Hello. If you have reached here, you are most likely somebody who has an interest in Gungahlin Bible Church (GBC) in Canberra. Maybe you are a ‘Partner’ (at the bottom, here), or someone who just attends without having become a ‘Partner’. Or maybe you are considering doing one of these two things. Maybe you give to this church or are considering giving. A supplier, a lender, one of the people or organisations to which GBC donates. You may even be a member of one of the ‘Teams’. Whoever you are, welcome. You have arrived at an independent review of GBC.
Although it is written principally from the point of view of donors or prospective donors, you should get something out of it even if here for another reason.
Declaration of potential conflict of interest: the reviewer attends GBC.
A draft of this review was sent to GBC. Despite negotiating a two-week extension to the publication date, that date passed without us hearing from them.
In Australia, churches are also charities. And we have a charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). The ACNC has an article, Donating to Legitimate Charities, that gives “some things to consider to help you make sure your donation is going where it is intended”. So, let’s follow that advice in this review.
[Instead, jump straight to see how GBC spent its money]
Here’s what the ACNC say you should do as a prospective donor:
- Check the charity’s name.
- Ask for identification from anyone seeking a donation.
- Be careful of online requests for donations.
- No tax deduction doesn’t mean the charity is not a legitimate one, and
- Find out more about how the charity says it uses donations.
A search on the ACNC Register for ‘Gungahlin Bible Church’ gives one charity with that name, Gungahlin Bible Church Inc.
There is no mention of this charity status on the website.
The ‘Inc’ means that GBC is an incorporated – rather than unincorporated – association. In the ACT.
There is no mention of an association on the GBC website.
Who runs GBC (‘governance’)
Before we move on to question 2, let’s identify who’s responsible for the decisions at GBC.
- A charity has a ‘governing document’. In the case of GBC, rather than write something to fit their way of working, they have chosen to adopt the Model Rules in the Act governing incorporated associations.
- This means that GBC must follow these Rules in running the church.
- These Rules provide that GBC has ‘members’ who elect a committee to run the church for them. See above.
- Are the members of the Association the same people as the ‘partners’ of GBC? If not, what is relationship between the two groups?
- With the membership above
- The required President is missing.
- A Public Officer is not automatically a ‘responsible person’.
- This governing body, the committee, is not the same group as that shown on the website as those leading GBC. They are called elders, and consist of only Adam Chessum and Domenic Fiocco above, plus one other, Bob Prior.
- ‘Elders’ are of course not mentioned in the Model Rules.
- GBC does not disclose how the elders became elders, when they stop as an elder, or to whom they are responsible (if anybody).
- The website also shows that there is a ‘Ministry team’.
- This consists of the pastors (two of the three elders above), plus some others.
- There is one person, Kerry Ling Ng, who is a committee member but not on the ‘Ministry team’. And there are five people who are on the ‘Ministry team’ yet are not on the committee. (GBC does not explain the relationship between the committee (above), the ‘Leadership team’ (the elders), and the ‘Ministry team’.)
- GBC also has another group people, leaders from ‘other evangelical churches’ in Canberra, who pray for GBC.
Back to the ACNC’s questions:
It would be unusual for a church to use either door-to-door or street collectors, and there is nothing to indicate that GBC does.
It would be unusual for a church to be entitled to receive tax deductible gifts, and indeed GBC isn’t [‘Will my donation be tax deductible?’, GBC’s Register entry].
[Jump straight to where the money went]
GBC is a relatively new church. Here’s the history.
48% of GBC’s income last year came from the church that ‘planted’ it, Southside Bible Church [Financial Report 2021, ACNC Register].
The ACNC Register says that the church was established in December 2018, yet its ABN record says that it began in November 2020 (with the website saying that its first service was not held until April 2021).
The church’s beliefs are on the website.
For comparison, here’s the statement of faith of the Australian Evangelical Alliance (EA Foundation).
The church’s mission and values are also on the website.
From these beliefs and values flow their activities, their ‘ministries’ (the fourth item in the main menu):
None of these are mentioned under ‘Charity programs’ in the ACNC Register, nor in GBC’s Annual Information Statement (AIS) 2021.
Sharing the Gospel?
GBC operates in Australia, per the Register, only in the ACT (at Harrison School).
The ‘Address’ for GBC on the Register is a house in Palmerston that was purchased for $930K in early 2021.
GBC doesn’t disclose, on the Register, the locations overseas where they operate. They also don’t describe the measures in place to ensure their compliance with the regulator’s requirements for money sent overseas.
How activities translated into dollars spent
The account of how donations are used is the Financial Report 2021 on the ACNC Register.
Because GBC is a ‘Small’ charity, no financial report was required. GBC, however, chose to lodge one.
GBC says in its AIS 2021 that it uses the cash ‘accounting method’, but what it has submitted is not a cash report. It includes depreciation, an accrual accounting concept.
As an accrual report, it is very deficient compared to professional standards, consisting of only a ‘Balance Sheet’ and a ‘Profit and Loss’ (both of which are incomplete and in an incorrect form).
There is no evidence that either ‘partners’ or association members commissioned an audit report.
The use of donations
If you are still willing to rely on the accounts, these are the expenses greater than $1K:
‘Wages and Salaries’ 15.0K
‘Adam Chessum Ex Ben’ 10.6K
‘Dom Fiocco Ex Ben’ 9.6K
‘Music and Sound’ 1.3K
There is no explanation of ‘Ex Ben’.
‘Missions and Global Support’ is 2% of expenses (and less than ½% of income).
See here for some evidence of how this compares with other Canberra evangelical churches.
Nothing systematic on impact was found.
- A section in the article, Donating and Volunteering:
- Focus on the nature of the charity’s work, its beneficiaries and the impact the charity is having in the community.
- Is it clear what the charity is trying to achieve and how its activities work towards its objectives?
- Would you like to spend your money, or time if volunteering, to support these objectives?
- Is the charity being transparent about its activities?
- ‘https’ does not, as implied by the ACNC, appear in all browsers. ↑
- ‘When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett says this about sharing the Gospel: ‘A host of contextual issues determine the best manner and the appropriate time to present the gospel verbally, particularly in militant Muslim or Hindu settings. But without such a presentation, it is not possible for people to be personally transformed in all their relationships, which is what poverty alleviation is all about’ [Kindle Locations 1262-1264, Moody Publishers]. ↑
- The AIS 2021 shows the ‘Full-time equivalent staff (FTE)’ as 38860. It appears that the dollars spent has been entered in error. ↑