Americans gave more than $12.2 billion in 2016 to churches across our country. But how many of us truly know where that money goes? 

Or how much our church leaders are being paid?   In an effort to better inform local donors, Channel 9 asked 12 of Charlotte’s largest churches to voluntarily provide us with that financial information.

NOTE: I commend this news organization, its staff and writers, for taking a stand on this, a sensitive topic, no less.  

Investigative reporter Paul Boyd WSOCTV,personally wrote the lead pastor of the 12 churches in early October and mailed the surveys using certified mail. He asked them to provide basic information about church leadership and finances, including total revenue, total expenses and leadership compensation.

⛪️   By comparison, almost every other nonprofit charity operating in America is required to provide that information by submitting an IRS 990 form annually. The 990 disclosure tells donors exactly how a charity spends money, including how much its leaders are paid.

⛪️   Churches have long been exempt from disclosing financial information but the federal government has considered requiring 990s from churches at different times over the past 50 years.  

⛪️   For example, pressure mounted on Congress after the PTL scandal in Charlotte that led to the conviction of pastor Jim Bakker but the law never changed.  In the years since, there continue to be headlines of fraud and embezzlement by church leaders across the country.  There was a wide range of responses to Channel 9’s Church Transparency Survey. 

  • The investigation included multiple follow-up emails, phone calls and in-person visits to the churches approached to participate.  
  • In the end, only three churches provided audited financial statements: Elevation Church, Forest Hill Church and Transformation Church.
  • Two churches provided us with basic financial details, including their total revenue: St. Matthew Catholic Church and Freedom House.
  • Six churches declined to provide any financial information, saying it was available to members only:  The Park Church, Central Church of God, St. Paul Baptist Church, Calvary Church, Mecklenburg Community Church and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.   
  • Hickory Grove Baptist Church was the only organization that completely refused to even speak with Channel 9 about our transparency survey. Hickory Grove leaders declined to return phone calls and emails from WSOC-TV over the span of two months. Investigative reporter Paul Boyd reached out to multiple staff members and also visited the church office to engage in a conversation one day but no one was available to talk.


⛪️   An estimated 82,000 people attend these 12 churches on average every week and are likely donors., The five churches that disclosed their financial information generated a combined $88,018,092 in revenue last year.

⛪️   None of the churches would disclose the individual compensation of their leadership or senior pastor.

⛪️   The IRS has designated churches as “ not-for-profit" so they do not pay taxes. And current federal law says churches are not required to disclose their revenue or compensation of their leadership.

⛪️   Tim Burns, a certified public accountant who helps run a Matthews-based nonprofit called Ministry Watch, refutes the notion that a pastor’s salary is none of our business.

⛪️    "I believe that donors have the ultimate responsibility of giving to a church that is financially transparent," Burns said. "They deserve to know how much their pastor makes. And if they’re not given this information in our mind that's a huge red flag."
⛪️   None of the churches' lead pastors were willing to discuss the issue on-camera with Channel 9. The CEOs of virtually any other nonprofit must disclose their compensation along with that of any employee earning more than $100,000 annually so why not church leaders?

⛪️   “They may be embarrassed by how much they make or they may even want to hide how much they make compared to the average salary of their congregation,” Burns said.

⛪️   Ministry Watch works with churches across the country to promote better transparency and while they are not advocating for 990 disclosures, the watchdog group believes Charlotte is behind the curve.

⛪️   "I think there's a great need for more transparency for churches in Charlotte. We can do better. We must do better,” Burns said, “We would love to see complete transparency for every church."

⛪️   The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance told Channel 9 there are currently no plans investigate this issue further.

⛪️   During past congressional hearings, church leaders have argued that requiring them to disclose their finances would violate the First Amendment’s “separation of church and state" clause.

⛪️   Legal scholars are split on that argument and believe the US Supreme Court would ultimately decide the issue.