A third church has left the Acts 29 church planting network in less than a month over the network’s alleged lack of transparency. This time, the church’s pastors say Acts 29 suddenly dismissed their church after they asked for clarity on the network’s finances and decision-making, among other issues.
The pastors wrote that two Acts 29 vice presidents informed them of its board’s decision in an unplanned videoconference on January 17. Brian Howard is president of Acts 29’s five-member board, according to the network’s website.
“We were not given any specific examples of what that means, and there were not any prior conversations about us not being a good fit prior to this meeting,” the two pastors wrote in a February 9 blog post on The Well’s website.
The pastors stated the videoconference came after they had spent two years trying to get answers to a variety of questions, including about Acts 29’s governance and how church contributions are used.
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“Over time, churches and networks change,” the pastors wrote, and Acts 29 had become “less clear and transparent.”
Davis told The Roys Report (TRR) that Well Church leadership started asking about Acts 29’s financials and governance in 2021. This past December, Davis said, the organization finally gave him a broad breakdown of what percentage of the budget goes to church planting, a category he was told included church planter assessments and conferences.
But Davis never got a detailed answer about how much was going to fund actual church plants themselves, he said. And he couldn’t get a copy of the organization’s annual budget, he said, so he had to rely on a 2021 town hall video announcing Acts 29’s planned budget for the following year.
“None of it’s clear. It’s very vague,” Davis said. “And I don’t know that they’re intentionally deceiving. It’s just kind of a mess.”
Davis said when he asked Acts 29 if he could appeal his church’s dismissal, he was told the board’s decision was final.
In a statement to TRR, Acts 29 indicated its leadership “reserves the right to discontinue partnership with any church that does not align with our values and culture, or with whom we believe it is no longer mutually beneficial to pursue continued partnership.”
The lead pastors of those churches wrote at length about leaving Acts 29 in blog posts on January 16 and January 19. Both indicated their elder boards had decided to voluntarily leave the network. Among other issues, they cited a lack of clarity about how the network uses church contributions, too.
Acts 29 recognizes “that some partners and churches are interested in more detailed financial info,” its team stated in response to an inquiry from TRR. The organization also stated it is “moving toward more proactive communication of our ministry finances to our network of churches and donors.”
The three church departures come hard on the heels of controversy surrounding Acts 29 leader Matt Chandler. Chandler returned to preaching at The Village Church in North Texas in December following a three-month leave due to an “inappropriate online relationship.” He also took a break from leading Acts 29, and went from being its president to executive chairman, his current role on the board.
Churches question where the money’s going
Acts 29 indicated in its most recent annual report that as of 2021, it had 712 member churches in 45 countries. It had not released an annual report for 2022 as of press time. Acts 29 stated to TRR it recently closed its 2022 fiscal year and would update member churches about its financials “in the coming month.”
The 2021 report showed Acts 29 received nearly $5 million from its member churches, plus more than $3 million from other sources.
The network spent close to $2.2 million—or more than a quarter of its revenues—on operations and fundraising, according to the 2021 report. Nonprofits are considered to be “doing well” if they keep administrative and fundraising expenditures at 25% or less of their budget. In addition, Acts 29 reportedly spent about $4.5 million on resources for church plants and reaching unchurched people.
Acts 29 doesn’t publish detailed annual financials or audit documents on its website. The network stated it is taking steps to join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) and recently submitted its audited financials. It is not listed as an ECFA member as of press time.
ECFA standards require member organizations to provide copies of current financial statements on request.
But when Jon Needham, lead pastor of Coram Deo Church, asked for Acts 29’s budget and bylaws, he was told those were “in-house only” documents, he wrote. Acts 29 reportedly refused to provide a copy of its bylaws to The Well’s pastors for the same reason.
“If I treated the members of my church that way, I wouldn’t have a church for very long,” Needham wrote in an earlier letter to Acts 29 leaders that he published in January.
“ . . . Is it good stewardship for us to send you a monthly check while you refuse to show us how those funds are used?Is it right for us to place ourselves under your leadership while you refuse to communicate how you are organized and operate?”
Acts 29 stated to TRR that its current policy is not to share its bylaws, “which is consistent with non-profit law and many other similar non-profit organizations.” However, its bylaws are public record since Acts 29 is registered as a religious nonprofit in California.
Justin Buzzard, lead pastor of Garden City Church, wrote three days after Needham’s announcement that Garden City Church had also decided to leave Acts 29 over similar concerns.
Acts 29 had not made clear how much of church contributions were “going to actual church plants” rather than central staffing or other activities, Buzzard wrote. He hadn’t asked for the budget and bylaws, he acknowledged, but wrote he knew others who had and were denied them.
Well Church’s Davis said he simply wished Acts 29 were transparent about “the rules of the game.”
“Trust is very low right now” for a number of Acts 29 churches, Davis toldTRR. “And so a lot of churches are just asking basic questions about the governance, not because they have ill will, but because they’re trying to rebuild trust.
“Like in a relationship . . . if you’re married, and all of a sudden you have suspicions, you’re going to start asking questions that are a bit more pointed, or a bit more, like, ‘Hey, we need to look at the budget,’” Davis added.
“That can come across as nosy or mean, but really it’s not from a place of trying to hurt somebody. The churches in the network just want to get clarity.”
Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.