Does Your Church Need a $65 Million Private Jet?

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Dr. Creflo A. Dollar at Chicago Book Signing
Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesCreflo A. Dollar at a book signing in Chicago in 2008.

"If I want to believe God for a $65 million plane, you cannot stop me! You cannot stop me from dreaming." -- "Prosperity preacher" Creflo Dollar

"I ain't never asked you for a dime." -- Same guy

Recently, the Internet blew up over the campaign of a controversial televangelist of an Atlanta megachurch to get his parishioners to buy him a Gulfstream G650 luxury jet -- list price: $65 million.

That sounds like a lot, but it might be a bargain. Described by some as "the biggest, fastest and overall best private jet money can buy," it's a very popular plane, with a waiting list of hopeful buyers last estimated at five years long. Of course, this still raises the question: Should parishioners pay up to buy one for their pastor?

Who Is Creflo Dollar? (And Is That Really His Name?)

First and foremost, apparently, yes, that is his name: "Creflo A. Dollar Jr." The son of Creflo Augustus Dollar Sr. apparently founded his World Changers Ministries Christian Center in 1986, and has since grown the organization into a series of megachurches boasting 30,000 members spread across five states and the District of Columbia.

The mothership is the $18 million, 8,500-seat "World Dome" church located just outside Atlanta, which espouses the religion of "prosperity theology," wherein it is believed that God wants all Christians to be rich and rewards those who tithe more money with more personal riches here on Earth.

"Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle ..."

Whatever you think of the theology, it's certainly working for Mr. Dollar, who, according to CNN, possesses a fleet of Bentley and Rolls-Royce luxury cars, lives in a $2.3 million mansion with a "$23,000 marble commode," and recently pocketed $3.75 million from the sale of a Manhattan condo.

And yet, CNN admits that no one's quite certain just how rich Dollar is, because donations to the church are tax-exempt and, according to The New York Times, Dollar refuses to reveal his salary. Meanwhile, CNN reports that Dollar's Atlanta church alone received $69 million in 2006 (Dollar operates 11 other "satellite" churches).

So no wonder Dollar felt compelled to ask for a special contribution! That single G650 luxury jet is going to cost him almost a full year's worth of tithes and offerings.

In a Perfect World ...

The Wall Watchers church financial monitoring organization gives World Changers an "F" grade for financial transparency. But inquiring minds still want to know: Just how common is it for churches to splurge their entire offering plate on private jets for televangelists?

As it turns out ... it's not common at all. Heading over to the Church Law & Tax page at Christianity Today, you can find a detailed listing of how churches in America spend their money on average.

CLT breaks down church spending into 14 categories. "Private jets" is not one of them, but "travel" is -- and it consumes just 1 percent of an average church's tithes and offerings. That's on par with spending on servicing church debts, and spending on "etc."

The single biggest expense (47 percent of spending) of most churches in America is on salaries and benefits for church staff. Next comes spending on "ministries and support" -- 9 percent -- followed by a further 9 percent spent on international and domestic "mission support."

Mortgages and utilities, the inevitable cost of owning any house (even a house of God), consume 7 percent apiece. And because cleanliness is next to godliness, maintenance and cleaning services cost 5 percent of most church budgets.

Administrative expenses -- office supplies, insurance premiums, and fees paid to a denomination's home office -- when combined, add up to a further 10 percent. And a final 2 percent is saved for a rainy day (or 40), constituting "cash reserves." (On average, such reserves are enough to keep a church afloat for less than two months).

'You can't stop me from dreaming ...'

One final stat, and then we'll say our prayers and put this topic to bed for the day. According to Mr. Dollar, you "cannot stop [him] from dreaming" of owning a $65 million private jet. But for most pastors in U.S. churches today, all they can do is dream. Earning average annual salaries of $88,059 in 2013, the average male senior pastor of a U.S. church will be able to buy just one G650 luxury jet ... every 738 years.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith can't help but noticing that Creflo Dollar had to ask for $65 million to buy himself a luxury jet -- but Elijah got a fiery horse-drawn chariot and he didn't even have to ask. How cool is that? Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond -- no donations required.
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