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 funds is only convicted if caught, and it’s only caught if whistleblowers, reporters, and watchdogs call it out. Churches, unlike all other non-profit organizations, are exempt from having to disclose financial information to the public or to the IRS. They can literally do whatever they want with the money and the only way anyone would know if it was being misused is if someone inside the church, or someone investigating the church, catches it.
If the church doesn’t share any meaningful financial information with the congregation, there’s a much higher probability that it’s being mishandled. The IRS and the government can’t do anything unless there is already evidence that funds have been misused given to them by the church itself or someone with incriminating information on the church.
Also, most cases of financial fraud are not brought to justice in the Christian church for this very reason. Over $50 billion is stolen through Christian churches every year worldwide.
Lastly on this point, they also say:
“As shown in scripture, God judges wicked leadership for their unrighteousness, not the faithful worshippers.”
It seems to me here they’re saying, ‘don’t you worry about the money. If we’re doing anything wrong, God will judge us.’ This kind of response gives the impression that they expect the congregation to blindly trust leadership to handle the funds properly, and it seems as if they think the concern from people is being judged by God for donating money to a fraudulent church. If they were talking to me, I would answer that it is definitely not. The concern is being defrauded and financially abused as an individual by a Christian church. People want to make an impact for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. They don't typically want their donations being spent on the pastor’s next vacation to Hawaii. This kind of statement is a red flag of financial abuse.
2. A History of Abuse | The Mishandling of Micahn Carter & Together Church
Champions Centre has a history of absorbing other churches after the pastor is forced to resign for inappropriate conduct, abusive behavior, or other unknown reasons. This is actually a common trend in ARC churches overall, but we’ll get to that in the next point.
Lead Pastor Kevin Gerald is a registrant on the Articles of Incorporation at multiple other churches besides CC. One of those churches was Together Church in Yakima, Washington, a couple years ago, which is now another location for Champions Centre, where he has taken the reins as the lead pastor.
Micahn Carter, who was the lead pastor of Together Church for several years before this takeover by Kevin Gerald and CC, resigned from the church after he had what he called an “affair” with his assistant, blaming his bipolar disorder (see the video resignation here). In July of 2021, however, Mary Jones, his former assistant, came out and gave her side of the story, alleging that she was actually raped by him and received multiple unwanted sexual advances. You can read her story here.
What happened after this alleged affair/abuse, how the church handled it, how Kevin Gerald handled it, and how the people running ARC handled it, are a huge red flag. And as a result of this whole situation, there are several questions that need answers:
Was Mary Jones asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement to prevent her from speaking out about the abuse from Micahn, which he called an affair, but which she called rape from day one?
How much did Kevin Gerald, overseer Pace Hartfield, Dino Rizzo of ARC, and Chris Hodges of Church of the Highlands, know about Micahn’s treatment of Mary Jones and her accusations against him, before they allowed him to resign without explanation, and then continue teaching in another church on the other side of the country?
Did they believe it was merely an affair, or were they aware that something much more serious had happened? Mary Jones’ mother allegedly spoke to Dino Rizzo and told him that Mary was attacked by Micahn (see image below). Is this true? If so, why was this ignored?
Where is the apology to Mary Jones? To the congregations of COTH, Together Church, and any other church where Micahn was allowed to teach, putting any women in his path in harm’s way? Are any of these men sorry for the damage that’s been done to Mary Jones and the damage that could have been done to other women had Mary not shared her story? Is anyone sorry for the damage that’s been done to the Body of Christ, and the abuse that’s been allowed in His name? How about an apology for risking peoples’ safety? Any apology at all, for anything? Any ownership or responsibility taken for any of this?
Did the other overseer to Micahn Carter/Together Church, Pace Hartfield, know about these allegations, and if so, why didn’t he help Mary Jones? Why didn’t he stop these men from putting more women in danger? Why didn’t he report Micahn to the police? Did he do or say anything that held Micahn accountable, confronted the behavior, or prevented him from harming others in the future?
There are multiple reasons to believe Mary Jones’ allegations in my opinion, including the claim that at the very least, Dino Rizzo knew about them before Micahn Carter was allowed to step down without explanation (even if it was just an affair, he didn’t say that), and continue teaching at Church of the Highlands. If Mary hadn’t come out and told her side of the story publicly, Micahn would have been allowed to continue teaching, and possibly even lead another church of his own.
I don’t believe any of these men were unaware of what happened between Micahn Carter and Mary Jones, assuming her story is true, and I believe it is. Here’s why:
They won’t talk about it or answer questions about it as far as I can tell (I’ve tried asking multiple times)
Micahn Carter hasn’t come out and either denied or admitted to anything that Mary Jones has claimed. The silence is deafening. If you were accused of rape and it wasn’t true, think about what you would do. Hide? Or clear your name? Sue your accuser for defamation and slander? Confront them for it, at the very least?
Even if Mary’s allegations are false, the accusation remains, and all of these men knew that Micahn was at least capable of taking advantage of the women in his care as a pastor and starting inappropriate relationships with them.
Additionally, as a man in a position of authority and power, even without the assault, it isn’t just an affair. It’s sexual abuse, because Mary was Micahn’s subordinate. The unequal power dynamic makes even an affair more than just an affair.
This is clearly a red flag. How many other men under Kevin Gerald have done this nonsense only to be allowed to continue teaching?
3. The ARC Affiliation
Champions Centre is an ARC family member. This is a red flag for one main reason: ARC’s history of protecting and enabling sexually abusive pastors.
Unfortunately, Micahn Carter isn’t the first pastor in an ARC affiliated church to step down for sexual misconduct and then be protected and enabled by ARC. As it turns out, there’s a whole group of them. But rather than go through each one and what happened, I’ll just share a few articles for anyone interested in learning more about this:
Wartburg Watch takes a closer look at ARC pastors: http://thewartburgwatch.com/2014/11/07/a-closer-look-at-pastors-in-the-arc/
A petition to “End Church Abuse” from former ARC church members: https://campaigns.organizefor.org/petitions/end-church-abuse-1
A reddit thread looking at another specific case where a pastor’s sexual abuse was covered up by ARC: https://www.reddit.com/r/AllaboutCOTH/comments/oepmw2/why_does_arc_always_try_to_hide_the_sexual_abuse/
4. Former Members & Employees Speak Up
Last but not least in our Red Flag Section of this Church Check, we have the members, former members, and former staff members who have shared their experiences of Champions Centre, Together Church, and other churches that have been affiliated with either CC or TC over the years.
Multiple people contacted me personally to share their experiences in Champions Centre, but to protect their privacy and prevent backlash in their church community, I must keep their stories confidential at this time.
If you have a story or experience from your time at Champions Centre you’d like to share, please contact us or share in the comments section at the end of this Check.
And as always, please walk yourself through Dr. Steve Hassan’s BITE Model as well as his Undue Influence Continuum below to make sure you aren’t being abused by your church. Please also check out our BARK infographic, which points out the characteristics and behaviors of wolves in the local Christian church.
I’ve contacted multiple people with the Champions Centre. A couple were very responsive at first, but as soon as I asked my questions, they have ignored me since. To be sure, the Mail Tracker extension I have on my Gmail shows they’ve viewed my email at least 25 times. In fact, at least three separate people have opened my emailed questions, but no one has responded to them. I have blacked out the name of this individual in the email interaction below to protect their privacy.
So another stonewalling church, but a list of questions to answer. Here is what I’ve found on the church so far.
1. What is the church’s official position on the topic of tithes and offerings?
This church compels financial support in multiple ways, which we covered in the Red Flag section of this Report. They also use the word “tithing” frequently but don’t give any clarification on what they mean by this. The Growth Track lists giving as a value at CC, but their teaching on tithing itself is not clear.
2. Does the church have official membership? If so, is there a membership agreement or contract?
This church has a course called Growth Track, which is a multi-week class people take to become a part of the “Team” at Champions Centre. We are still unsure of whether this includes an official membership agreement that must be signed. There is, however, the Growth Track Handbook for each Session of the course, where people must “fill in the blanks”.
3. Is the church financially transparent or accountable to either the local church, a third party (such as an auditor) or the universal Church/the Body of believers?
CC does claim in their Tithe FAQ on Session 4 of the Growth Track that they have their finances audited by a third party. However, when I tried to ask about this and the church’s transparency at other levels, I was ignored. According to a former member of one of their churches, they don’t provide any meaningful financial information to church members.
Whether they actually have their finances audited by a third party remains to be seen, but it is apparent that they don’t share any meaningful financial information with the public, or their own congregation.
4. Which denomination does the church align with, if any at all?
While Google, social media, and the church website all say the church is non-denominational, we see a clear sign that they are at least influenced by the Charismatic movement in their Statement of Faith, which we can find in their Growth Track Session 4 Handbook: “WE BELIEVE in the Holy Spirit and receive a prayer language of speaking in tongues. Acts 1:8; 19:1–6”
Additionally, the language surrounding their beliefs about salvation raises a red flag for me. It says (emphasis mine): “WE BELIEVE in the salvation of sinners by grace through repentance and faith. Ephesians 2:8; Hebrews 9:12, 22; Romans 5:11.” This statement seems to suggest that salvation is not by grace through faith alone, depending entirely on what the church defines as “repentance.”
5. Is the pastor available for questions or comments regarding the church’s doctrines or policies?
Kevin Gerald’s email isn’t available anywhere online, so there’s no way to contact him directly unless you’re able to approach him in person or you’ve been given his personal contact information. I’ve tried guessing his email address and sending some questions that way, but no response so far. The email did get sent, however. There may be a way to schedule a meeting with Pastor Kevin in person through the church staff, but if you're looking to contact him yourself online, I would say the answer to this question is "no".
6. Is the church tolerant and accepting of differing non-essential doctrinal positions, such as regarding eschatology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and others?
Since I haven’t been able to get anyone to respond to my questions, I don’t know the answer to this one. The Statement of Faith is fairly vague and the sermons are equally as vague, neglecting to touch on any of these issues or any doctrinal distinctives at all. How they handle differences in non-essential doctrinal issues is unknown so far.
7. Does the church require its members to be baptized?
The only thing we found that addressed the topic of baptism from this church was in their statement of faith, where they say: “WE BELIEVE in water baptism as an outward expression of one’s inner faith—that it’s God’s plan for every believer to be baptized in water. Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38; 10:47, 48”
This doesn’t tell us if the church requires baptism for members, nor does the Growth Track suggest that baptism is required for membership.
8. Please describe what a typical service/meeting looks like in the church.
There is no description on the church’s website of what a typical church service or meeting in the church is like, so I’ll do my best to describe it based on what I saw in several YouTube videos of their services and several worship videos as well.
We know based on the Growth Track Handbooks that they call for donations every week, which must happen before recording begins, because I didn’t hear the call for donations in the service I watched. Before the sermon, they begin with a lively and upbeat worship service with a full band, special lighting, and high quality music equipment and performers. It is clearly geared towards a younger congregation. Here is an example from their YouTube channel.
As for the sermon, it has the same hyped-up tone as the worship service. The “hype” trend is something we see in a lot of ARC churches such as One Place in Hayden, Idaho and Fresh Life in Utah and Montana, perhaps to keep people more entertained with the message. The speaker, whether it’s Kevin Gerald or a guest speaker, keeps people engaged, excited, clapping, and laughing as often as they can.