Hillsong Report Highlights Ministries Operating Like Businesses — But Without Public Accountability

Report features a lucrative honorarium model tempting many U.S. pastors to pay to play

Last month, a whistleblower document disclosing Hillsong Church’s financial details highlighted the burgeoning popularity of reciprocal honorarium practices in ministries worldwide.

A common growth strategy in the for-profit business circuit, honorariums are fees given to someone for something outside their normal job responsibilities—like giving a talk. And they have slowly found their way into evangelical circles. Although the amounts are often negotiable, more evangelical speakers require a fee to secure bookings.

Findings in the Hillsong report are prompting donors to question at what point giving sermons or talks is or is not part of a pastor’s job.

Also, how should leaders report honorariums if they regularly require a fee to speak?

The custom of inviting and hosting guest speakers is nothing new for churches. Traditionally, host churches have covered travel expenses associated with guest visits, including accommodations, gifts, and flights.

Payments were limited to collective love offerings and through book and resources purchases promoted during a guest pastor’s visit.

The Hillsong documents show Hillsong is one of many ministries engaged in extravagant spending, including exchanging honorariums. The report lists several American ministries financially benefiting from honorariums.