Steven Furtick is the pastor of the nearly 12,000-strong Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C. He’s the author of the bestsellers Greater and Sun Stand Still. But lately what’s been making headlines isn’t his church or his books, it’s his house. The resulting media storm raises questions of money, integrity and transparency—as well as plenty of lessons for your church.
NBC Charlotte started the investigation, which included flying a helicopter over Furtick’s secluded home to take a peek. What they found is a $1.4 million, 16,000-square-foot home. They also raised questions about Furtick’s undisclosed salary: his own congregation doesn’t know how much they pay him, nor does the congregation have a say in the salary. It’s determined by a board of other megachurch pastors. There were more questions about Elevation’s finances, which aren’t completely disclosed to the congregation. The lack of transparency raises even more questions, but we’ll spare you the details.
First up, let’s dismiss the distractions. We’re not here to lynch Furtick or Elevation, but we’re not here to pardon them either. We want to find lessons to help other churches.
We’re also not here to pass judgment on Furtick’s house. A Christian with a giant house? Gasp. Everyone has their opinions about how high-profile Christians spend their money. That’s nothing new. But it’s not the issue we want to talk about.
3 Lessons on Money & Media:
1. Talking About Money Sucks
It’s hard to talk about money. People take it personally. They’re easily offended. You have to be so careful. Whenever your church talks about money, tread lightly. Give yourself more time to make sure the copy won’t be misconstrued. It can also help to keep avenues for conversation open. Welcome questions, concerns or complaints.
2. The Media Is Not the Enemy
The best thing Furtick did in this whole story was to defuse any tension with the media.
“This is a news story and the media is not our enemy,” Furtick told his congregation, after apologizing for the controversy. “They have the right to run any story they choose to run and people have the right to have any opinion they choose to have. That’s OK.”
It’s refreshing to a see a pastor in the hot seat not lash out at the critics. It’s legitimate to ask questions like these, and it’s important for pastors and churches in similar situations not to blame it on the media. The media is going to look for a story. If things aren’t completely transparent, you’re giving them a story. Don’t pick a fight about it. Deal with it.
3. Be Transparent
Churches, more than any other organization, need to go above and beyond to prove their finances are ethical. The irregularities and apparent lack of transparency at Elevation Church simply invite questions. Maybe they have good answers to all those questions, but it’s hard to tell without total transparency.
Churches need to approach money with integrity, transparency and accountability. It’s the only way. Don’t hide numbers behind slick annual reports. Don’t expect people to trust that you have integrity, prove it with transparency and accountability. Include the footnotes that show your work. Anticipate questions and put people at ease.Photo by FunnyBiz. And no, that's not Steven's house. We don't have a helicopter.