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Churches and Religious Non-Profits Received $6-10 Billion In COVID Relief Funds

Well-known evangelical groups receive funds – including Ligonier Ministries, Willow Creek, Harvest Bible Chapel, and David C. Cook

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Religious organizations, including churches and Christian non-profits, received at least $6-billion in COVID relief funds.  The funds were a part of the Paycheck Protection Program run by the Small Business Administration, according to a list released by the SBA this week. 

Some well-known names are on that list, including Willow Creek Community Church, Reformed University Fellowship, Mission Aviation Fellowship, prominent evangelical publisher David C. Cook, and Joyce Meyer Ministries.  (A more complete list is below.)

In order to receive PPP funds, an applicant must affirm:  “Current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.” 

Data released by the Small Business Administration this week were divided into two categories:  those who received at least $150,000, and those who received less than $150,000.  The Trump Administration’s decision to only release broad ranges of loan amounts makes it difficult to say with precision the exact amount of the loans.  However, it is possible to say that religious organizations receiving more than $150,000 received a total of at least $3.5-billion and possibly as much as $7-billion in forgivable loans.

Religious organizations receiving loans of less than $150,000 received a total of at least $2.7 billion, putting the church bailout total at between $6.2 and $9.7 billion at a minimum.

While funds awarded under PPP are structured as loans, they are 100 percent forgivable if the money is used, in fact, for payroll and other essential purposes.  That means that these payments are, in effect, grants to the funded businesses and organizations.

The Small Administration released the data in response to multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, including American Atheists’ from June 16.  Organizations reporting on the information have included the watchdog organization Open The Books, which provided support to MinistryWatch for this story.

Among the ministries receiving loans of between $5- and $10-million is Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) is a well-known campus ministry that is a subsidiary of the Presbyterian Church in America.  It operates on more than 200 college campuses and other locations, mostly in the United States, but also abroad as well.

Also receiving at least $5-million in loans is Willow Creek Community Church, whose attendance and financial problems have been covered recently by MinistryWatch.

Joyce Meyer Ministries also received a PPP loan of at least $5-million, as did Oklahoma City-based Life Church, led by pastor Craig Groeschel.  New Life Church, an evangelical megachurch in Conway, Arkansas, received between $2- and $5-million in PPP funds. 

Other well-known churches and ministries receiving at least $2-million in funds include:  Jews for Jesus, Mariners Church (Irvine, Calif.), Shadow Mountain Community Church (led by well-known radio and TV preacher David Jeremiah), David C. Cook (a large evangelical book and music publisher), Ligonier Ministries (founded by R.C. Sproul), 12Stone Church (an Atlanta megachurch), Mission Aviation Fellowship, Harvest Bible Chapel (formerly led by James MacDonald), Kanukuk Ministries (which operates Christian summer camps near Branson, Mo.), Elevation Church (led by Steven Furtick), Summit Church (led by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear), Redeemer Presbyterian Church (formerly led by pastor and best-selling author Tim Keller), Potters House (T.D. Jakes) and Oak Cliff Bible Church (Tony Evans).

Christina Darnell contributed to this story.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.