Churches Leaving Acts 29 Cite Issues with Financial and Organizational Transparency
Last week, Coram Deo Church in Bremerton, Washington, published a letter explaining why the congregation would be leaving the church-planting Acts 29 Network chaired by mega-church pastor Matt Chandler.
The church cited several reasons, including theological and cultural issues such as LGBTQ issues and critical race theory about which he said Acts 29 has not provided clarity. It also cited concern about a “lack of financial and organizational transparency.”
Jon Needham, lead pastor of Coram Deo, wrote that the church has been engaged in a process to resolve some of its concerns for over a year, without receiving the clarification it desired.
The elders voted unanimously to leave the network in December 2022.
Garden City Church, located in the Silicon Valley, also announced recently that it has left the Acts 29 Network.
Justin Buzzard, Garden City Church’s pastor, wrote a lengthy blog entry citing 10 reasons why the church had made its decision. Among them were financial and organizational concerns similar to those noted by Needham.
While Garden City Church has given over $200,000 to Acts 29 over the years as part of its membership, Buzzard wrote, “There hasn’t been clarity of a big picture budget to see where the money is going.”
Buzzard didn’t ask Acts 29 for a copy of the budget, but said he knew of pastors who had and were refused.
Needham was one who did. He said he asked Acts 29 Vice President Dave Bruskas for a copy of the organization’s budget and bylaws. Needham said he was told those were “in-house” documents only and that he could not see them.
These events have eroded the trust that Needham and Buzzard have in Acts 29.
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Buzzard told MinistryWatch that the unwillingness to share the financial and organizational information gave an “appearance of a bloated organization where the 3% churches like ours give to church planting seemingly must be going to lots of operational overhead rather than to actual church plants.”
Buzzard said he doesn’t expect to see every line of the budget, but at least the main budget categories to understand where the money churches are giving to Acts 29 is going.
Acts 29 is a nonprofit tax-exempt charity under the Internal Revenue Service, but it does not file Form 990s with the IRS because it claims the church exemption.
“Increasing communication about our financial stewardship has become a priority for us in the last several years,” a spokesperson for Acts 29 said in response to MinistryWatch’s inquiry.
She said the group had recently completed an audit of our 2021 financials and will soon complete its 2022 financials. But she did not send a copy to MinistryWatch in response to our request and said they don’t currently share them publicly.
“We intend to send a 2022 financial update to our churches in the coming weeks and more regular financial and budget updates to our partner churches moving forward,” she added. “We also plan to share financial information in our annual reports, including our 2022 report, which is currently being drafted.”
While Acts 29 is not currently a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), it says it is in the process of joining. It also has a Gold Transparency rating with Guidestar/Candid and has been reviewed by Excellence in Giving.
Both Buzzard and Needham also have concerns about organizational matters, like how the Acts 29 board functions in areas like appointments, authority, accountability, and decision making.
According to an Acts 29 spokesperson, the board selects a replacement when a board member’s term is up. Terms are for three years and members can serve two consecutive terms. Acts 29 did not provide other specifics about the selection process.
Needham cited what he considered the unexpected firing of Shaun Garman, another network leader serving churches on the west coast.
When Needham asked the network president Brian Howard about Garman’s firing, Needham said he replied, “We make employment decisions based on our mission, values, finances, and strategic plan and have every right to do so. I also have my hands full leading a huge organization that is in 50 countries and 30 languages so please reach out to Dave Bruskas who leads Acts 29 North America if you have future questions.”
Acts 29 began in 1998 under the leadership of David Nicholas and controversial pastor Mark Driscoll. Driscoll resigned from leadership in the network in 2012. Chandler took the helm and has remained in a key role since.
The transition between the two appeared to be fairly informal with Driscoll choosing Chandler, saying he had more time to take on the responsibilities, according to reporting by the Gospel Coalition.
Acts 29 has dealt with other leadership controversies. In 2020, CEO Steven Timmis was removed from his position after accusations of spiritual abuse.
Buzzard noted that Acts 29 has been reorganized “more times than I can count” and that the organizational changes are “dizzying.”
The size of the staff at Acts 29 has grown substantially over the years, reaching 50 members presently. When Buzzard joined, he said the staff of Acts 29 consisted of 2 people.
“I understand that as an organization grows, things change and staff need to be added,” Buzzard wrote. “It’s been unclear to me and many other churches how much of our 3% is going to actual church plants vs. central staff salaries/benefits and to other things.”