In a message to Hillsong Church’s congregations across Australia on Sunday March 12, global senior pastor Phil Dooley has addressed allegations concerning finances made by independent MP Andrew Wilkie under parliamentary privilege last week, and announced what the church has done, and what it will do in the future, to ensure accountable and Godly financial stewardship.
“I am sorry that you have felt betrayed by information you have read in the media, and I know there are many questions that are swirling in all of our minds based on information that was released,” he said.
Earlier, Hillsong global board chair Stephen Crouch informed the church that the allegations, originally raised as part of an employment related court case by an employee, had already been independently investigated.
“In August 2022 the board immediately commenced the process of engaging forensic accounting firm Grant Thornton to investigate the claims. We ensured that the scope of the work was broad enough so that they could have unlimited access to all transactions covered by the allegations,” he said, explaining that the case is currently in mediation. He committed to share the findings of the report in detail when he is legally able to.
Pastor Phil announced that as a result of the allegations, Hillsong will commission a third-party evaluation of its financial structure and processes, and pointed out that the church has been in a period of transition and change over the last 12 months.
He said this change, “means doing things differently….acknowledging our mistakes and finding ways to do better.”
“In any organisation the way financial decisions are made is based on a certain structure and culture.
“Our structure and culture is changing and needs to change more to ensure we are held to higher level of accountability, and I welcome that.
“If we have been doing things in an excessive manner or that are out of alignment with our mission those things will stop,” he declared.
He said the church was already implementing systems to ensure that any excesses if established cannot be incurred going forward.
“I can’t change the past but I can play a significant role in changing the future.”
Pastor Phil said he was disappointed at the way Mr Wilkie used parliamentary privilege, “so that he does not have to be held accountable for whether what he has tabled is true”, noting that the politician did not contact the church for an explanation before making his speech in parliament.
He said the church has made significant operational changes as part of its goal to, “do more with less, to be wise stewards of all that is entrusted to us financially.”
“We are scrutinising every expense to ensure that it is going to effective mission-focused ministry endeavours,” he said.
Over the past year Hillsong has made other significant changes, including the implementation of a new gifts and honorarium policy and a change in the church’s structure and culture that prioritises effective mission-focused endeavours.
The pastor also explained that 153 staff had chosen to take up voluntary resignation, saving over $9.47m per year. He took a moment to honour the staff who had worked hard for the church.
“This means we can focus our finances where they are really needed – ministering to and caring for people.”
“Our percentage of back end, administrative staff or non-church facing roles has reduced from 47 per cent to 37 per cent and our goal is to be at 30 per cent.”
“This is radical change,” he said.
Pastor Phil said the new leadership had brought a change of focus on “health not growth, because we know that over time healthy things grow.
“We had also drifted to become event driven and we are now reshaping our structure around our mission.
While acknowledging the past history of the church, he said change is “needed and necessary”.
“Today we draw a line in the sand,” he said.
“We are simply a church which is trying to do our best to be a positive contributor to the communities we serve, and genuinely desire to add value.
“We believe God loves all people and so do we. Jesus came to serve not to be served and this is our posture.”