Offerings down, spending being cut at Harvest Bible Chapel

After months of controversy culminating in the firing in February of founding pastor James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel is dealing with a drop in donations by as much as 40 percent.

The decline has led the Rolling Meadows-based church to cut weekly operational spending by about $100,000, or nearly 25 percent, according to a statement posted on the church website by its interim leaders. It did so by eliminating some ministries and cutting staff members, elders said in response to a congregant's question posted on the website.

The church has not detailed which staff members or ministries were cut. But since MacDonald's firing, others have resigned, including two lead pastors who are MacDonald's sons, its Elgin campus pastor, and the assistant senior pastor. No new hires have been announced. The church is organizing a new elder board to oversee it; that board will then search for a new senior pastor.

The church had started an effort in December called the CLOSER campaign, part of which was to get members to donate more money so the church could pay off $42 million in debt by the end of 2020. The campaign also would have funded building projects at all of Harvest's campuses and at Camp Harvest in Michigan, as well as added an addiction-recovery center at the camp. Half the CLOSER donations were to be devoted to paying down the debt.

But the church has removed many of the materials about the campaign from its website. Church leaders did not respond to requests for comment or say whether the campaign is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Trinity Broadcasting Network has satisfied its mortgage for an Aurora television-production facility it bought from the church. The payoff amount was not listed in a document recorded with the Kane County recorder of deeds.

The church had sold the property to Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana for $15.6 million in 2014, according to the document. Trinity, which owns Trinity Broadcast Network, paid $4.1 million in cash; the rest was to be in the form of 4,992 half-hour segments of broadcast time Harvest Studios could use through 2023, according to the document.

"Walk In the Word," a program by James MacDonald, had been broadcast on the network until January. Trinity Broadcast Network officials have not returned phone calls or emails to answer questions about the transaction.

The church has postponed plans to open a new campus in a rented space in Hinsdale and has returned control of a Naples, Florida, church to local leaders, leaving seven campuses in the Chicago area, including a school in Elgin.

Attendance at the church appears to have declined. Last week, Harvest posted that 8,500 people a week are worshipping with it. In a defamation lawsuit it filed in October and later dropped, the church had said more than 12,000 people worshipped there.

The church had asked financial services firm Plante Moran to review its finances, but the firm declined, according to a church statement. The statement says "given our size and level of involvement in the business and local community in the greater Chicago area, Plante Moran declined this engagement to ensure there was not any perceived lack of independence in this matter."

Plante Moran has not responded to a request for confirmation of the statement.

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  The Harvest Bible Chapel campus in Elgin. Rick West/, 2011
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