Jul 10, 2014

Megachurch repossessed by lending company

One of the most famous churches in Florida has been sold at a foreclosure auction. The pentecostal megachurch, which was once pastored by televangelist Benny Hinn and then taken over by gospel artist Clint Brown, defaulted on its mortgage last year.

It was sold at auction for a fraction of the outstanding debt on Tuesday,  according to Jeff Weiner, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel. One of the creditors, a Christian mortgage company, bought the building.

Clint Brown purchased the church from Hinn in 2000 for $9.9 million. His congregation merged with Hinn's, forming a 4,000-member megachurch named Faith World. Faith World grew to 6,000 members by 2012, despite some struggles, including Brown's contentious divorce in 2005.

When the church defaulted in 2013, however, it owed $9.7 million on the 27-acre and five buildings. The county tax assessors estimated it wasn't even worth what was owed, valuing the property at  about $7.8 million. There were also about $250,000 owed in back taxes, according to an Orlando TV news station, and other debts, including a $89,000 in recent car loans.

The place was purchased by a California credit union for $1.85 million at auction on Tuesday.

Clint Brown has spoken of the financial troubles and the foreclosure in sermons he preached at a temporary location, a nearby high school, Weiner reports. He has described the situation as the result of persecution.

"We've been abused," Brown said in one sermon. "We have been lied to. We have been taken advantage of."

In another sermon, preached the same day, Brown said, "The enemy, the enemy tried to stop us, tried to hurt us."

A recent study of churches in financial trouble found that the common denominator was bad leadership. A key factor for religious groups filing for bankruptcy was that they were organized around a charismatic leader who was subject to little or no oversight. In times of financial crisis, the study found, the leadership almost always cited external pressures, including the economy and natural disaster. Internal organizational issues were more directly to blame, however.

Brown -- who preaches the prosperity gospel -- has been extensively criticized for his personal finances.

Brown at FaithWorld, circa 2012: