Million-dollar troubles at YFC’s national office lead to big changes and a new president.

Financial troubles tied to Youth for Christ/USA’s move to a new headquarters building have led to major changes in the organization’s national office, including the resignation of president Dick Wynn. A 29-year veteran of Youth for Christ (YFC) work, Wynn surprised delegates at the ministry’s annual midwinter conference by announcing his resignation prior to what promised to be a divided vote on ratifying another term for Wynn as president.

“The board gave me the opportunity to resign, and I chose that opportunity,” Wynn told the 750 YFC staff and volunteers at the February 28 meeting in Orlando, Florida. “As we discussed the future of the ministry, we felt that we had come to a point where we needed to move on and change some direction of the ministry and to solve our financial crisis.

“There is not one iota of bad feeling,” Wynn said, adding that the board offered him several other roles in YFC/USA, which he declined. Still, he said, he hoped to continue to serve the ministry in some way in the future.

Roger Cross, senior vice-president for field services, was named temporary chief operating officer to replace Wynn.

New national board chairman Marshall Faith described Wynn’s decision as “necessary” yet “very positive.” In an interview with CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Faith praised Wynn for expanding YFC’s ministry during his five years as president. But it was expansion, Faith said, that led in part to YFC/USA’s problems.

Last fall, YFC/USA relocated its offices from a 13,000-square-foot building near Wheaton, Illinois, to a 68,000-square-foot facility in suburban Denver. Much of the $4.2 million cost of the move was to have been covered by large donations. But when some of those gifts were delayed or fell through, YFC faced a $1 million-plus shortfall (CT, March 11, 1991, p. 75).

To deal with the red ink, the new building, which YFC purchased for $2.6 million and occupied only last August, has been put up for sale, Faith said. In addition, YFC/USA board members themselves have promised more than $1 million to cover the unfulfilled pledges.

In stepping into a more active role in overseeing the national office, the board has also strengthened the role of the organization’s financial officer, Faith said. That position, currently filled by vice-president for development Jim Neal, will now report directly to the board rather than the president.

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Liabilities Over Assets

Questions of financial control arose late last year as the size of YFC’s financial problems came to light. During Wynn’s tenure the national office had climbed out of a long-running deficit. But the move to Denver, combined with a decline in the collection of participation fees that local YFC chapters pay to the national office (as much as $770,000 had not been received as of February), sent the ministry back into deficit during 1990. Staff paychecks were delayed, and they later bounced; some creditors threatened legal action. The seriousness of the situation was underscored in a letter from the ministry’s auditor, Price Waterhouse, sent to YFC in October. Accounts payable in the operating fund of the national office totaled almost $1.8 million by October 1990, its checking account was overdrawn, and the ministry had no other source for loans. Noting “recurring losses” and “an excess of current liabilities over current assets,” the letter concluded “there is substantial doubt about Youth for Christ/USA’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

That letter and other financial information was sent to board and national staff members by former chief financial officer John Anderson, who says he was fired a short time later by Wynn. A ministry spokesman said Wynn gave Anderson “every opportunity to openly express his concerns to the board,” but that he was terminated “simply because his performance was not acceptable.” The action nevertheless raised the concerns of board members.

Within months, three board members resigned: board chairman Tom Schanck; businessman Kenneth Gundersen; and author Marabel Morgan.

Calls For Resignation

By the end of February, voices among both board and field staff were calling for Wynn’s resignation. In response to the atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding the Orlando gathering, organizers postponed the business meeting at which the presidential ratification vote was to be taken and added an “open-microphone” forum on Thursday, one day prior to the meeting. Both sessions were closed to the public. According to observers’ comments after the forum, many staff members were apparently unaware of the financial troubles at the national office and were surprised by the discussion. However, they said, it was obvious that if the board were to put forward Wynn for another three-year term as president, the nomination would face uncommon opposition.

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At the end of the conference, Faith said the major financial problem facing YFC/USA was about $600,000 remaining in short-term accounts payable. “The building is not our problem at the moment,” he said, noting that funds were in hand for a $500,000 payment due in May. He added that all vendors had been contacted and none was moving to take legal action. At the time, Faith said he did not know if any of the 50 staff would be laid off.

Field Versus Headquarters

Financial difficulties have long been a challenge for YFC. One board member quipped that the ministry had been out of debt only 15 days of his 15 years there. But observers agreed the most recent round of money woes is the worst in the ministry’s history. Moreover, it served to highlight ongoing tensions in the relationship between the national office and the local chapters.

Since its founding in 1945, when several successful, local youth ministries came together and exported their strategies under the name Youth for Christ, YFC has more closely resembled a confederation of autonomous chapters than an organization. Each local program is incorporated with its own board, which hires an executive director. And each sends about 3 percent of its nondesignated income to the national office. In return, YFC/USA provides insurance coverage, materials, and national programs such as DC ’91, a congress on youth evangelism to be held next July in Washington, D.C.

While such an organizational structure has helped foster entrepreneurship and kept ministries in close touch with the youth they target, it has also bred problems. Chapter participation fees cover only about 20 percent of the national office budget, forcing YFC/USA to raise the bulk of its own funds. Local staff have often been critical of the national office for failing to serve their real ministry needs and imposing its own agenda upon their work; national staff have been frustrated by the parochial interests of the local units and their lack of support (Disagreement over philosophy and control in the early 1970s prompted some local chapters, such as those in Kansas City and Milwaukee, to sever ties with YFC.)

Former board chairman Schanck cited an “almost adversarial relationship” between the national office and local chapters in his resignation letter. He told CT he had hoped his departure would call attention to the problem and lead to changes in the leadership structure. At the Orlando meeting, Faith also called on the field to “take greater ownership” of the headquarters and its financial problems.

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Indeed, field ministry leaders met during the conference to discuss ways to improve the relationship with the national office, including paying higher participation fees. The impetus for making any changes is and should be in the hands of the local chapters, Faith said. Field leaders said they will be discussing the matter with their local boards over the next several months.

While the circumstances have been painful, some leaders see the changes in management and structure bringing needed discussion and reform. Bill Eakin, a 41-year veteran of YFC, said he was encouraged and relieved not only by the steps taken at Orlando, but also by the tone in which the changes were accomplished.

“I see the Holy Spirit at work in all this,” said Eakin, ministry coordinator for Central Indiana YFC. “This is the greatest challenge we’ve faced, and we’re making tremendous changes.… But this is getting our mission into focus. I think we will look back and see this helped us do it just that much better.”

By Ken Sidey in Orlando, Florida.

A fatal outbreak of measles in two Philadelphia churches that forbid medical help in favor of faith healing turned into what one city official called a “nightmare” of deaths and ended in an unusual alliance between the fundamentalist churches and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Six children died in the span of about six weeks in February and early March from a measles outbreak that infected about 355 children in two church schools. The deaths included five children belonging to the Faith Tabernacle Congregation, a church of about 500 in North Philadelphia founded in the late nineteenth century and claiming eight branch churches nationwide. The other fatality was a child from the First Century Gospel Church, which broke away decades ago from Faith Tabernacle, according to Robert Ross, the city’s deputy health commissioner.

While hundreds of children elsewhere in Philadelphia got measles, resulting in three other deaths, health officials clearly worried about the intensity of the disease in the two churches, as well as the health hazard to the city at large.

Such worries prompted a Philadelphia family court judge in early March to order the city to register any church holding similar faith-healing beliefs. That, in turn, brought out the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in defense of the churches’ First Amendment rights.

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At press time, ACLU officials were challenging the judge’s order to compile the registry as well as two other orders, one requiring Faith Tabernacle’s and First Century Gospel’s children to see a doctor monthly, and another requiring the churches to report any child absent from school four days in a row, said Stefan Presser, legal director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania.

“We support the church [in opposing] three out of four of the orders,” Presser said.

The Philadelphia district attorney’s office is waiting on official cause-of-death reports before deciding whether to press criminal charges on behalf of the seven dead children, said spokesperson Laura Linton. “There are a lot of legal questions,” she said. “There are a lot of case-law questions.”

Constitutional attorney John Whitehead said the case may push the limit between a church’s rights and the government’s obligation to protect innocent children. “I don’t think the Constitution protects this type of activity,” Whitehead said.

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