Jesus once told a parable about two different people building houses. One built on a stone foundation and the other on sand. When the rains came, the house built on the sand collapsed. The foundation was essential for a durable house. In the parable, the foundation represented the words of Jesus and obeyed them.
Similarly, Hillsong Church was built on a sand foundation.
Australian pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston founded Hillsong in Australia and embarked on a bold strategy to plant churches internationally.
In 2010, Hillsong’s legal structure in the United States was under construction. Attorney Stephen Lentz, the father of Carl Lentz who would become Hillsong’s most popular American pastor, wrote the Hillsong Ministries USA, Inc Articles of Incorporation., and used language common to the governing documents of many televangelical churches. Stephen Lentz wrote in Article 6, “The Society shall have no members.”
These words began to appear frequently in church society documents in the 1990s. members”.
The churches of televangelists Mike Murdock, Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar have also adopted similar language. Ironically, the Grace Community Church Bylawsled by well-known Hillsong reviewer John MacArthur uses exactly the same words as Hillsong Ministries USA: “The society shall have no members.”
This strange phrase prevents church worshipers from being “corporate members”, which means that church worshipers have no voting rights in the church. Instead, key decision-making is limited to the church board or church elders.
Also in 2010, Hillsong Church in New York was established. Jeffery Coombs, attorney at the law firm of Stephen Lentz, drafted the Articles of Incorporation for Hillsong NYC, LLC. Hillsong began using limited liability companies (LLCs) to structure its churches.
Hillsong NYC’s incorporation document stated: “The limited liability company will be managed by one or more managers…”
Should business language define a church and how it works?
In his book The Church affairStephen Lentz explained the purpose of church LLCs:
“Because we live in a litigious society, it is important to isolate the different initiatives that could present high risks. It is above all a containment strategy. We recommend using a single-member limited liability company (LLC) to isolate the various church initiatives that are vital to the church’s footprint in its community. Every activity can be vigorously pursued without jeopardizing any church assets.
Following this strategy, Hillsong created LLCs to function as real estate holding companies operating independently of churches. In Maricopa County, Arizona, home of Hillsong Phoenix and Hillsong University, PHX Property Holdings LLC has 31 properties. While the county assessor’s website shows 31 property listings, many of them are small adjacent lots purchased to build two church shrines and provide parking. There are also vacant lots among the real estate advertisements.
Stephen Lentz failed to recognize the fatal flaw of Church LLCs. There is little, if any, accountability for managers.
The game of the same name
Some of Hillsong’s American churches operated as traditional incorporated nonprofits. In 2016, the trade name Hillsong Phoenix was registered with Citichurch International, Inc.
Citichurch included Australian Hillsong leaders Nabi Saleh and George Aghajanian on the church’s board. How can board members living thousands of miles away provide adequate oversight of a church?
In 2017, Hillsong Phoenix, LLC was registered in Texas. Therefore, two different organizations existing at the same time used the name “Hillsong Phoenix”. The Trinity Foundation describes this practice as the game of the same name.
If a check was made payable to Hillsong Phoenix, would the money go to Citichurch or the Texas registered LLC?
The Hillsong Collapse
New allegations of misconduct by Hillsong founder Brian Houston have rocked the Hillsong church. Critical media coverage of the Discovery+ documentary series “Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed” has Hillsong pastors questioning their ties to the Hillsong brand, leading many to announce they are leaving to start new churches. . (Disclaimer: Trinity Foundation investigator Barry Bowen, the author of this article, appears in episode three of the documentary.)
Have former Hillsong Church pastors learned from their mistakes?
In February 2022, Hillsong Kansas City changed its name to Kingdom City Church. The church has two officers (president and secretary) and four additional board members. Only one of the six church leaders is from Kansas City. Again, how can people seemingly scattered across the country provide proper remote oversight for a church?
Sam Collier has resigned as pastor of Hillsong Atlanta and has already filed the Articles of Incorporation for Story Church, Inc. The articles of incorporation States,”The society will have no members.” SERIOUSLY?
Who will make up the church board? No other names appear in the church’s articles of incorporation. Who will hold Collier responsible?
Originally published at Trinity Foundation
Barry Bowen is an investigator with the Trinity Foundation, a non-profit organization that investigates religious fraud, theft, and excess. From 2005 to 2010, Bowen was one of the third-party whistleblowers assisting the US Senate in its investigation of six television departments.