Mississippi megachurch struggles to regain success amid financial scandal
A megachurch in Jackson, Miss. is trying to regain its footing among its followers after a financial mismanagement scandal led its membership to plummet.
The Word of Faith Christian Center Church, formerly with several thousand members, fell to less than 1,500 after followers learned that the church had accumulated $431,000 in arrears. The debt was blamed on poor financial handling by its former pastor, Kevin Wright, according to the AP.
Wright was one of the most popular and successful ministers in Mississippi, and was deemed among the leading pastors of the Word of Faith, which has some 24 churches in 10 states, plus international branches, the AP said.
Aside from the church in Jackson, Wright also supervised other Word of Faith churches in Mississippi. Cities with Word of Faith churches include Gulfport, Meridian, Starkville and Yazoo City, the AP said.
With his wife Leslie Wright, an after-school program, academy, church-run athletic facility and retreat in Holmes County were either initiated or expanded by them, according to the Clarion Ledger.
Under the Wrights, through the years the church grew from 200 members to a few thousand. However with the rise of Wright’s popularity, less was known about the church’s transactions, the Clarion Ledger said.
For example, church members believed they owned the Mississippi Basketball and Athletics facility in Jackson Road. It was later learned that it was owned by the Word of Faith Foundation, which the Wrights created with Jeffrey Lewis, the church’s former business manager, the Clarion Ledger reported.
Also in 2006 without church members’ knowledge, Wright acquired a 190-acre camping area in Durant which he named the Springs of Life Camp & Conference Center, which is now up for sale for $650,000, according to the Clarion Ledger.
Wright also invited renowned evangelist leaders to speak at the church, and the church does not know how much he paid them. When Bishop Keith Butler, Wright’s boss who heads Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield, Mich. visited, Wright gave him a $10,000 check and a custom-made golf cart, the Clarion Ledger said.
In 2009 Wright managed to raise $25,000 from churchgoers to renovate the Word of Faith Youth Center. However, the building was closed down. The value of the Wright’s 8,600 square feet home in Brandon has been appraised at $635,230, the Clarion Ledger reported.
In a statement the church said Wright was let go because of “his moral failure.” Butler said in a statement that “business and financial operations of the ministry were extremely and poorly handled. The business manager for the ministry at that time failed to run an efficient and proper operation,” the AP reported.
Butler also said, “Clearly, business and financial operations of the ministry were extremely poorly handled….the business manager at that time failed to run an efficient and proper operation,” the Clarion Ledger reported.
Church officials have not made any accusations of theft. However, they are seeking ownership of the foundation, the AP reported.