CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Almost five months after the NBC Charlotte I-Team raised questions about finances at North Carolina’s largest megachurch, Elevation Church has posted its audited financial statement online for the public to see.
The financial statement puts hard numbers on some of what the I-Team first reported in October – that the church pays members of its own board of directors (called the Board of Overseers) to speak at Elevation Church.
Warren Cole Smith, who reports on the church for World Magazine, calls the payments a “clear conflict of interest” since the board sets the salary of founding Pastor Steven Furtick, who also appears at the churches of some board members.
The financial statement says the board members were paid a total of $13,000 last year, but does not specify which board members were paid, when or how much.
“It immediately raises the question about how objective they can be – whether they will truly be independent in the process,” Smith said.
He referred to the newest disclosure as “baby steps” in the direction of disclosure.
The financial statement totals the salaries of the entire 100-plus member staff at $7.5 million for 2013. But it does not spell out how much Elevation Church paid Pastor Steven Furtick in salary or housing allowance for his Weddington estate, valued for county taxes at $3 million.
Elevation has also joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a group founded by Rev. Billy Graham and others, to set standards for churches after a series of church scandals in the 1980s.
But ECFA rarely publicly criticizes its own members, who pay dues to join the group.
If a ministry has problems, “…They just kind of escort that ministry out of the ECFA and don’t make a big to-do of it,” said Rusty Leonard of Ministry Watch, a watchdog group founded and funded by donors looking for guidance on giving to Christian churches and ministries.
The audited financial statement spells out the potential risk of a downturn in contributions if the charismatic lead pastor, Steven Furtick, were ever unable to perform his duties for any reason. Furtick founded the church less than a decade ago with his wife and six other couples who moved from Shelby, North Carolina, to the Charlotte suburbs. It has since become the state’s largest megachurch with an average weekly attendance of almost 14,000 people at nine locations.
The financial statement also excludes income paid directly to Pastor Furtick for sales of his New York Times bestselling books and for speaking fees. Furtick has flown to England, Australia and Colombia to speak at large conferences for which he is compensated.
Furtick has declined numerous requests to speak on camera about church finances and how the church is governed.
Elevation Church has not released its bylaws.