Only one of 33 major national organizations contacted for this article is led by a woman — Jane Overstreet at Development Associates International. And only three are led by nonwhite males.

“Some groups are talking about greater gender diversity, while others talk about racial diversity,” says Amy Reynolds, an associate professor of sociology at Wheaton College in Illinois, a leading evangelical institution that recently appointed its first female provost in its 156-year history. “The question is, what are they willing to do to get there?”

My research was published in two recent articles:

A “local” version for the Colorado Springs Gazette focusing on the city’s 23 largest parachurch organizations with over $5 in annual income:

And a “national” version for Religion News Service that incorporates numbers from 10 more well-known ministries located around the U.S.:

White male leadership persists at evangelical ministries

White male leadership persists at evangelical ministries

Inspiration for research

Back when I was the Colorado Springs Gazette’s full time religion editor, I kept close track of the city’s dozens of parachurch organizations. But over the years, most papers have eliminated religion specialists, drastically reducing the reporting on Christian non-profits.

In 2014, Christianity Today published the Women in Leadership National Study. The study, which was based on voluntary responses from ministries, found that nearly a quarter of parachurch organizations have no women on their boards and more than half have no women in top positions. These leadership figures are significantly lower than those in the corporate world and the broader charitable world.

In 2015, I started planning for the articles I would like to tackle in 2016 for the Gazette, where I contribute stories as a monthly religion correspondent. Nobody had done any systematic reporting on Springs parachurch groups in years, but the Gazette’s freelance rates would not support detailed research.

That’s when I decided to send a proposal to the Fund for Investigative Journalism. I’m grateful they gave me a grant to do two parachurch projects:

  • the diversity articles mentioned above,
  • and my next parachurch project, which will look at these ministries’ financial efficiency and their stewardship of donors’ gifts. I hope more ministries respond this time around!

Thanks also to Amy Reynolds, an associate professor of sociology at Wheaton College in Illinois (a leading evangelical institution that recently appointed its first female provost in its 156-year history). Reynolds worked on the Women in Leadership National Study, and provided significant help as I worked on my two articles.

For the record, here are the ministries that did not reply to my repeated inquiries.

Four organizations never responded:

  • the Navigators,
  • Andrew Wommack Ministries,
  • VisionTrust International,
  • and Family Talk (James Dobson’s post-Focus ministry).

Thirteen ministries responded but declined to answer my questions about women and minorities serve in their executive ranks or on their boards:

  • Alliance Defending Freedom,
  • Biblica (formerly International Bible Society),
  • David C Cook,
  • Engineering Ministries International,
  • Every Home for Christ,
  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes,
  • International Students, Inc.,
  • Military Community Youth Ministries,
  • One Challenge (formerly OC International),
  • Pioneers USA,
  • Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB),
  • The Salvation Army USA,
  • and Summit Ministries.
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