Recent Hillsong whistleblower documents show that Hillsong’s alleged “celebrity preacher’s scam” didn’t just enrich Brian Houston, founder of the global megachurch, with hefty speaking honorariums. It also enriched other preachers participating in the “scam,” including many belonging to the leadership of a U.S.-based church planting group, called the Association of Related Churches or ARC.
ARC is one of the largest church planting organizations in North America, with over 1,000 churches in its network. Like Hillsong, ARC is charismatic in its theology and has a similar emphasis on growing megachurches with slick programming, youth-oriented worship, and charismatic pastors.
ARC also requires its member churches to give 2% of their tithes and offerings to ARC. (Hillsong requires its Hillsong Family churches to give 3%, according to the whistleblower documents.) Also like Hillsong, ARC has been embroiled in a steady stream of scandals involving pastoral financial and sexual misconduct.
Yet, unlike Hillsong, ARC operates mainly behind the scenes, funding church plants and training pastors to “launch large.” To find an ARC church, one needs to use the ARC church finder tool on ARC’s website because most churches don’t announce their affiliation.
So, it would be easy to miss how closely aligned these two organizations have been over the past two decades—and how this alignment has enriched the leaders of both organizations.
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As reported previously, well-known evangelist and activist Christine Caine created the “celebrity preacher’s scam” with Brian Houston, according to the whistleblower documents. Caine is a member of ARC’s governing Lead Team. Also, two churches ranking in our list of the Top 10 Churches Participating in Hillsong Family’s ‘Celebrity Preacher’s Scam’ are ARC megachurches.
But further analysis of the whistleblower documents show that Houston was a frequent speaker at ARC conferences and other ARC churches, earning him honorariums between $7,900 and $25,000 (USD) a visit.
Likewise, other ARC pastors and Lead Team members besides Caine were also frequent speakers at Hillsong conferences and churches, earning them honorariums of $10,000 to $39,000 per visit, the documents show.
In a preface to his sermon at Hillsong’s main Hills Campus in 2018, ARC co-founder and Lead Team member, Chris Hodges says he’s spoken at every Hillsong conference since 2008, except one. Hodges also calls Brian Houston “a hero” and one of seven people who have impacted his life over 35 years of ministry. Hodges calls Hillsong his “second home.”
Chris Hodges speaks at Hillsong Hills Campus in 2018:
How ARC Participated in Hillsong ‘Preacher’s Scam’
Below is a list of ARC (or ARC-related) churches that paid honorariums to Houston and/or received honorariums from Hillsong. The list was compiled from the whistleblower documents and may not be an exhaustive accounting of the honorariums paid over the years. We’ve also included some of the scandals at these churches to provide context.
As mentioned above, Brian Houston was a frequent speaker at ARC’s annual conference. Whistleblower documents show Houston spoke at ARC conferences in 2013, 2017, and 2018 for between $7,900 (USD/$10,978 UAD) and $10,000 (USD) each time.
Church of the Highlands (COTH) is the flagship church of ARC and is pastored by Chris Hodges, one of four founders of ARC who sit on ARC’s Lead Team. In 2021, COTH made headlines for employing Micahn Carter, a disgraced ARC pastor accused of raping his former secretary. After the exposure, Carter resigned. But Hodges has said he wants to be known for restoring pastors who have fallen morally and COTH has built a $4.5 million lodge for that purpose.
Brian Houston spoke at COTH in 2016 and was paid a $15,000 honorarium.
As mentioned in his 2018 message at Hillsong, Hodges spoke at Hillsong every year from 2008—2018, except one. However, only three honorarium payments are included in the whistleblower documents, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 (USD).
Gateway Church, a huge Texas megachurch with an estimated weekly attendance of 100,000, is a close friend of ARC, but not an official member. Gateway Pastor Robert Morris serves as an overseer for Hodges’ COTH. And in at statement to TRR, Gateway spokesman Lawrence Swicegood said, “Gateway has supported ARC in church planting efforts through the years both financially and relationally, and we allowed ARC to use our facility one year for their conference.”
Whistleblower documents show that Houston spoke at Gateway in 2011 for $25,000 and twice in 2016—once for $20,000 and once for $25,000.
In 2020, Hillsong livestreamed a videotaped conversation between Morris and Houston about Morris’ book, “Beyond Blessed.” The book teaches that “generosity is a key component to being in God’s favor.”
Interestingly, both Morris and Houston also played critical roles in crafting a sympathetic narrative for Mark Driscoll after he abruptly resigned from Mars Hill Church in 2014 amid allegations of bullying and manipulation. At the 2014 Gateway Conference, Morris told attendees that while Driscoll had made some mistakes, “most of what you read is not true.” In a 2015 interview with Houston, Driscoll described himself as a victim of a sinister “trap” at Mars Hill. Clips from both these events were included in a TRR podcast on Driscoll posted to YouTube last year.
Christian Faith Center is an ARC multi-site megachurch in the Seattle, Wash., area, pastored by ARC Lead Team members, Casey and Wendy Treat. The church also was a Hillsong Family church, but did not make our published Top 10 List. From 2014—2022, the Christian Faith Center paid $26,597 (AUD) plus $21,000 (USD) to belong to Hillsong Family. (The church did not pay family dues in 2020—2021.)
Christian Faith Center was rocked by scandal in 2017, when a former employee filed a lawsuit alleging that the Treats’ son and a pastor at Christian Faith Center, Caleb Treat, had sexually harassed her. That suit was settled in 2018 and Caleb soon returned to pastoral staff at Christian Faith Center. However, while the suit was active, Caleb Treat went to Alabama and served as central student director at COTH. In 2018, another lawsuit was filed, accusing current and former pastors at Christian Faith Center, including Casey and Wendy Treat, of sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse of authority, and financial corruption. TRR spoke with Joan Mell, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs in that case. Mell said the lawsuit ended with a settlement, but she was not at liberty to disclose details.
Christian Faith Center invited Houston to speak at its church at least six times from 2012 to 2021, paying him between $10,000 and $15,000 each visit.
An invoice from 2019 shows that Christian Faith Center was billed $17,000 (AUD) for Houston’s business class airfare from Sydney to Seattle.
A 2006 email from Treat’s ministry to Hillsong states that Treat is flying first-class to Sydney. The email includes the price of a business class ticket and instructs Hillsong to reimburse “the amount you feel is appropriate.” A sticky note from the whistleblower states, “Casey Treat is Brian’s BFF—flies first class to Sydney . . .”
In August 2022, after Houston had resigned from Hillsong amid scandal, Houston preached at Christian Faith Center, decrying “cancel culture” and “social media trolls.” It is unknown how much Christian Faith Center paid Houston for that speaking engagement.
Also in August 2022, Christian Faith Center sent Hillsong an invoice and itinerary for Casey Treat’s upcoming speaking engagement at a Hillsong men’s conference. The letter accompanying the invoice noted that Treat’s plane ticket was first class and instructed Hillsong to “reimburse the amount you deem appropriate.” The letter also instructed Hillsong to send Treat’s honorarium to Treat’s personal bank account.
Though Relentless Church is no longer an ARC church, it was for many years. And its pastor, John Gray, served on ARC’s Lead team as recently as April 2022, according to an archived webpage of ARC’s site. Yet, Gray has repeatedly faced allegations of extramarital affairs, dating back to at least 2019.
Of all the ARC pastors invited to Hillsong, Gray seems to have commanded the largest honorarium. Whistleblower documents show Hillsong paid Gray $18,000 in 2014 and $38,649 in 2015. (It’s unclear whether these amounts were AUD or USD).
In 2019, Hillsong paid Gray $14,178 (AUD).
Zoe Church is an ARC megachurch in Los Angeles that Pastor Chad Veach says he modeled after ARC’s Church of the Highlands and Hillsong. From COTH, Veach said he learned how to launch and build a megachurch like his. From Hillsong, Veach said he learned how to cultivate a dynamic youth culture.
Veach is sometimes compared to disgraced Hillsong NYC Pastor Carl Lentz and Churchome’s Judah Smith for Veach’s similar closeness to celebrities like Justin Bieber, Chris Pratt, and the Kardashians. The pastors also seem to share a penchant for expensive clothes and sneakers. The popular Instagram site PreachersNSneakers featured Veach in Nike Airs, retailing for more than $2,500. In 2019, Veach appeared in a picture posted to Instagram with Lentz and Smith, as well as Joel Houston, Brian Houston’s son, and Rich Wilkerson, Jr. of Vous Church, another frequent speaker at Hillsong.
Both Chad and his wife, Julia Veach, serve on ARC’s Lead Team. And Chad has been a repeat speaker at Hillsong, commanding honorariums of $20,000 in 2014 and $24,257 in 2015. (It’s unclear whether amounts are USD or AUD).
New Life Church is a multi-site ARC megachurch in Arkansas, pastored by ARC co-founders and Lead Team members, Rick and Michelle Bezet.
Pastored by ARC Lead Team member and former NFL player, Miles McPherson, the Rock Church is an ARC multi-site megachurch in the San Diego, Calif., area. The church recently made headlines because an ordained elder at the church has been arrested and charged with torture and murder in connection with the death of her 11-year-old daughter. McPherson said it was “bewildering” that the abuse, which allegedly involved starvation, escaped the church’s notice. But the father of the victim told TRR he had reported suspected abuse to Rock Church years ago, but staff ignored him.
In 2013, Brian Houston spoke at Rock Church and was paid $3,000.
The following year, McPherson spoke at Hillsong and received a $10,617 honorarium. (It’s uncertain whether amount is in AUD or USD).
Celebration Church, a multi-site ARC megachurch based in Florida, was founded by Stovall and Kerri Weems, longtime ARC Lead Team members. However, Celebration has since separated from the Weems. And an independent investigation last year found that Stovall Weems had committed fraud and “unjustly” enriched himself with church funds. The Weems are currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Celebration Church, disputing who owns the million-dollar estate the Weems occupied as a parsonage.
Whistleblower documents show that sometime between 2005—2011, Hillsong paid Stovall Weems a $10,000 honorarium.
For many years, Champions Centre, a multi-site megachurch in the Seattle, Wash., area, was an ARC megachurch. However, in 2019, another ARC church—Together Church in Yakima, Wash.—folded in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations involving its pastor, Micahn Carter. As previously noted, Carter went on to pastor at Church of the Highlands—a fact that surfaced in 2021 and sparked major controversy. But soon after Together Church folded, it was absorbed by Champions Centre. Shortly after that, Champions Centre broke with ARC.
Prior to that break, Champions Centre apparently participated in the ARC/Hillsong preacher’s circuit. A whistleblower document shows that Champions Center received a $30,000 honorarium in 2015.
More on ARC:
For more information on ARC, see our ARC investigations page. I especially encourage those who want to learn more to listen to my interview with a former ARC pastor, who explains why he believes the movement is unbiblical.
For more information on Hillsong, see our Hillsong investigations page here. My podcast with a former Hillsong NYC insider is especially revealing about the toxic celebrity culture pervasive within Hillsong.
Julie Roys is a veteran investigative reporter and founder of The Roys Report. She also previously hosted a national talk show on the Moody Radio Network, called Up for Debate, and has worked as a TV reporter for a CBS affiliate. Her articles have appeared in numerous periodicals.