Are Focus on the Family, BGEA, & RZIM Churches? And Should They Be Exempt From Reporting Salaries of Executives?

Focus on the Family's Visitor's Welcome Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

By Julie Roys - Posted at
"Regardless of the reasons for changing IRS status, questions remain concerning the ethics of parachurch ministries claiming to be churches. By definition, parachurch groups are designed to come alongside churches, not be a church. .."
It’s listed in Wikipedia as an evangelical parachurch organization that promotes “social conservative views on public policy.” But according to its 2016 IRS application and subsequent correspondence, Focus on the Family “was established and has been historically operated as a church.” Its nearly 600 employees are both its “ministers” and its “congregation.” Its board of directors are “elders.” And the church worships in Focus’ “chapelteria”—a cafeteria that doubles as a worship space.

For those familiar with the 43-year-old ministry, these arguments that Focus on the Family is a church may seem like a stretch. But the arguments worked. And in 2017, the IRS changed Focus on the Family’s classification from a nonprofit to a church.

Last week, the Washington Post reported on this “new strategy” among major evangelical organizations to become classified as churches and exempt from filing form 990s, which require them to report the salaries of their highest paid employees. Two other large organizations that have recently become churches or “an association of churches” include the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA) and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).