Gateway Church Internally Addresses Changes in Staffing

_MG_2556From multiple sources inside Gateway Church, I have learned that one of the topics of the monthly staff chapel several days ago was the recent layoffs at Gateway. In the meeting, a leader said the layoffs were a healthy “pruning.” Although I am aware that some of the support staff have experienced reductions in compensation (some went from being paid to volunteers), the staff were told that no pay cuts were planned.
Regarding news concerning the church, the leader told the staff that they should not be participate in blogs (specifically mine). For those who followed the Mars Hill Church and Gospel for Asia stories, that should sound familiar.
I welcome Gateway supporters and former members alike to express their views. I also call on Gateway to be more transparent about compensation, and where else the money goes.
I am hearing that some laid off staff are reluctant to speak because they signed non-disclosure agreements with a non-disparagement clause. This is another sound-alike from the Mars Hill days.

Gateway Church Courts Top Level Business Leaders via Exclusive Program

As the church is cutting staffs and salaries, Gateway Church leaders are offering an exclusive program for chief-level executives. Gateway Business Leaders describes itself as

The Gateway Business Leaders Program is a comprehensive program designed to help you accomplish God’s calling and destiny on your life. We have identified numerous topics that we believe will help you achieve Biblical success in your business, personal and spiritual life. We have organized the GBL Program by levels based on background and experience of the members. Our goal is to provide the best resources and relationships to each business leader in our events, training, groups, and mentoring pillars.

However, this interesting program isn’t for everyone. In fact, it is quite exclusive.

Our heart is to serve every businessperson at Gateway. However, at the present time, to best steward our resources, we have designed programs for business owners, presidents, vice presidents, CEO’s, and other C-level executives. Our program is not currently intended for non-profit leaders, first-time start-up entrepreneurs, direct sales agents, network marketers, manufacturing sales representatives, and realtors working for franchise real estate organizations. If you are an eligible candidate, we invite you to apply.

The website provides more details about who can become a member of the GBL program:

Business Owners: A business owner is defined as someone who owns a majority interest in the business they lead.
Corporate Leaders: Corporate Leaders are defined as Presidents, C-Level Executives of private and public corporations that have more than 100 employees, and Vice Presidents that oversee at least 50 employees.
Our program is not intended at this time for non-profit leaders, first-time start-up entrepreneurs, direct sales agents, network marketers, manufacturing sales representatives, and realtors working for franchise real estate organizations.

Show Me Yours but I Won’t Show You Mine

As a part of the process, applicants must disclose their salary. Why would a ministry need to know a member’s salary? This is an especially fair question since the leaders of Gateway are secretive about the salaries of senior pastors.
Gateway Business Leaders Income
Given the recent news out of Gateway, I am not sure I would want to join. “Come learn how we cut staff by one-third and cut pay by as much as 20%” isn’t an attractive slogan.
Note: Gateway executives could not join Gateway’s program. Since Gateway pastors are leaders in a non-profit organization, they would not be eligible to join the group they are leading. In essence, GBL seems like an exclusive club for Christian high rollers, one which is financed by rank and file donors.

Gateway Church Cuts Pay Between 15-20%

Robert Morris and Ted Cruz Wilks BrosI reported in mid-April that the fourth largest church in America — Gateway Church — planned to layoff one-third of the church staff amid extravagant spending for political purposes.  Now I have learned that, Gateway informed staff yesterday that their pay would be reduced by as much as 20%.
A source had informed me that expenses were slated to be cut but did not expressly mention salaries. Now, another source tells me that the staff were informed yesterday that pay was being cut. There is no way to confirm at this point if those cuts extend to the senior pastors and founder Robert Morris.
Gateway spent lavishly on political events during and after the presidential campaign, culminating in co-sponsorship of an inaugural ball for Donald Trump. At the same time, the church started to charge for pizza during Wednesday night youth group meetings.
Since Gateway doesn’t publish audited financial statements, it isn’t clear how much senior leaders make in salary. In any case, cutting staff by one-third and cutting pay by 20% doesn’t match Morris’ optimism about growth at Gateway.

Texas Governor Tries to Mobilize Churches in Favor of LGBT Discrimination (UPDATED with Video of John Hagee)

On Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott contacted ten megachurch pastors about Texas HB 2899. Abbott told the pastors the bill was being held up by the Speaker of the House and asked the pastors to persuade their congregations to oppose it. Robert Morris, pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, called HB 2899 “the bathroom bill” and urged Christian church goers to voice their opposition to their representatives. Watch Morris urge his congregation to call their legislators.

Transcript:

Also I want to let you know something that um, I’m gonna ask you to do something. Governor Abbott called me yesterday, uh, he’s calling-he called ten churches, um, that are mega-churches here in the, in Texas, the state of Texas. Uh, and there’s a House Bill right now, that we need to let our representatives know about, and bring it to the floor for a vote. It’s being held up right now by the Speaker of the House, and I’m saying that, uh, the leader of the House, um, I’m saying that– that is, in the state of Texas, okay, this isn’t Washington, this is Austin. Uh, but, it is 2899, HB2899.
You can go to our website, and find out how to contact your representative. Uh, it is being referred to as the bathroom bill, but please understand, this is to protect our children. We need to stand up, and as adults, that’s why we say no, you don’t drive a car when you’re 11, you don’t get to drive a car until you’re 16. Adults need to make laws and rules for children who don’t know how to make those decisions at that time.
And we don’t want to be disrespectful to anyone, but this is so that boys do not go into girls’ locker rooms, and girls do not go into boys locker rooms. And the governor said, “Please, ask your people to call their state representative by Monday. And so you can go on our website, and it says, find your representative, or whatever it is, locate, somethin’ like that, somethin’ like that.
There it is, find your local state representative click here. You just find out who your representative is, and call and say, we support, uh, and you can read about the bill, too, you can read the bill, but we want you to at least bring it to a vote. At least get it out of the committee. And this one representative, um, y’know, is holding it up. And so we-we really do need to protect our children. And I want to ask you to, so I’m asking every member of Gateway church to do that, all right

John Hagee also made this appeal to his congregation, but according to a friend who watched 10 other Texas megachurch sermons (deserves a medal), Abbott’s appeal didn’t make it in those sermons. Hagee was very direct. Listen:

Transcript:

I have a very urgent announcement I want every person in this building to hear. And those of you who are watching on television, especially in the state of Texas. I received a personal call from the governor of Texas Friday night, asking for the help of the people of faith in protecting our children in the Texas public schools. The governor’s asking for people of faith to call the members of the House of Representatives to pass House Bill 2899. I want you to get a piece of paper, and write this down. Pass House Bill 2899. To insure the safety and security for our children in our public school bathrooms. I want you to call Joe Strauss, if you can’t write that, take a — take your cell phone out, I know you have it, take a photo of that [pointing to screen with contact information of House State Affairs Committee Chairs]
Call Joe Strauss, call Brian Cook, Helen Giddings, the co-chairs of the committee, that are not allowing this bill to be voted on. Many Texans assume that this is going to be accomplished, because we are a conservative state–but let me tell you very candidly, we are losing this effort right now, because your elected officials have not heard from people of faith.
They have certainly heard from the opponents, they need to hear from us. And if you really want to put feet to your faith, then I encourage you to start calling, and start calling today, uh, because it will go into a computer, call tomorrow, call every day until you feel like you’ve covered the waterfront, but I want you to call those three people, and then, uh, there, you can call your-your representative, if you know that person by name. It’s VERY VERY important. Uh, how many of you understand what I’m talking about here? Very good, thank you.

Even though Morris and Hagee framed the bill as an effort to protect children, the bill actually would prevent Texas counties and cities from enacting ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination in jobs, housing and other public services. Worse, the bill would render existing ordinances in place in cities like Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Austin “null and void.”
The bill is linked on the Gateway Church website and leads to this one page bill.
TX HB 2899 LGBT
As you can see, the word bathroom isn’t in this bill. This bill is far more encompassing than a bill about who can use what public bathroom. Currently, Texas has no statewide protections against discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity. According to this bill, if a class of people is not now protected by state law, then a city or county will not be able to enact protections for that class. Some cities do protect LGBT people, but these ordinances would be declared “null and void” by this bill.
While churches have always been able to opine on issues in the culture, I think this situation demonstrates one problem with churches becoming an arm of a political party. Morris and Hagee misled their congregations into thinking that a call to the legislature will keep boys out of girls’ showers. However, this bill has a much broader application. Some of the LGBT relatives of Gateway Church and Cornerstone members could lose their jobs or housing if this bill passes since the existing protections in large Texas cities will be invalidated.

Perception Versus Reality at Gateway Church

Robert Morris and Ted Cruz Wilks BrosAs first reported here, Gateway Church is going through a large and significant downsizing of staff, expenses and programs.  This is happening after a year of lavish spending on political activities. Although there is no mass uprising yet as was seen at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, some members and remaining staff are beginning to question the stewardship of the existing leadership.
The following video was made by a Gateway Church member who would like to see less lavish spending on leadership and more on ministry. The video contrasts the words of lead pastor Robert Morris with information about Gateway’s revenues, attendance and activities. Watch (for iPhone users, a Youtube video and link are at the end of the post):

I am hearing from more and more Gateway members and staff who are increasingly concerned about the direction of the church. I think the political push of 2016 combined with no transparency on financial matters is fueling these concerns.
There is a deja vu all over again feeling about this. In my early days of writing about Mars Hill Church, I advised the leaders to become more transparent. As we know, they continued to spin and obfuscate and then lost members and money. Gateway has a much larger base and budget which insulates them against some of those losses. However, I doubt the church is too big to fail.
Also can watch here.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Me2_vBhtVRs&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

Robert Morris: Gateway Church is Doing Well and So We Are Reducing Staff

On April 18, I reported that fourth largest American church Gateway Church in Southlake TX was in the process of laying off about one-third of church staff. Two days later a church spokesman said the layoffs would reduce staff by 10-15%.  Today, Robert Morris told his congregation that the reduction would be “15 to 20%.” Watch:

Transcript:

One thing I want to tell you, one other thing. Uh, this is really true. There’s one other thing. Before I, uh, start the message, is I want to let you know that we’ve been in the process of evaluating everything that we’ve been doing around here, uh, for several months now.
It started last fall, at our elders’ retreat. And we’re in dynamic growth at Gateway Church. We have been growing dynamically for years and years and it, it hasn’t stopped at all. And we felt like the Lord spoke to us on the retreat last fall, that this growth is going to continue.
And so we need to prepare for the growth, and so, we’ve done what many corporations or organizations have done. We’ve gone through everything we’re doing, we’re saying, ‘Is this the most efficient way and the most effective way to minister to people?’
We’ve looked at all of our positions, we’ve looked at all paid staff, we’ve looked at all volunteers, we’ve um, looked at all of our processes, uh, and we’ve come to the conclusion that we need to make some changes, in how we do things. So we could do things, uh, better. And not be as “busy” maybe as we are, so you’ve got more time to minister to people, be with your family, and yet still be equipped.
And so, we met with, again, every person on staff. And our meetings have been fantastic. We have the best staff in the world. I mean, we have, phenomenal–if you’ve dealt with our staff, I think you know what I mean.
But we realized that we’re overstaffed. And so as we, as we met with all- everyone on staff, we felt like offering some very generous transition packages. And so we had many of our staff that said, ‘You know, I’ve been feeling like God’s saying something different to me, and that I’m supposed to do something else, and so, thank you so much, because this will help me.’
And then also as we went through this, some positions, we realized, are not needed any more. And so we’re going through about a 15 to 20% reduction in staff.
And I wanted you to know that, so that if you hear something, you’ll know why. We’re trying to do what God’s called us to do, more efficiently, and we’re also trying to prepare for the growth that we have in future, and cause that growth to be sustainable.
So um, our growth is– our attendance is up, our giving is up, uh, every- the church is doing well, but we decided we’ve got to make some changes.
So here’s what I want to ask you to do. I want to ask you to pray for these–our staff, the part of our staff that’s going to go through a transition. Many of you have been through a transition. The great thing about being a child of God, and going through a transition, is that God already knows what he has for you next. And God knows that, but I want us to be in prayer.
So I wanted you to hear from me, why we’re doing what we’re doing, and what we’re doing, in case you heard it from somewhere else, it was in the newspaper, on the news this last week, uh, but we have– there’s no financial problems, we are simply trying to do what we do, better. And so we are going through this re-evaluation processes, and it has been absolutely phenomenal.
So again, please pray for our staff, for the ones that will go through a transition, all right? All right.”

Morris puts a nice spin on events but it seems improbable that the reduction is because of growth in attendance and giving. One way to look at church finances is that the church has overspent revenues by $23-million in 2015 and 2016.
Morris said the elders decided to downsize last fall. So after they decided to eliminate positions and charge the youth group for pizza, they also decided to co-sponsor an expensive inaugural ball for President Trump.
Morris uses a business rationale to say downsizing is due to growth (i.e., rightsizing). If Gateway was bringing in machines to take the place of humans, then one might understand how growth in revenues and efficiency might be an outcome of downsizing. Otherwise, his explanation doesn’t seem convincing.

 

Former Auditor: Over Past Two Years, Gateway Church Overspent Revenues by $23-Million

On Tuesday, I reported that Dallas-Fort Worth megachurch Gateway Church is laying off staff while spending millions on undisclosed non-operating expenses. In addition, the fourth largest church in America may have spent millions more than revenues for the second year in a row. According to former Big 4 accounting firm auditor Jason Watkins, Gateway’s expenditures have exceeded revenues by nearly $23-million. The image below was supplied by Watkins.

Gateway Deficit Spending Graph
Compiled by Jason Watkins

You can read Gateway’s annual reports for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 by clicking the links. However, the losses are not apparent at first glance. Watkins told me that the format of the annual reports obscures the true picture. The image below compares actual revenues and expenses.
GW 2015 revenue over expenses
Total revenue for 2015 includes the actual giving to the Heart for the Kingdom campaign and general fund revenue ($147,455,568). Expenses include the Heart for the Kingdom expenses, operational expenses, capital expenditures and debt retirement ($160,653,068). According to Watkins, Gateway spent just under $13.2-million more than the church took in.
In 2016, the church spent $9.6-million more than revenues. In the image below, compare the “non-operating expenditures” line ($13,123,084) with the “revenue over expenses – operational” line ($3,505,562). The difference is a loss of $9,617,522 for 2016. With the previous year’s deficit, Gateway has spent nearly $23-million more than received, according to Watkins.
Gateway Annual Report 2016
Since there is so little detail in the report and since Gateway has declined to respond to questions, it is not possible for me to be dogmatic about the financial picture. However, I think Watkins makes a good case that Gateway’s spending has exceeded what members have supplied. His conclusions seem quite consistent with what Gateway’s spokesman Lawrence Swicegood told the Star-Telegram about cuts in both staff and expenses.
Gateway wouldn’t be the first church to cut staff and expenses but the situation is noteworthy for at least two reasons. One, the size of the cut back is substantial — as many as one-third of 900 positions. Two, the lead pastor of Gateway Robert Morris is famous for his teachings about tithing and the promises that tithing will bring prosperity and success. Since the members have no input into how money is spent, the responsibility falls squarely on the leaders at Gateway.

Gateway Church Issues Statement Confirming Staff Reductions

Robert Morris and Ted Cruz Wilks Bros
Gateway Church Founder Robert Morris and wife Debbie with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Earlier today, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a story with a statement from Gateway Church confirming the staff reductions I reported on Tuesday.  According to the statement from Lawrence Swicegood, executive director of Gateway Media, the church is going to “prune” staff to prepare for growth. I suppose that is one way to look at it, although I also suppose that the staff to be pruned might see it differently.
The Star-Telegram report said that the church planned to reduce staff by 10-15% but gave no time frame. My sources maintain that the plan is to eventually cut as many as one-third of 900 positions.
The Star-Telegram article may have misstated Gateway’s financial status for 2016. As I read the annual report, it appears that Gateway experienced a deficit. More about that in a future post.
To me, a curious note is that the Star-Telegram said the church confirmed the staff layoffs but did not say what initial report had been confirmed. You can read that report first published here on Tuesday.
 
 

Layoffs Coming to Gateway Church Amid Millions in Spending

The fourth largest church in America is in the midst of what has been called a “pruning.” According to sources in a position to know, Gateway Church is in the midst of gradually laying off one-third of current staff. According to sources who wish to remain anonymous to avoid repercussions, Gateway leaders are downplaying the layoffs, calling them a “healthy pruning.” Without referring to the downsizing, Gateway is offering a resume writing workshop to help to those who have been “laid off or fired.”
GW Resume Writing
While the classes will no doubt be helpful, it is worth asking: Why does a church which took in over $127-million in revenues in 2016 need to lay off staff? Gateway’s annual report for 2016 is below:
Gateway Annual Report 2016
First of all, it is worth noting that Gateway is a massive enterprise with a fund balance of over $155-million. At first glance, I have a hard time understanding why Gateway makes their youth group pay for their mid-week pizza snack and is downsizing operational staff. Gateway has not responded to my questions about the matter.
Curiously, Gateway reports $13,123,084 in “non-operating expenses.” Non-operating expenses refer to funds spent not in keeping with an organization’s mission.  As a non-profit, Gateway is supposed to spend donor funds on mission related purposes. If the non-operating expenditures were shown as a deduction from the “revenue over expenses-operations” as was Gateway’s practice in prior years (e.g., 2015), the statements would show a combined spending in excess of revenues (a net loss) of $9,617,522. It appears that Gateway altered their presentation to make the loss less obvious to statement readers. While non-operating expenses can refer to interest payments and other permitted purposes, it is fair to ask why there is no description of these expenses which comprise just over 10% of 2016 revenues.
Possible Non-operating Expenditures
Inaugural Ball sponsorsDuring 2016, Gateway’s founder and Lead Pastor Robert Morris was a vocal supporter of the GOP and now serves on Donald Trump’s advisory committee. Gateway Church helped sponsor a inaugural ball for Donald Trump which took the Morris’ away from their annual January churchwide fast. At the same time, Gateway Church began charging the youth group for their weekly pizza snack at meetings. While the youth group paid for their pizza, the Robert and Mrs. Morris were spending Gateway’s funds on a pricey inaugural gala. With Trump winning the presidency in November, it seems likely that some of those sponsorship funds would have been committed from 2016 revenues. Listen to Tony Perkins thank the sponsors of the gala which celebrated “the great victory.”

In September 2016, Gateway sponsored and hosted a Solemn Assembly of Christian right pastors to pray for the nation. Although the event was a downsized version of the original plan (75,000 pastors in Cowboy stadium), the promotional video makes it clear that the event sought political change through a religious event. Is any of this political activity in Gateway’s non-operating expenses?
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljR6pOifHoY[/youtube]
 

Robert Morris: President Trump Talks to James Robison Two or Three Times Per Week

Gateway Church Apostolic elder James Robison has long been known as a Christian right mover and shaker. A persistent story I hear is that Ben Carson would only endorse Donald Trump if Trump first spoke to Robison. Even if untrue, the story highlights the reputation Robison has in Christian right political circles.
Gateway Church’s founding pastor Robert Morris added to that mystique earlier today by telling his congregation that Robison and Donald Trump talk “two or three times a week.” Morris said Robison has Trump’s “private cell phone” which he uses regularly. Watch:

Transcript

I really do want you to get the book, it’s one of the most amazing books I’ve every read, and has conversations of him speaking with people you know, well-known people, Muhammad Ali, President Reagan.
And if you don’t know, I talked last week about serving on the Advisory Council.
James, though, speaks with our President probably two or three times a week, and has his private cell number, and he picks it up even when he’s in a meeting. You know, ‘I’m meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, James, can I call you back?’ But–
So, I’m very very grateful for James Robison and for his influence.

I wonder what Robison does with his influence. I suppose this is intoxicating to those ministers who have Trump’s number, but with Trump routinely peddling falsehoods, ignoring Russian attacks on the Ukraine, and waging war on the press, I can’t see much evidence of Christian influence.