Should Your Favorite Ministry Become a ‘Church’?
Image: Jonathan Bartlett

Among Billy Graham’s many legacies is leading ministries to greater financial transparency. Now two major organizations led by the evangelist’s eldest son are ditching the most common way nonprofits disclose their finances.

This fall, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) confirmed that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had approved the ministry’s request to reclassify its decades-old tax status from a traditional nonprofit to an “association of churches.” A similar request by sister organization Samaritan’s Purse remained pending.

The change means that the BGEA will no longer need to file Form 990, the primary way that nonprofits convey their financial accountability to both donors and the US government. This in turn means that Franklin Graham, president and CEO of both the BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse, will no longer be required to make public his $1 million dual salaries—a point of some controversy in recent years.

The IRS has a 14-point test for defining church, asking whether there are “established places of worship,” “regular congregations,” and “regular religious services.” The BGEA is not claiming it is a church, but rather an “association of churches.” The ministry says it “has been operating as an association of churches for years, as virtually everything we do is done in cooperation with individual local churches.” Spokesman Mark DeMoss told CT that “association of churches” is “an IRS classification, not BGEA’s.”

Christian ministries are increasingly worried about the impact that lengthy Form 990 disclosures can have on their First Amendment rights [see “Sorry 666: ...

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Should Your Favorite Ministry Become a ‘Church’?
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December 2016

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