Then and Now

by Dan Busby

“If ECFA had not been formed, another organization would have been needed to fill its role,” said Lauren Libby, former ECFA board member.

Still, questions are sometimes asked, such as “Where would we be if there were no ECFA?”; “Why ECFA?”; and “Why does ECFA get to set biblically-based standards for churches in the areas of sound governance, financial oversight and accountability, and stewardship practices?”

To answer these questions, it is helpful to take a brief look at history. In 1979 when ECFA was founded, there was no evangelical organization setting standards for sound governance, financial oversight and accountability, and stewardship practices. 

Billy Graham and a handful of other leaders had a vision to serve the evangelical community by forming ECFA. They envisioned an evangelical organization which set high standards, accrediting other evangelical organizations. Organizations would voluntarily apply, requesting to be held accountable for compliance with the standards.

The leaders knew that ECFA would not provide integrity to a ministry; ECFA accreditation would be an external reflection of a ministry’s internal integrity.

In 1979, significant questions were being raised about how certain religious leaders were handling funds provided by their supporters. In those days, the media was quick to criticize ministry leaders and extrapolate the misgivings of a few to the entire religious community. Sound familiar? There is generally a similar rush to judgment by today’s media.

Forty-one years ago, ECFA took a stand on behalf of religious organizations—for self-regulation and against additional government oversight. In 2012-13, through the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations, ECFA did exactly the same thing as it facilitated responses to Senator Charles Grassley on a host of church tax policy issues.

Commission Chairman Michael Batts said, “ECFA exists to foster a policy of integrity in the form of self-regulation and accreditation without burdensome government regulation. That’s what ECFA exists to do. It is an opportunity to provide meaningful input into these areas that will really make a positive difference for the Kingdom.”

So, what are the differences between then and now? Then, there were no standards for governance, oversight of finances, and the raising and handling of charitable gifts. Then, there was no peer group to accredit evangelical organizations—no standards to achieve and no accreditation of Christ-centered organizations.

Now, ECFA’s standards are a model for the Christ-centered arena and other accrediting organizations. Even the Internal Revenue Service has come to embrace some of the governance principles of ECFA’s standards as their own.

Today, ECFA has a time-tested approach of accrediting Christ-centered organizations and assuring their supporters that they are complying with all of the standards—all of the time.

Today, more and more givers look for the ECFA seal of approval. ECFA helps accredited organizations operate within the ECFA guideposts—think of them as guardrails or bumper guards. This provides more freedom to provide ministry within the parameters than if there were no standards to follow. 

What was once a dream has become a reality. Today over 3,000 Christ-centered organizations, with over 1,000 more related entities and programs, are demonstrating integrity in that they utilize independent boards, engage independent CPAs for the organization’s annual financial statements, avoid conflicts of interest, handle charitable gifts with care, and much more.

So, “Why ECFA?” Because since 1979, ECFA has modeled consistent, confidential, and fair application of high standards—many of them beyond the law. The ECFA seal enhances trust of givers, providing increased resources for ECFA accredited churches to fulfill the Great Commission. Christ-centered organizations increasingly want to participate in ECFA’s peer accountability process, so they can show third-party accreditation as evidence of integrity, transparency, and accountability.



This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.