The Business Of Faith

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

accounting and financial company that represents more than 4,000 churches, many large churches now have net incomes in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Although some compare pastors of today’s megachurches with Fortune 500 CEOs, pastors are not held to the same level of regulatory standards and financial accountability.

Large public companies must file regular quarterly documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission and are subject to investigation. Many large churches with community development enterprises have no such watchdog. Churches are tax-exempt, although many large ministries file 990 tax returns for church-related community and economic development ventures. Most church pastors and board members “are good people,” Walker maintains, “but they have not had training necessary to maintain financial transparency and therefore are not adept at keeping sound financial records.”

Chitwood and Chitwood has overseen Long’s financials for a decade. Walker maintains that Long has “excellent record keeping and audit records. “They don’t pay any cash out of the offering buckets. You must submit a purchase order and check request in order to purchase something,” he says. “Then the check is disbursed and signed by the business staff. All offerings are collected and deposited into the church bank account. Receipts are given to people who make donations to the ministry.”

WALL STREET MEETS THE PULPIT
Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of one of the nation’s largest Methodist churches, has spent years building a reputation for trustworthiness. His Houston-based church, Windsor Village, which has 15,000 members, comprises nine nonprofit organizations and is known collectively as “The Power Connection.” Each nonprofit is a separate entity with its own board and budget.

The key to this network is the Pyramid CDC, which manages The Power Center. Through Pyramid CDC, the church turned a once-dilapidated shopping center into a thriving business strip, developed affordable housing, and is in the process of building a 234-acre planned community. The independently managed 501(c)3 organization also supports the community through an AIDS ministry, an emergency shelter for abused children, a private school, and other community organizations.

Caldwell sits on the board of one of Windsor’s nonprofits. He maintains that independent boards-operated mostly by volunteer entrepreneurs and local executives-provide the checks and balances necessary to ensure financial integrity. Caldwell says that not everyone immediately grasps the spiritual purpose behind the Power Center and Windsor Village’s other economic development programs, but he hopes to change that through the church’s philanthropic endeavors. “I think one of the real demons in today’s society is poverty,” he says. “We should do whatever we can do to address social disparities.” Caldwel
l calls it “taking the sanctuary to the streets.”

His style includes a bit of Wall Street savvy. Before Caldwell became a pastor, the Wharton Business School graduate was an investment banker. In the late 1970s, he heeded the call of the ministry, walking away from a lucrative salary and dreams of corporate success. But not entirely. Caldwell’s church began with 25 members but grew quickly. Over the years he took risks. He purchased The Power Center, an abandoned 104,000-square-foot center in the

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