Raising Financial Integrity Amid Money Scandals

In the wake of money fraud scandals and allegations of opulent spending among high-profile ministers, an evangelical accountability group announced plans to expand its role and raise financial integrity.

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) has provided oversight and accreditation to Christian nonprofits for nearly 30 years, monitoring the groups' fundraising and providing financial stewardship. It currently has more than 2,000 Christian nonprofit organization members and has been low key with no marketing until just recently.

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee investigation of six major media ministries drew in a string of media calls to ECFA's president, Kenneth Behr.

None of the ministries under investigation for alleged financial abuse of their nonprofit status are members of the ECFA. Membership could have benefited the ministries, Behr said.

"I think it's telling that these are not members of the ECFA," said Behr in an interview with Church Executive magazine. "Had they been they would have benefited from the ECFA's continuing education and have accessed the standards and best practices of financially well-run ministry groups.

"We try to set a little higher standard than just legal compliance," he added. "I wish these ministries well. I hope any small problems they have in their ministries, they correct. If there are some fines to be paid, that they pay them and move on and change their ways."

The ministries currently under scrutiny are led by Paula and Randy White, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland - each of which collect tens of millions of dollars a year in offerings and donations.

With ministries getting larger and more money flowing through, Behr says there's "more opportunity for somebody to misuse it."

"What happens is that all too often instead of using the Bible as our measuring stick, we start looking at other people around us [to compare against]," he said in the magazine.

"We start thinking, I built this ministry, my name is on it and frankly, I hear there are pastors down the road that make more money than I do, so why can't I get that kind of salary? I'd like to live that kind of life."

Behr supports the Senate probe, called on by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in November, and says the government has the right to be able to look into churches and their financial records and that they are all held to the same standard as other nonprofit groups.

Responding to the apparent need for greater accountability, the ECFA has added a staff person for marketing and is creating a campaign to "promote the message of integrity." Just last July, the ECFA created a new division for churches to provide assistance to the more than 300,000 churches across the United States.

"ECFA's new Church Division will help churches demonstrate the highest standards of accountability that convey God-honoring, ethical practices," said Behr.

Previously, the group had only given oversight to ministries, agencies and schools.