Church Name: Champions Centre (Yakima, WA Location - Formerly Together Church)
Lead/Senior Pastor(s): Kevin and Sheila Gerald
Elders/Leadership Staff: See Question #9
Address: 509 North 4th Street Yakima, WA 98901
Online Services: https://www.youtube.com/user/championscentreUSA
Denomination: Non-Denominational/Charismatic (See Question #4)
Preaching Style: Topical
Membership Requirements: Yes
Tithing/Compelled Giving: Yes
Financial Transparency: No
Skybreak Church in College Station, Texas - David Yadon, who is on the Articles of Incorporation for Champions Centre, is also listed on the Business Filings for Skybreak Church in College Station, Texas
ARC - Champions Centre is an ARC “Family member,” meaning they align with ARC’s statement of faith. ARC has a controversial history laced with sexual abuse scandals from several of its leaders and other affiliations.
Micahn Carter/Together Church - Champions Centre & Kevin Gerald absorbed Together Church in Yakima, Washington when Micahn Carter resigned for having an affair with his assistant, but his assistant has recently come out and alleged that Carter actually sexually assaulted her. See the Red Flag Section of this Check for more information.
Church of the Highlands/Chris Hodges - When Micahn Carter of Together Church resigned, he moved to Alabama and was put on the teaching staff of Church of the Highlands as an Associate Pastor.
Pace Hartfield/One Place Church - The other overseer at Together Church when Micahn resigned was pastor Pace Hartfield of One Place Church in Hayden, Idaho, which is also an ARC church.
CoastLife Church in Florida - A former member of this church has reached out to us and informed us that Kevin Gerald/Champions Centre has been written into this church’s bylaws in order to absorb it as they’ve done to Together Church and others before them, if/when its pastor is caught up in a similar situation and forced to resign.
Steve Furtick/Elevation Church - Kevin Gerald is one of the pastors on the Board of Directors that decides the Salary of popular megachurch pastor, Steve Furtick of Elevation church, another ARC church.
Red Flags of Spiritual Abuse, Coercive Control, and Exploitation
There are several red flags of spiritual abuse, coercive control, and exploitation at Champions Centre in Washington state. I will list them here. Please keep in mind that this portion of the Church Check is the only section that includes my personal opinions based on my growing knowledge of spiritual abuse and cult-like church practices. This is based on my study of the work from a group of cult experts and spiritual abuse resources that I've compiled over the years. Those experts and resources are the following:
ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association)
Spiritual Abuse Resources (An Extension of ICSA)
If you don't trust my perceptions and opinions based on the knowledge I've incurred from independent study, or even if you do, do your own research and discern for yourself whether these practices and behaviors are troubling to you, church checker.
Now, on to the red flags.
The easiest red flags to notice in churches today are signs of financial abuse. They can be observed by the church’s level of materialism, the pastor’s lifestyle, the level of consumerism incorporated by the church (i.e. cafe, bookstore, thrift store, coffee shop, etc…), and how much time and energy is devoted to serving money or making more money through the church. With Champions Centre, I see several signs of financial abuse and exploitation. Another word that could be used to describe this behavior would be opportunism, or in this case, taking advantage of the church for financial reasons. The following are signs of financial exploitation at CC that I've observed so far.
The Online Store: Champions Centre has a Shopify store that charges $25 for t-shirts and $45 for hoodies. This is financially exploitative because it is opportunistic in nature to use church funds to open businesses and sell products that have little to nothing to do with the Gospel or spreading the Gospel in any way.
The Resources Page: The Resources page is more like a second store on the church website. When I think of resources on a church website, I think of literature available, book recommendations, or mostly free content offered by the church to people wanting to learn and grow in their faith. This church’s resource page has a link to a worship playlist, but everything else on the page costs money. There’s another link to the church merch store and Kevin Gerald’s books, which almost exclusively seem to be focused on different forms of personal success, and not really about the Gospel or the Christian faith at all. This is exploitative in the same way as the online store. It’s just another place that makes money off the church, but the content has little or nothing to do with Christian faith. It is more opportunism.
Sermons About Giving: CC has given several sermons over the years about money and giving. They also call for donations at every service. If you go to their YouTube Channel and search “money” or “tithe” on the channel, several sermons come up. Churches that twist or take advantage of Scripture and use their platform and position as a church/pastor to compel donations and service to the church, are spiritual opportunists and exploiters, in my opinion. Christian giving should be free of compulsion and between the individual and God. Each of us is to decide what to give in our own hearts. (2 Cor. 9:7)
Sermons As Sales Pitches: Sermons are frequently used to sell books written by Kevin Gerald. Entire message series have been given based on a book the church is selling. One example would be their “Naked and Unafraid” series which was focused around Kevin Gerald’s book, Naked and Unafraid. This is exploitative and opportunistic, with the church as an opportunity to make money once again.
The Growth Track: Churches have many names for membership these days. While some simply call it church membership, others, like Champions Centre, come up with their own name, perhaps to make it more appealing to people. CC calls their membership course “Growth Track.” And on CC’s Growth Track, financial giving to the church is part of their “Values.” (See: Session 2 Handbook) This is exploitative because it makes giving compulsory/mandatory. Also, in the Session 4 Handbook, we see a Tithe FAQ in the Appendix with some false statements about tithing, including: “...tithing to someone in need is taking what belongs to God and giving it to someone else…” and the prosperity gospel concept that tithing will bring financial growth and success: “Moving forward doesn’t mean we won’t experience difficulties. Most people do not notice growth, like a child doesn’t always notice his own growth. In part, as you grow financially your bills often grow, your demands grow and success doesn’t always feel like what you dreamed it would be.” These statements are exploitative because they deceive believers in order to pressure or manipulate more financial giving to the church. Tithing isn’t applicable to Christians today because the tithe was a tax on the people of Israel as a part of the Mosaic Covenant, which was fulfilled and made obsolete by Jesus Christ on the cross. It was also not money, but food that was grown and raised in the lands of Israel. It simply doesn’t apply to Christians today in any way. The only giving Christians practice today, and have ever legitimately practiced, is freewill giving out of cheerful generosity and their own heart’s desire.
No Financial Transparency: While the Tithe FAQ in Session 4 of CC’s Growth Track Appendix claims: “...Champions Centre does annual compliance audits by outside auditing firms to make sure that we are in conformity with the ever changing laws in our country,” that remains to be seen. And quite frankly, this claim makes no sense. The laws regarding church finances aren’t “ever changing” in America. They’ve been virtually the same for decades, much to the dismay of people trying to hold churches accountable through financial transparency laws. So, this statement seems disingenuous.
Also, I have contacted Champions Centre and asked about financial transparency. They were very responsive to my query until I actually popped the question, and it has now been a few weeks since I asked. I’ve sent the same questions to three different people at Champions Centre, and they were all responsive until I asked the question. See the Questionnaire for the screenshots of my email to someone in their accounts receivable department. As you will see, I have an extension on my Gmail that shows when email recipients have opened my emails. This particular person opened my last follow-up email twice on the same day that I sent it, and then it was opened at least 20 more times after that. And yet, no response to this day. I continue to follow up and ask if my question will be answered, but have yet to receive a response regarding finances, whether there is a board of elders/leadership team, and about church membership.
Lastly here, former members of CC’s churches have also come out and informed us they are not really financially transparent with members. One former staff member of a church that was absorbed by Champions Centre had this to say about financial transparency in the church: “...None whatsoever. You get a pie chart, but there’s no audit and no open door to see where the money goes. Cars, houses, salary, church credit card, all hidden from the congregation.” A lack of transparency is an obvious red flag of financial abuse, exploitation, and opportunism. Donors have the right to see the impact of their donation, as well as how it’s spent. Whether it’s a church or any other charitable organization.
Husband/Wife Pastoral Teams: It’s become a common practice in many church leadership teams today for the wife of the pastor to be the “Executive” or “Associate Pastor” or on a team of “Lead Pastors” with her husband. It seems in at least some cases that this style of leadership is purely to get a higher salary from the church, as well as to commit nepotism. This kind of tactic can extend out to other family members, creating a leadership team that consists mostly, if not entirely, of the pastor’s biological family. This is not only exploitative and opportunistic, but verges on financial fraud. To funnel money to a non-existent position or person that isn't really working in the church in order to receive more money for a job not really being done, is by definition, fraud. Regarding CC, I cannot speak to Pastor Sheila's involvement in the church or how much work she does, and I dare not speculate. The simple point here is that husband and wife pastoral teams are a red flag due to the way the wife's salary has been exploited in many other churches.
Inaccurate Claims About the Law: Last but not least, on our list of red flags of financial exploitation is a shockingly deceptive statement in the church’s Growth Track Handbook for Session 4. While we touched on this in a previous point, under the Tithe FAQ, they list the question:
“What if the church is mishandling money?”
This is part of their answer:
“...We also live in a country that eventually brings to justice those who are misappropriating funds...”
What they don’t mention is that misappropriation of fun