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Hillsong Scandals

Hillsong Church: Oceans Deep of Financial Impropriety

For years, the world has watched the rise and fall of Hillsong. The overreliance on its top heavy pastorate riddled with scandals come to light has led to the downfall of a global megachurch conglomerate that had tentacles into major metropolitan cities with its seeker friendly model and distinct brand of melodic worship music. From pedophilia, to adultery, to criminal charges, and now financial impropriety, the waves grow taller as the oceans become too deep for Hillsong to navigate, or do they?

The beauty of financial statements is that they tell a story. It might lack for context, but the money does not lie, even though people do. Follow the money, and though it is late into 2022, their 2021 financials are a truth they cannot escape. As a disclaimer, Australians have different accounting standards than American GAAP, but the numbers nonetheless display a decline. The period in question is their fiscal year ending in 2021. Numbers are presumably in Australian Dollars, not American and have been provided by an accounting firm. The current exchange rate for USD/AUD is 1.44 (the US dollar is stronger).

Revenue Declines

 

The most glaring change is the revenue at the top line, as revenue declined $10.8 million, which is a 12.34% decline Year over Year. Hillsong reports that 77% of revenues derive from donations, which was up from 73% YOY. Despite a larger percentage of revenue from donors, this represents a $2.5 million decrease in donations. The fact they only lost $2.5 million in 2021 following over a year of shutdowns, shuddered churches, and sex scandals is fairly telling that either they are efficient in replacing donors or they possess a loyal base of support. Based on their history of financial disclosures, it will probably be a year before it is known whether this decrease escalated in 2022.

From an expenditure standpoint, they reported a 14% increase in “Worship, Creativity, and Events” which appears to be taken from their Programs and Operations expenses. In 2019, they spent $9.5 million on conferences, but in 2021 this number was barely more than $2.5 million. Pastoral Care is lumped in with Kids and Youth, which accounts for a consistent 28% of expenditures, down only 2%.

Their cash was reported at $19,053,104, which is nearly $8 million higher year over year. This increase in cash is primarily driven by Financing related Cash Flow where Hillsong Entities were repaying Hillsong. In other words, the franchises, likely international branches, were paying corporate. However, this habit of transferring money between entities as is exhibited on their Cash Flow Statement is the subject of government investigation and their whistleblower lawsuit.

Financial Impropriety

In March, shortly after Brian Houston’s resignation, the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) launched an investigation into Hillsong’s financial practices. This is then followed by a lawsuit filed by whistleblower Natalie Moses, a former Hillsong employee who has alleged a litany of accounting malpractices. Moses has filed suit claiming Hillsong Church violated whistleblower protections under Australian law.

Per ABC Australia, Moses alleged the following via court filing:

The documents allege dubious financial record-keeping, the misappropriation of church finances, and claim Hillsong leaders used tax-free money for “large cash gifts” to Hillsong founder Brian Houston and his family.

The 25-page statement of claim filed by Ms Moses’s lawyers at Maurice Blackburn includes accusations Hillsong illegally hid its international transfers by making payments through its US-based entities.

The lump sum payment to outgoing Brian Houston is the major headline and latest scandal for Hillsong, yet the financials paint the picture which correlates with Moses’s allegations. 

On their Cash Flow, they plainly state that they transfer millions between multiple Hillsong entities. The crux of Moses’s allegations is that they launder tax-free money through the Hillsong entities so they can misappropriate and conceal its use by transferring it abroad. The alleged flow of cash goes as follows: money is donated to Hillsong Australia; money is then transferred abroad to avoid domestic oversight; payments are made from overseas entities to Brian Houston; entities repay loans. Their mistrust is without borders. Another claim Moses made is that Hillsong Church received $9 million from their Hillsong Foundation (a separate entity) to cover a financial deficit.

Moses also alleged that Hillsong classifies its artists as pastors to pay them “tax free” and that they attempted to renovate “Festival Hall,” a venue they purchased in 2020, using tax deductible donations, which would be in violation of Australian law. The former makes sense for a church that spends $22 million on pastoral payroll.

While the court cases and investigations will play out, there is a demonstrable culture of Hillsong transferring millions between entities, marking them as loans and loan repayments. Such transference easily enables fraud and abuse. It is already known that they used petty cash for lavish expenses, particularly in their NYC and LA branches. Instead of making new wine, they were drinking it at fancy restaurants or in five star hotels. The scandal ridden US entities lack the scruples and oversight by American authorities, making them easy conduits for slush payments.

Annual Attendance

Hillsong is rather vague in their attendance data. Given that the previous two years have been impacted by Covid, they intentionally obfuscate their attendance numbers. Their 2020 report focuses predominantly on online reach while their 2021 combines online and in person. In combining all the Australian provinces, they hosted an average weekly attendance of 21,219, though it is unclear whether the data includes online or is skewed towards holidays, like Christmas where attendance might be higher.

Safe Church

Given the history of pedophilia at Hillsong Church and related coverups, a Safe Church program might be necessary, but in addition to protecting children from abuse, their Safe Church program handled their Covid protocols and compliance with the state.

Moreover, Hillsong used its money to finance the End Covid for All campaign, which glorifies the poisonous Covid vaccine as the solution to a global pandemic. If it is not Bill Gates experimenting on impoverished youths through vaccinations, than it is Brian Houston who seeks to vaccinate the third world. It is unsurprising that they would promote the jab and shill the government narrative on a people especially oppressed by their government during lockdowns.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Make no mistake that Hillsong is woke. They have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion board designed to implement a Racial Reconciliation plan of action that focuses on building awareness, equipping leaders, and advancing representation and equity. For an overwhelming white population, Hillsong seeks to go diverse. The section states that “We have been attentive to the conversations that deepen our understanding of racism and Implicit Bias.”

Whether in America or Australia, Critical Race Theory and Social Justice are global ideologies within the Anglosphere. The primary difference for Hillsong being that they operate their social justice program like a Fortune 500 company with a diversity board rather than as a normal woke church.

Conclusion

Hillsong Church’s best days are likely behind it. Their financial tower of refuge and strength is showing major fault lines as financial regulators, documentaries, and years of sex scandals riddle their church. Like a mighty storm, like a rushing wind, it is almost as if the Lord has shined a light and let the whole world see just how corrupt this megachurch conglomerate has become.

Still, the fact that they receive an excess of 70% from willing donors, despite scandals, indicates a strong moat, to use a financial term. Doubtless, donors will continue throwing another dollar in the fire to subsize these scandals while Hillsong Church moves money between accounts to cover their tracks and portray legitimacy. There is much scrutiny to the tax exemption status of churches that masquerade as charities that function as corporations. On a global stage, Hillsong is by far the most egregious offender.

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