The Business Of Faith

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

initiatives. The absence of strict procedures can easily lead to questionable practices and financial malfeasance.

Jakes agrees and says he exercises tight fiscal control over an entity that employs 360 full-time staff members and 4,000 volunteers. The Potter’s House, for example, includes a compensation board that determines Jakes’ salary and approves all budgets, including last year’s $15 million MegaFest conference that drew roughly 200,000 attendees to Atlanta. Only after gaining board approval can the executive management team, of which Jakes is a part, allocate expenditures. “Scrutiny from the press doesn’t do anybody any good, because the press doesn’t do audits. The scrutiny should come from the IRS and it should come with facts,” says Jakes. “Compliance audits are so thorough that if I bought you a Coca-Cola on my church card, it would show up in the audit. If you’re going to be here for longevity’s sake, you have to do things right.”

It’s this strict attention to expenditures that has enabled Potter’s House to retire its $45 million construction loan in less than four years. Its solid financial infrastructure has also been responsible for funding close to 100 ministries, ranging from grief management and debt consolidation to Texas Offenders Re-Entry Initiative, a rehabilitation program for ex-convicts. In the capacity of CEO, Jakes initiated the formation of Metroplex Economic Development Corp. to purchase 400 acres of land for $4 million for the development of Clay Academy and Capella Park.

To secure the flow of revenue for his far-reaching endeavors, Jakes employs what he calls the three Ps: partners, corporations that help fund programs and initiatives; products, items that are sold to the public for proceeds, which are returned to the church; and people, congregants who make significant contributions to the church. In 2004, the last audited year, the breakdown for Potter’s House revenues was as follows: 43% from tithes and offerings, 22% from national ministry offerings, 18% from conferences, 15% from product sales, and 2% from the church’s international pastoral alliance.

Potter’s House also receives its share of corporate sponsorship. Unlike traditional church revivals, last year’s wildly popular MegaFest conference was financed by major corporations such as Coca-Cola, St. Joseph’s Aspirin, and American Airlines. These companies provide financial assistance in exchange for the opportunity to promote their product lines. And although the conference lost money on registration because many participants skip the costly daytime seminars and workshops, opting instead for free evening events, the financial impact it has on host cities is undeniable. The conference brought more than $150 million to the city of Atlanta.

Clay Academy has encountered similar fiscal challenges. Tuition has never covered administrative costs but Jakes says the service it provides to the community is too important to abandon. “We didn’t start the school to make a profit,” he says. “We just want to be able to break even, but at this point this hasn’t happened. We’re hoping that the PTA will come to our rescue and help raise additional funds to subsidize the cost.”

Church resources are buttressed by the

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