Echo Church Defends NDAs After Petition Gains Nearly 700 Signatures

By Julie Roys
Echo Church Andy Wood
Echo Church, a multi-site megachurch in San Jose, California, defends its use of NDA's in newly released statement.

Rocked by allegations of abuse by its former pastor, Andy Wood, and a petition calling for San Jose-based Echo Church to release past employees from non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements (NDAs), the church today defended the practice.

“Some of our separation or termination agreements in the past asked employees to agree ‘to not to disparage or slander the reputation of the church, its directors, pastors and staff, or any church members/attendees’ and also stated that the church ‘agrees to abide by this same condition’ toward the staff member,” Echo stated on its website.

“The heart of this was to serve as a reminder for the church and the Christian employee to act in a Christ-like manner, avoiding gossip and destructive slandering that causes division, rather than unity.”

However, a group called “Echo Survivors” say the church is using the NDAs to silence victims of abuse. And on Monday, the group launched a petition calling for Echo “to release all former employees from any non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreements that prevent former employees from telling their stories.”

The petition has nearly 700 signatures. Echo is a multi-site megachurch with an average attendance around 3,000.

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Andy Wood Rick Warren Saddleback Echo
Incoming Saddleback Pastor Andy Wood (right) appears in a video with Pastor Rick Warren, who’s retiring. (Source: Video screengrab)

The petition comes in the wake of allegations that Echo’s former pastor Andy Wood, who’s been named to succeed Rick Warren at Saddleback Church, bullied and spiritually abused staff at Echo.

An investigation commissioned by Saddleback after hiring Wood cleared Wood of the allegations. However, some former staff allege victims’ voices were minimized to protect Wood and that many victims were silenced by NDAs.

Several former high-level employees at Echo confirmed with The Roys Report (TRR) that they signed NDAs when they left Echo. Only one of the former employees under an NDA was willing to tell his story to TRR. Others said they could not, citing the NDAs.

In the newly released statement, Echo denied using NDAs to silence employees.

“No, Echo does not use NDA’s (sic) in this manner,” the website states. “In fact, Echo puts a lot of emphasis on staff safety, care, transparency, and professionalism.”

Echo noted that employees have access to passwords and personal information of church members. And it claimed the NDAs “are not intended to prevent anyone from sharing their experience at Echo, whether positive or negative” but deal “specifically with information.”

At the same time, the church conceded that some separation agreements go beyond this purpose and deal with disparagement.

Echo did not address the petition’s request to release former employees from NDAs. However, Echo said it is having the agreements, which “were designed by a third-party HR company and is standard for many churches in America,” reviewed by another company.

Though NDAs can be legitimately used to protect intellectual property or personal data, abuse survivor advocates say NDAs are rarely needed in churches.

“Too often, these tools are used to silence people following abuse or whistleblowing” in churches, according to #NDAfree.org.

Diane Langberg, a Christian psychologist and advocate for abuse survivors, says the NDAs she’s encountered have “always been an agreement to exercise power over and hide sin.”

“In my experience, such a requirement is demanded for the sake of a system – usually a ministry of some sort,” Langberg wrote in a blog post. “So a Christian is asked to agree to cover-up wrongdoing for the sake of the system – or worse, for the sake of God’s reputation.”

In addition to addressing its NDAs, Echo’s website also includes instructions for its attenders on how to respond if people ask them about “accusations being made.”

Echo urges its people to “seek unity” by listening to the people with concerns, but warns, “Do everything in your power to avoid amplifying the problem, rather, seek solutions.” These include sharing one’s own experience with Echo and then encouraging the person with concerns to speak directly with a campus pastor.

Also featured on Echo’s website is a YouTube video by Echo School of Leadership Director Queen Quiocho, responding to concerns people have about the culture of Echo.

“In our time that we’ve been here, we haven’t had any reason to be worried, or even any sign of unhealthy,” Quiocho says.

“As a matter of fact, we’ve had a lot of people on our team who are really very transparent in sharing how they’re feeling, or maybe even asking questions about certain things they’re concerned about.

“And so, we love that Echo has a really great culture of transparency, and just openness and allowing people to come in and ask questions. . . . So ask us what you need to ask and we’ll do our best to get those answers to you.”

Video statement by Echo School of Leadership Director Queen Quiocho:

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25 thoughts on “Echo Church Defends NDAs After Petition Gains Nearly 700 Signatures”

  1. It’s in the language. Watch the language. They say they are “transparent”, but instead of releasing the NDAs, releasing their financials, or doing any of the things many former Echo congregants have asked for, the statement is “come ask us.” Then, after meetings where former congregants have come to ask, they leave gaslit and with no actual transparency. It’s not safe to go ask. Why not just publish their financials? Why not just release the NDAs?

    1. I could not agree more. Far too often these “Christian Empires” use clever language thinking us common people won’t figure it out. In the few instances where I have “just asked”, I was met with at minimum an insulting answer and mostly an abusive answer. For instance, at a previous church, there was a very serious sin issue that needed to be dealt with. After laying it out to church leadership, I handed them a list of reasonable questions including, how will you ensure the confidentiality of all involved parties? And what are the next steps that we can expect to take place and other similar questions. The answer: questions are good, but we’re experts at handling difficult situations and we should trust the process. They proceeded to fold the piece of paper, put it in their Bibles and the questions were never answered. In another case, I got a letter back from the head of the empire telling me how he had just returned from a world tour of preaching the gospel and did not address anything that I had previously raised. So the message they are truly sending is just ask and then we will use bullying, shame and/or spiritual abuse to make you into the problem. After a couple of times of this happening, why would anyone want to just ask? And while I have no connection whatsoever to Echo or Saddleback, I will “just ask” this. What do you think the point of the petition is? The people who have signed it are obviously asking for something very specific and the answer is to “just ask”?

      1. I could not agree more. Far too often these “Christian Empires” use clever language thinking us common people won’t figure it out.

        Semantics, My Dear Wormwood.
        All Semantics, nothing more.
        Nowhere do we corrupt so effectively as at the very foot of the Enemy’s Altar!

  2. Non-disparagement language is boilerplate language in separation agreements when severance is being paid. If that is what Echo employees sign to receive their severance, every HR dept worth their salt will insist on that. Calling a separation agreement an NDA is misuse of legal language. You have to ask yourself- what would someone have to gain calling that an NDA? Because it creates an outcry.

    1. Totally – it’s like John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the Non-disparagement language will set you free.”

      NDA, Non-disparagement language, non-disclosure…it’s all the same thing: you agree you won’t say stuff. You have to ask yourself – what would a church have to gain by limiting speech? Because it creates control.

      1. That’s exactly the point- separation agreements don’t bar you from speaking truth at all. Both parties (church and employee) agree to not speak deceitfully of one another and to not purposely disparage one another. I don’t think that’s draconian, I think that’s Biblical. In an NDA, there is a legal penalty for speaking out. In a separation agreement, there is no penalty. It is a matter of personal integrity. I fired an employee 5 years ago and they signed a separation agreement. We paid their entire severance in a lump sum. They had already been paid, they were no longer beholden to the church, there was literally no recourse for the church if they decided to talk about it. Before they signed, I encouraged them to have a lawyer look it over. They told people in the church it was an NDA and people (rightfully) freaked out. A lawyer friend from the church had to reach out to them to explain it to them before they finally understood. Believers are allowed to disagree. They are not allowed to attack one another, exaggerate, hold grudges, spin the truth, or wage online campaigns because their feelings are hurt.

        1. Jon
          At the risk of seeming argumentative, pastors and church leaders often “attack one another, exaggerate, hold grudges, spin the truth, or wage online campaigns because their feelings are hurt.” I have lots ofexamples if you don’t believe me. In my opinion, such agreements are not a level playing field. The leaders are protected and the lowly workers are not. Such agreements have nothing to d owith personal integrity.

          1. I include leaders and pastors in my description of “believers disagreeing with one another.” The fact that pastors and leaders act shamefully is not an excuse to misrepresent the character of these documents. Separation Agreements are not NDA’s any more than a bucket is a swimming pool. Wood is facing some serious allegations here and misrepresenting a few of the facts in pursuit of the truth hurts the very people who already feel victimized. If one HR attorney weighs in that these are not NDA’s at all, this entire narrative about Echo and Wood falls apart.

      1. A separation agreement allows you to do exactly that. You may share any truthful information you would like to to the degree that you do not disclose personal, private information about anyone in the church. An NDA would bar you from discussing any of it. Echo is claiming that they do not use NDAs, only separation agreements. Whether that is true or not cannot be known unless someone examines the documents, but equating those two is misunderstanding the differentiation at best and purposeful misrepresentation at worst.

  3. I’ve been a pastor for 50 years. No clergy or lay leader should be made to sign a NDA. Nor should a church board be forced to be silent about a sinning clergy or lay staff member. One of the problems of the modern church is that sinning clergy can too easily leave a church without being held accountable, and then they move freely to another. This is especially true in independent churches. Let’s remember a church isn’t like a business, but is a part of the Body of Christ.

  4. There is never a need for an NDA in a church. Never. There should be not even a hint of anything less than total transparency. This is a sick thing to do.

  5. Wood is absolutely going to eat his new acquisitions alive. Expect all kinds of drama. Those people are more likely to speak up and out. Will be a lot more for Julie Roys to cover in the future for sure. This will not go away just as Mark Driscoll and James McDonald have not.

  6. More megachurch “morality” on display. Is anyone really surprised by any of this?

    Megachurches behave exactly like Fortune 500 companies on Wall Street, because that’s exactly what they are.

  7. Christopher Hanley

    I am 67 years old and have been a Christian for 48 years. The Biblical rule is “if one suffers all suffer”. Your NDA is therefore not valid in the eyes of God. I am open to hearing the truth about a church. And I suggest that all Christians refuse NDAs.
    Sorry, self important pastor, your NDA has been declined.

    1. Christopher Ledford

      NDAs have no place in the church. Read the pauline epistles you could find a lot of examples where Paul could have used his position within the church to impose his desires, authority etc.. upon the churches he ministered to. Yet you find just the opposite is true. He and his associates endured so much for the sake of The Gospel and for the spiritual health of those he was responsible for. Paul never got over the fact that God counted him the least bit worthy to be a apostle.

      Ponder those thoughts in light of today’s american church culture. You got NDAs and pastors that cannot be questioned because why my goodness the whole cause of Christ is dependent upon their agenda along with their leadership skills. Etc.
      The mega church movement has created this whole, non biblical hierarchy where some have come to believe that they are more important than others. Yet Paul said some plant others water and God brings the increase.
      We are all part of the body. All dependent upon one another yet so many involved in leadership with their self absorbed attitudes remind me of that MC Hammer song…”Ya can’t touch this”.. 😜

  8. Interesting how Echo espouses transparency and freedom of expression in the video….and the video is unlisted and comments are disabled.

    1 John 3:18: Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

  9. “Some of our separation or termination agreements in the past asked employees to agree ‘to not to disparage or slander the reputation of the church, its directors, pastors and staff, or any church members/attendees’ and also stated that the church ‘agrees to abide by this same condition’ toward the staff member,”

    I would be interested in reading the actual verbiage of the NDA. Who decides whether someone who tells their story is slander or not? The church? The elders? A judge? My husband was forced to sign sone thing similar at a different church, where he had to agree to speak in a “Christlike manner about the church and its people”, but after showing it to a lawyer we discovered that the verbiage was subject to whatever the church leaders perceived to be “christlike”. It was more of a scare tactic, and not something that could hold weight in the legal system if someone wanted to go after my husband for violating the NDA.

  10. First off, NDAs being used this way are in conflict with Christianity as the Bible instructs us to publicly rebuke once personal appeals fail.

    But on a related note, we are dealing with a similar issue as a local “missions” organization has amassed a treasure trove being used almost exclusively for personal enrichment and not ministry.

    Whistleblowers were under NDAs and thus unwilling to speak out and so they leaked many corroborating documents to someone who was willing. The organization then turned on that person with lawsuits and the whistleblowers are too scared to speak up due to the threats of the organization. Sheer madness.

  11. Why insist that a church have NDAs for it’s employees? It’s not like they’ve created a secret recipe for a super, delicious pizza or a top secret formula for church growth.

    1. The only things that an employee should not be allowed to discuss are how much John Smith gave to the church and what Jane Jones discussed in a counseling session. If Smith wants to disclose his giving or Jones her personal issues, THEY can do that. For those cases NDA’s are proper. Otherwise it smacks of coverup.

  12. Ralph Jesperson: “This will not go away just as Mark Driscoll and James McDonald have not.” Exactly. Andy Woods’ “management style” seems to closely follow that of Driscoll and McDonald. How many times are these type of men going to be allowed to become the shepherd of such a large flock? The sheep are put in danger and the Name and sake of Christ are damaged, sometimes even “beyond repair”. Come on Body of Christ! Fool me once, shame on you….

  13. Surely a court could set aside an NDA on the basis that it prevented information of public value being disclosed. Aside from that the contract formed between parties of vastly unequal power sounds unconscionable and so should be voided by the same court.

    1. Entering such an agreement may be a condition of employment or a condition of receiving severance pay. In theory, an employee may refuse to sign the contract, but the newly hired or recently fired worker may feel pressure because the job or much-needed funds are at risk.

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