Last week, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) named its new president: Michael Martin, who previously served the organization’s executive vice president.
Dan Busby, his predecessor, had been involved with ECFA for 31 years of its 40-year history and spent more than a decade as president. ECFA membership nearly doubled to 2,400 during his tenure.
Martin takes over following a year of record growth for ECFA but also continued scrutiny over prominent members that were eventually forced out for significant violations, such as Harvest Bible Chapel.
When ECFA began in 1979, CT applauded its efforts to provide a financial seal of approval and help evangelical groups “more readily prove to the public that they have nothing to hide.” At that time, 65 percent of Americans expressed confidence in the church as an institution, per Gallup polling. By 2019, it was down to 36 percent.
“There isn’t the implicit trust that there used to be for churches, for Christian ministries,” Martin said in an interview with CT. “More and more people are recognizing that we need to have that third-party accountability, some way to demonstrate outwardly the integrity that we have.”
The growth of non-denominational churches, networks, and ministries has also resulted in more organizations seeking out outside review. The ECFA’s fastest growing segment of membership is churches, now up to 300 congregations (including most of the 100 largest in the country).
Even as societal expectations have changed and its membership has shifted, the accountability organization has stayed focused on its financial stewardship standards, such as an independent governing board, financial oversight, available financial statements, appropriate use of donor funds, and integrity in operations and compensation.
“The command has always been in Scripture about being above reproach, but I think in today’s era, organizations have to step that up even multiplied times over,” said Martin, who’s trained as an attorney and accountant and has worked for ECFA since 2011. “With the internet, we’re in a day and age where information can travel faster than ever and everybody’s a reporter.”
A 2019 investigation by World magazine critiqued ECFA for “proceed[ing] slowly with ministries getting into trouble.” In the same way the #MeToo movement in the church was spurred by watchdog bloggers, online voices have been quick to call out and investigate financial wrongdoing by Christian organizations.
Prompted by a whistleblower, Warren Throckmorton followed the case of Gospel for Asia on his blog before it was ousted from ECFA in 2015 for misleading donors. While Julie Roys wrote about financial mismanagement at James MacDonald’s Harvest Bible Chapel in 2018 and 2019, an ECFA investigation determined the church to be “full compliance” with its standards. Then, after ECFA discovered new information that had been withheld by Harvest, the church lost its member status last April.
Martin declined to comment on specific organizations, only saying, “Even from situations like that, where you have a high-profile member that ultimately has to be terminated, there are lessons learned. EFCA’s model will continue to grow and become stronger over time.”
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Source: Christianity Today