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Monday, September 22, 2014         

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'Megachurches' evade hard times

By Pat Gee

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Sound business management, faithful giving and multiple sources of income have helped three of the four so-called "megachurches" in Hawaii buttress themselves against a struggling economy.

The First Assembly of God reports it has actually seen an increase in giving and school enrollment. Two others -- Calvary Chapel Fellowships, and New Hope Christian Fellowship -- say they have seen a slight drop in donations.

Officials of Word of Life Christian Center declined comment. In June it closed its school (preschool through grade 12). Headmaster Royce Tanouye of the Word of Life Academy has said in interviews that many parents could not afford the $8,900 tuition, leading to a decline in enrollment. The school, which had 240 students, closed its doors.

The four churches meet the definition of what is considered a Protestant Christian "megachurch," according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research:

» Attendance of 2,000 or more worshipers per week.

» Multiple ministries and multiple sources of income.

» A charismatic senior minister.

» A very active congregation.

Klayton Ko, First Assembly of God pastor, said, "Maybe our members are not part of the (community) sector affected by the downturn. A lot of people have been faithful in giving. The fiscal year just ended, and we found giving has been 2.5 to 3 percent higher than last year."

Ko oversees five Oahu churches, plus the Christian Academy at its main location on Red Hill. The school charges $6,000 tuition per year, and "our enrollment is the highest it's been this year, 360. We had 340 last year," he said.

RELIGIOUS GIANTS

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research considered these four churches in Hawaii to be "megachurches" in 2008:

» Calvary Chapel Fellowships: 23 Oahu locations and 11 on neighbor islands. Attendees: 1,000-2,000 main church. Formed: 1982. Head pastor: Bill Stonebraker.

» First Assembly of God: 70 statewide Assembly of God locations, including 25 on neighbor islands. Attendees: 2,400 at five locations. Formed: 1947. Head pastor: Klayton Ko (oversees five locations).

» New Hope Christian Fellowship: 27 statewide locations. Attendees: 8,000-plus. Formed: 1995. Head pastor: Wayne Cordeiro (oversees seven in Oahu Network).

» Word of Life Christian Center: Four statewide locations. Attendees: 7,000 total. Formed: 1984. Head pastor: Art Sepulveda.

"We believe when Christians tithe faithfully, God will bless them. The Bible makes it very clear in Proverbs 19:17 that when you give to the poor, you lend to the Lord, and he will pay back what he is given. He has taken care of our church very well."

"It's always been our goal to increase giving (in particular) to the work outside of the church through a humanitarian agency in devastated areas, the Convoy of Hope. Last year we raised $100,000. Last Thanksgiving we gave $46,000 to the Feed the World campaign under Convoy. Every year we challenge our people to give more," Ko said.

Calvary Chapel Honolulu has been at its 6-acre campus in Aiea since 2004. It includes a cafe/bookstore, gymnasium and the studios of KLHT (KLight) Radio 1040 AM, which also is available on www.klight.org.

Bill Stonebraker, Calvary Chapel Honolulu founder and pastor, said overall giving has dropped off and that school enrollment has dropped 17 percent to 50 percent since last year.

But "our church (in Aiea) seems to be holding. We're not seeing large (giving) months that we saw a couple of years ago, but we're fairly steady. ... We've had to be very frugal, very cautious in our spending," he said.

In 2009 the K-9 school lost about a dozen students when parents lost their jobs or moved to the mainland, where the cost of living is lower. This year, enrollment is up by 25 students with the addition of a 10th grade, even with tuition of about $6,500. There is a waiting list for its preschool, which can accommodate 50 students, he said.

Many of Calvary's members are military-based or have government jobs, which makes them "a stable part of the economy and the churches. That helps -- they're steady on in giving," Stonebraker said.

That giving is based on the scriptural principle described in the Bible's Gospel of Mark. It tells a story of poor widow who sacrificed a "mite" or a tiny portion of her living expenses out of her love for the Lord. This carried far more weight than the large donations of rich men for whom no sacrifice was involved, he said.

"I've heard one testimony after another on that very principle. They give incredible testimony on how God has blessed them," Stonebraker said.

John Tilton, pastor in charge of administration at New Hope Oahu, said, "When the economic slide occurred (in Hawaii) in 2009, we saw a 10 to 15 percent average drop in tithes; in 2010 it slid further to 15 to 20 percent."

New Hope Oahu, a network of seven churches founded by Wayne Cordeiro, has found more cost-effective ways to operate and has cut overall expenses by 15 percent.

"Pastor Wayne really takes stewardship of our resources and people to heart and has a very good mind for it," Tilton said.

"We were buffered a bit by our large congregation. We actually saw our membership grow. We're known as one of the fastest-growing churches. We usually experience 250 new people coming to Jesus a month over the past few years. Our average attendance ... is 10,000 a weekend over seven campuses.

"Historically, more people turn to God when the are going through challenges. We saw a lot of people seeking God through these times."

Its main campus at Farrington High School's auditorium overflows with 7,000 to 8,000 at multiple services each Saturday and Sunday. A huge tent is erected every weekend to hold another 600 to 800 people, Tilton added.

In addition, 3,000 "online campus" members regularly view services at Farrington over the Internet from all over the world. It's easy to make donations on an online donation site, or keep up with Bible studies with texts available at the church's online store.

In October, New Hope was given the opportunity to manage Eugene Bible College in Oregon, from which Cordeiro graduated. The church also runs the Pacific Rim Bible College at its headquarters on Sand Island Access Road. Enrollment is up at both schools, Tilton said.






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