“When it comes to the field, we were totally kept out of that ministry,” he said.
Yohannan is best known for his sometimes controversial approach to missions, said Greg Parsons, director of global connections for Frontier Ventures. He said Yohannan argues that sending out Western missionaries is old-fashioned and ineffective, and that churches in Western nations should instead send money to support national ministries.
It’s an extremely effective message for recruiting church support, said Parsons.
“They have done a really good job in getting a bunch of churches on board [to get] missions done,” he said.
To fulfill Yohannan’s vision, GFA raises funds to support missionaries and a child sponsorship program. Those funds are then sent to GFA’s overseas offices—in India, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh—and to Believers Church, a denomination in India run by Yohannan.
In 2013, GFA brought in $93.8 million, according to its audited financials. Patrick Johnstone, author of the first six editions of the widespread missions handbook Operation World, ranked GFA second among the “world’s largest mission agencies in 2010” in his book The Future of the Global Church. GFA is listed below Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ International) and above Operation Mobilisation, the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Youth with a Mission.
Critics of GFA say the US-based GFA board has little oversight over the work in India.
One of those critics is Tom Sluberski, who resigned earlier this year after 12 years at GFA. When he first arrived, Sluberski said, GFA was focused on reaching unreached people with the gospel. Now, he said, GFA exists mostly to raise money to build infrastructure for the 2-million-member Believers Church. That’s a worthy goal, he said. But it’s not what he or donors signed up for.
Sluberski doesn’t think that Yohannan can tell the difference anymore between the two organizations. There’s too much crossover in Yohannan’s two roles, he said. And a great deal of money passes between the organizations.
In 2013, Believers Church gave $19.8 million to GFA. The money was used to help complete construction on GFA’s $40 million headquarters.
On its 2013 audited statement, GFA reported the $19.8 million as a “temporarily restricted contribution from an anonymous donor.” But in May 2015, Carroll told the GFA staff that a “board that is under Believers Church umbrella” had taken out a loan in Asia for the $19.8 million and sent money to the GFA in the US. (Throckmorton posted a recording of that staff meeting.)
“There really is no difference anymore between Believers Church and GFA,” Sluberski said. “They are one and the same.”
Travis Helm, former director of development at GFA, agrees.
By the time he left the ministry this past summer, after 10 years on staff, he’d lost faith in Yohannan and the organization. He worries that donors are being misled about GFA’s work.
He said that GFA’s leaders did not reveal the loan from India to staff or donors. Yohannan also downplayed some of the details about Believers Church.