Gerald Lach's church does not meet for worship, but it does collect an offering. Storehouse Malachi 3:10, an unconventional church founded in 1997 by the 75-year-old Lach in Cincinnati, offers stock in exchange for each donation.

Lach, a United Methodist minister who left a 20-year pastorate in 1967 to start a for-profit company, says he wants to help the poor by making them rich. "Look at the money that's being invested on Wall Street," Lach says. "Why isn't the church making that money?"

He says $160 billion is donated to churches and Christian ministries each year, but "the church is taking it and the next year asking for more. What we should have done was plant that money."

Storehouse Malachi 3:10 has 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. More than 700 people from across the country have received stock through the church, which creates retirement annuities under the Internal Revenue Service 414(e) church pension plan. The church matches the contributions with stocks and profit-sharing from the publicly held holding company it owns.

But Lach's church's plan is raising questions. Paul D. Nelson, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, says profit-sharing runs counter to the purpose of a tax-exempt organization and invites an IRS investigation. Nelson says, "We don't give to get. We give as an act of worship, to help those in need."

The church offers stock in Cincinnati Regional Initiative (CRI), a real estate investment trust Lach created to develop senior-citizen housing complexes. Lach says CRI, which is registered with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, is in the process of closing a deal on 1,700 acres east of Cincinnati, where he will develop a 250-unit senior-citizen apartment complex, office ...

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