The Business Of Faith

Black megachurches are turning pastors into CEOs of multimillion-dollar enterprises

Bishop Thomas D. Jakes, impeccably attired in a gray suit and polka-dot tie, holds court in an opulent conference room dominated by floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook 400 acres of church-owned land. These days there is much for which he is thankful. As head of the 191,000-square-foot, 8,000-seat Potter’s House-one of the nation’s most prominent nondenominational churches-Jakes is adept at juggling lucrative projects.

Over the years, he has enhanced his ecumenical leadership with enviable business acumen. At present, he is rejoicing about a multimillion-dollar deal with Sony Pictures to produce nine movies, following the breakthrough success of Woman Thou Art Loosed, Jakes’ 2004 drama based on a self-help novel he wrote about confronting abuse, addiction, and poverty. He’s equally thrilled about the August opening of his $11 million state-of-the-art building that will house Clay Academy, a private Christian school Jakes founded in 1998. And there’s much more in the pipeline: a new book due out on Mother’s Day called Mama Made The Difference; a movie that will hit theaters this fall; a mega conference scheduled for July; and Capella Park, a $150 million residential development featuring 1,500 single-family homes that will break ground this spring. As Jakes rattles off these ventures, he can hardly contain his enthusiasm.

The 48-year-old pastor oversees two kingdoms, divided by a carefully constructed firewall, which separates his church responsibilities from his business enterprises. The Dallas-based Potter’s House is the $45 million sanctuary that houses Jakes’ megachurch, with roughly 30,000 congregants. His $15 million for-profit media empire, T.D. Jakes Enterprises L.L.C., also based in Dallas, owns the rights to most of Jakes’ published books, plays, record label, and the movie Woman, Thou Art Loosed!

To avoid conflicts, Jakes employs two staffs and uses different accounting systems and financial institutions-one for the Potter’s House and one for T.D. Jakes Enterprises. Two sets of accountants perform separate compliance audits. By embracing the gospel of entrepreneurship and sound business practices, Jake says he’s answering God’s calling. “Economically empowering minorities is a critical part of my mission,” he proclaims.

Jakes represents a growing number of black megachurch ministers who pursue business interests while shepherding the ecclesial flock. Megachurches, defined as houses of worship with more than 2,000 members, have become major players in the economic and business development boom that has revitalized inner-city communities nationwide. In today’s environment, many pastors function as CEOs, developing and executing strategic plans that utilize financial and human resources to achieve objectives.

GENERATING MEGADOLLARS
The line between church and business is often blurred as ministries grant pastors oversight powers of both for-profit and nonprofit ventures. Churches with business interests must guard against letting the bottom line become the greatest influence of the ministry, says Preston N. Williams, a retired Harvard Divinity School professor who holds sessions for pastors on economic development. According to Williams, pastors must develop a series of safeguards, including annual compliance audits, appointing a compensation board to determine salaries and budgets, hiring outside financial firms to oversee finances, and establishing 501(c) 3 nonprofit corporations to manage economic development

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