In the thick of the economic meltdown that ravaged the housing market a few years ago, churches in some communities were among those that felt the bruises of foreclosures more than other properties.
One of the credit union industry’s top business lending programs can be found at the $1.1 billion Evangelical Christian Credit Union in Brea, Calif. Toward the end of 2012, it ranked second in the nation, amassing $833 million in business loans, according to SNL Financial.
However in 2009, Evangelical Christian started grappling with an increase in foreclosures on churches. In a USA Today article, the credit union said it had to foreclose on seven of its 1,100 loans in 2008. At least one Texas church had filed for bankruptcy, owing the cooperative nearly $2.8 million.
Fast forward to 2013 and Evangelical Christian is embroiled in yet another foreclosure case that stretches back to 2008. This time, it involves a proceeding against one of Florida’s largest churches.
The Lakeland, Fla.-based Without Walls International Church initially went into foreclosure in 2008, owing Evangelical Christian $13.9 million, which was due in September 2012, Ledger.com reported. In 2009, it approved a mortgage modification for the church.
Evangelical Christian then moved forward with its foreclosure proceedings against the church last October. After filing a request for documents on May 21, a hearing is set to take place in September.
Meanwhile, Without Walls filed a complaint last October against Evangelical Christian seeking more than $23.8 million with claims that the credit union acted inappropriately towards the church’s founder, Randy White, by allowing his ex-wife, Paula White, to take more than $2 million worth of video and music equipment from the church to use for her own ministry, according to the Ledger.com. Paula White was apparently hired as senior pastor at a church in Orlando.
Without Walls’ complaint also said Evangelical Christian allegedly made false statements about the church in order to thwart a deal initiated by Randy White to sell the property.
According to real estate filings, Without Walls is currently up for sale, with an asking price of $14.75 million, the Ledger.com reported. The property, which has 63 acres and houses the 9,600-seat church, was initially bought in 2005 for $8 million.
A comment from Evangelical Christian was not available.
In a 2009 article titled “Crisis and Faith” featured in a leadership education publication from Duke University, Mark Holbrook, president of Evangelical Christian, offered his take on the growing number of church foreclosures.
“Certainly, this is unprecedented in our history,” Holbrook said. “Because of the grace factor, churches tend to put off hard decisions,” he added referring to how some churches may see their soured financials as a sign of wavering spiritual faith.
Nationwide, Evangelical Christian continues to deal with churches that have not kept up their mortgage payments. In the spring of 2012, it was reported that the Faith Center in Rockford, Ill., owed the credit union $4.17 million after it borrowed funds to expand back in 2007. The center filed for bankruptcy last January.
As of March, Evangelical Christian had nearly $2.6 million in loan charge-offs, according to its NCUA Call Report. The bulk of the losses came from members business loans excluding agricultural loans. Loans charged off due to bankruptcy totaled $135,707 year to date. However, the total dollar amount of loans originated by members who either filed for either Chapters 7, 11, 12 or 13 year to date came to nearly $5.3 million.
Still, with an 8.11% net worth ratio, the credit union is considered well-capitalized, according to its Call Report. In all, Evangelical Christian had $853 million in business loans as of March.
Like the housing market, churches were not immune to the impact of the Great Recession. A 2008 survey by the National Association of Church Business Administration showed that nearly four in 10 congregations had reported a dip in income, 12% had resorted to layoffs and a growing number of churches declared bankruptcy.