9 investigates transparency at 12 largest Charlotte area churches

9 investigates transparency at 12 largest Charlotte area churches

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Americans gave more than $122 billion in 2016 to churches across our country. But how many of us truly know where that money goes? Or how much our church leaders are being paid?

In an effort to better inform local donors, Channel 9 asked 12 of Charlotte's largest churches to voluntarily provide us with that financial information.

Channel 9 called it a Church Transparency Survey.

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Investigative reporter Paul Boyd personally wrote the lead pastor of the 12 churches in early October and mailed the surveys using certified mail. He asked them to provide basic information about church leadership and finances, including total revenue, total expenses and leadership compensation.

By comparison, almost every other nonprofit charity operating in America is required to provide that information by submitting an IRS 990 form annually. The 990 disclosure tells donors exactly how a charity spends money, including how much its leaders are paid.

Churches have long been exempt from disclosing financial information but the federal government has considered requiring 990s from churches at different times over the past 50 years.

For example, pressure mounted on Congress after the PTL scandal in Charlotte that led to the conviction of pastor Jim Bakker but the law never changed.

In the years since, there continue to be headlines of fraud and embezzlement by church leaders across the country.

There was a wide range of responses to Channel 9's Church Transparency Survey. The investigation included multiple follow-up emails, phone calls and in-person visits to the churches approached to participate.

In the end, only three churches provided audited financial statements: Elevation Church, Forest Hill Church and Transformation Church.

Two churches provided us with basic financial details, including their total revenue: St. Matthew Catholic Church and Freedom House.

Six churches declined to provide any financial information, saying it was available to members only: The Park Church, Central Church of God, St. Paul Baptist Church, Calvary Church, Mecklenburg Community Church and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

Hickory Grove Baptist Church was the only organization that completely refused to even speak with Channel 9 about our transparency survey. Hickory Grove leaders declined to return phone calls and emails from WSOC-TV over the span of two months. Investigative reporter Paul Boyd reached out to multiple staff members and also visited the church office to engage in a conversation one day but no one was available to talk.

The headline details from the survey include the following:

An estimated 82,000 people attend these 12 churches on average every week and are likely donors.

The five churches that disclosed their financial information generated a combined $88,018,092 in revenue last year.

None of the churches would disclose the individual compensation of their leadership or senior pastor.

The IRS has designated churches as "not-for-profit" so they do not pay taxes. And current federal law says churches are not required to disclose their revenue or compensation of their leadership.

Tim Burns, a certified public accountant who helps run a Matthews-based nonprofit called Ministry Watch, refutes the notion that a pastor's salary is none of our business.

"I believe that donors have the ultimate responsibility of giving to a church that is financially transparent," Burns said. "They deserve to know how much their pastor makes. And if they're not given this information in our mind that's a huge red flag."

None of the churches' lead pastors were willing to discuss the issue on-camera with Channel 9. The CEOs of virtually any other nonprofit must disclose their compensation along with that of any employee earning more than $100,000 annually so why not church leaders?

"They may be embarrassed by how much they make or they may even want to hide how much they make compared to the average salary of their congregation," Burns said.

Ministry Watch works with churches across the country to promote better transparency and while they are not advocating for 990 disclosures, the watchdog group believes Charlotte is behind the curve.

"I think there's a great need for more transparency for churches in Charlotte. We can do better. We must do better," Burns said, "We would love to see complete transparency for every church."

The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance told Channel 9 there are currently no plans investigate this issue further.

During past congressional hearings, church leaders have argued that requiring them to disclose their finances would violate the First Amendment's "separation of church and state" clause.

Legal scholars are split on that argument and believe the U.S. Supreme Court would ultimately decide the issue.

2017 Church Transparency Survey Results

ST. MATTHEW CATHOLIC CHURCH

# of Locations: 2

Average Weekly Attendance: 8,802

Total Revenue: $9,123,000

Total Functional Expenses:  $7,590,000

Total Assets: $38,866,000

Total Liabilities: $766,000

Total Employees: 81

Total Employee Compensation: $2,547,000

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: No. Parish Finance Council has oversight of financial matters but Canon Law puts ultimate responsibility in hands of each church pastor.

Financial Documents Provided: Online Financial Report

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Father Patrick T. Hoare - Would not disclose.

Church Bylaws: See weblink within PDF explaining Canon Law.

Additional Governance Info: See weblink within PDF explaining Canon Law.

ELEVATION CHURCH

# of Locations: 14

Average Weekly Attendance: 22,036

Total Revenue: $47,012,487

Total Functional Expenses: $34,049,506

Total Assets: $95,367,705

Total Liabilities: $40,063,593

Total Employees: 193 (Full time) 110 (Part time)

Total Employee Compensation: $12,966,794

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: Yes.

Financial Documents Provided: Audited Financial Statement

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Pastor Steven Furtick - Would not disclose.

Written Response: Not provided. However, multiple communications with Chunks Corbett, Chief Financial Officer

Church Bylaws: Not provided.

Additional Governance Info: No available documents.

Online Leadership Summary: http://elevationchurch.org/leadership/

MECKLENBURG COMMUNITY CHURCH

# of Locations: 4

Average Weekly Attendance: Would not disclose. (10,000 - Reported in 2015)

Total Revenue: Available to members.

Total Functional Expenses: Available to members.

Total Assets: Available to members.

Total Liabilities: Available to members.

Total Employees: Would not disclose.

Total Employee Compensation: Would not disclose.

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: Yes. (Not Provided to WSOC-TV)

Financial Documents Provided: None.

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Dr. James Emery White - Would not disclose.

Additional Governance Info: See Bylaws

Online Leadership Summary: https://mecklenburg.org/senior-pastor/

FOREST HILL CHURCH

# of Locations: 6

Average Weekly Attendance: 7,160

Total Revenue: $22,059,328

Total Functional Expenses: $17,678,802

Total Assets: $37,807,124

Total Liabilities: $792,659

Total Employees: 125

Total Employee Compensation: $10,170,546

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: Yes

Financial Documents Provided: Audited Financial Statement

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Dr. David Chadwick - Would not disclose.

Church Bylaws: Forest Hill Bylaws

Additional Governance Info: See Bylaws

Online Leadership Summary: https://foresthill.org/about#leadership-tab

PARK CHURCH

# of Locations: 3

Average Weekly Attendance: Would not disclose. (6,000 - Reported in 2015)

Total Revenue: Available to members.

Total Functional Expenses: Available to members.

Total Assets: Available to members.

Total Liabilities: Available to members.

Total Employees: Would not disclose.

Total Employee Compensation: Would not disclose.

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: Would not disclose.

Financial Documents Provided: None.

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Bishop Claude Richard Alexander, Jr - Would not disclose.

Written Response: None. One phone conversation with Monica Wood, Church Public Relations. She was unresponsive to follow up emails and phone calls.

Church Bylaws: Not provided.

Additional Governance Info: No available documents.

HICKORY GROVE BAPTIST CHURCH

# of Locations: 3

Average Weekly Attendance: No Response. (4,200 Reported in 2015)

Total Revenue: No Response.

Total Functional Expenses: No Response.

Total Assets: No Response.

Total Liabilities: No Response.

Total Employees: No Response.

Total Employee Compensation: No Response.

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: No Response.

Financial Documents Provided: None.

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: No Response.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Clint Pressley - No Response.

Written Response: None. This is the only church that failed to return phone calls or emails from WSOC-TV over the span of two months. Reporter reached out to multiple staff members and also visited the church office one day to engage in a conversation but no one was available to talk.

Church Bylaws: Not provided.

Additional Governance Info: No available documents.

Online Leadership Summary: http://www.myhickorygrove.org/staff/

CENTRAL CHURCH OF GOD

# of Locations: 4

Average Weekly Attendance: 4,600

Total Revenue: Would not disclose.

Total Functional Expenses: Would not disclose.

Total Assets: Would not disclose.

Total Liabilities: Would not disclose.

Total Employees: 180

Total Employee Compensation: Would not disclose.

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: Yes. (Not Provided to WSOC-TV)

Financial Documents Provided: None.

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Pastor Loran Livingston - Would not disclose.

Written Response: Letter from James Hazel, CPA

Church Bylaws: Not provided.

Additional Governance Info: No available documents.

Online Leadership Summary: http://www.centralnc.org/about/pastor/

FRIENDSHIP MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH

# of Locations: 1

Average Weekly Attendance: Would not disclose. (8,000 Members Reported in 2015)

Total Revenue: Available to members.

Total Functional Expenses: Available to members.

Total Assets: Available to members.

Total Liabilities: Available to members.

Total Employees: Would not disclose. (Told us available to members.)

Total Employee Compensation: Would not disclose. (Told us available to members.)

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: Yes. (Not Provided to WSOC-TV)

Financial Documents Provided: None.

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Dr. Clifford A. Jones, Sr. - Would not disclose.

Written Response: None. However, Deacon Ed Holland, Church Administrator, agreed to meet with me and discuss our story before declining to provide any financial information.

Church Bylaws: Not provided.

Additional Governance Info: No available documents.

ST PAUL BAPTIST CHURCH

# of Locations: 1

Average Weekly Attendance: No response. (5,500 Members Reported in 2015)

Total Revenue: Available to members.

Total Functional Expenses: Available to members.

Total Assets: Available to members.

Total Liabilities: Available to members.

Total Employees: No response.

Total Employee Compensation: Would not disclose.

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: Would not disclose.

Financial Documents Provided: None.

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Dr. Robert C. Scott - Would not disclose.

Written Response: None. Tried phone conversation with Debra Dalton, Executive Assistant to Pastor Dr. Scott who declined to provide any financial information and did not respond to further attempts to discuss story.

Church Bylaws: Not provided.

Additional Governance Info: No available documents.

Online Leadership Summary: http://www.stpaulbaptist.church/

CALVARY CHURCH

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# of Locations: 1

Average Weekly Attendance: 3,000+

Total Revenue: Available to members.

Total Functional Expenses: Available to members.

Total Assets: Available to members.

Total Liabilities: Available to members.

Total Employees: 74

Total Employee Compensation: Would not disclose.

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: Yes. (Not Provided to WSOC-TV)

Financial Documents Provided: None.

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Dr. John H. Munro - Would not disclose.

Church Bylaws: Not provided.

Additional Governance Info: http://calvarychurch.com/governance

Online Leadership Summary: http://calvarychurch.com/staff

FREEDOM HOUSE

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# of Locations: 2

Average Weekly Attendance: Would not disclose.

Total Revenue: $4,926,277

Total Functional Expenses: $3,383,349

Total Assets: Would not disclose.

Total Liabilities: Would not disclose.

Total Employees: Would not disclose.

Total Employee Compensation: Would not disclose.

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: Yes. (Not Provided to WSOC-TV)

Financial Documents Provided: No. However see "Annual Report" in written response.

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Troy Maxwell - Would not disclose.

Church Bylaws: Not provided.

Additional Governance Info: See "Pastoral Oversight Committee" in link below.

Online Leadership Summary: http://freedomhouse.cc/team/

TRANSFORMATION CHURCH

2

# of Locations: 1

Average Weekly Attendance: 2,800 to 3,100

Total Revenue: $4,897,000

Total Functional Expenses: $4,772,942

Total Assets: $8,872,165

Total Liabilities: $4,895,516

Total Employees: 40

Total Employee Compensation: $2,260,141

Financial statements audited by an independent accountant?: Yes.

Financial Documents Provided: Audited Financial Statement

Leadership and Employees with Compensation Above $100,000: Would not disclose.

Lead Pastor Compensation: Derwin L. Gray - Would not disclose.

Additional Governance Info: See Bylaws and Written Response.