“I similarly reached out to Ruth Malhotra, public relations manager with RZIM. She did not give a reason for RZIM seeking to be classified by the IRS as an association of churches, but simply noted that other ministries, like the BGEA, had done likewise. I asked Malhotra for the salaries of RZIM Chairman & CEO Ravi Zacharias; his wife, Margaret Zacharias, who was listed as RZIM vice-chairman; and his daughter, Sarah Davis, who’s the new CEO of RZIM. In 2015, when the organization still filed 990s, the ministry paid Zacharias and his wife more than a half-million dollars, and his daughter more than $215,000.”
But according to its 2016 IRS application and subsequent correspondence, Focus on the Family “was established and has been historically operated as a church.” Its nearly 600 employees are both its “ministers” and its “congregation.” Its board of directors are “elders.” And the church worships in Focus’ “chapelteria”—a cafeteria that doubles as a worship space.
For those familiar with the 43-year-old ministry, these arguments that Focus on the Family is a church may seem like a stretch. But the arguments worked. And in 2017, the IRS changed Focus on the Family’s classification from a nonprofit to a church.
Last week, the Washington Post reported on this “new strategy” among major evangelical organizations to become classified as churches and exempt from filing form 990s, which require them to report the salaries of their highest paid employees. Two other large organizations that have recently become churches or “an association of churches” include the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA) and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).