Evangelical financial watchdog faces scrutiny over backing of megachurch

About five years ago the Village Church of Barrington, a congregation northwest of Chicago with a $1.8 million annual budget and average weekly attendance of 600, decided to become accredited with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

ECFA — founded in 1979 to promote financial integrity in Christian ministries and avert heightened government regulation in the wake of televangelist scandals — claims nearly 2,400 members.

“We thought it would give donors confidence to know that we were doing things by the book,” said David Jones, the Village Church’s pastor.

But now — amid scrutiny over ECFA’s years-long failure to identify financial misdeeds at Harvest Bible Chapel, a Chicago-area megachurch that fired its founder and senior pastor, James MacDonald, earlier this year — the Village Church said it is rethinking its relationship with the Christian watchdog group.

In December, ECFA issued a statement saying that Harvest was in compliance with its rules. Not long afterward church officials admitted misleading ECFA.

In April, ECFA terminated Harvest Bible Chapel’s membership, pointing to “significant violations” of several of its financial standards. The group had suspended the megachurch the previous month after church leaders admitted “a lack of financial control and oversight” under MacDonald. In March, ECFA said “new information” led the watchdog group to investigate whether the church had violated ECFA’s financial standards.

Dan Busby, ECFA’s president since 2009, referred Religion News Service’s request for an interview to a public relations firm.

Karen Dye with Guardian PR + Events said Harvest Bible Chapel is “conducting an external review by a forensic accountant.”

“Out of respect for that process and until that report is public, ECFA will not be participating in any interviews,” Dye said in an email. She declined, too, to make Busby available to answer more general questions about ECFA’s history and purpose. (RNS)