When I was a wee lad, I remember going to the store with my dad. He’d give me five bucks or so, and I’d walk around all wide-eyed to see what I could buy. My dad was pretty street wise and he’s always make sure to remind me to do two things.
First, he’d tell me to keep my money in my pocket. He believed that if I held it in my hand, some unscrupulous character would notice how much money I had and decide to steal it from me. Second, he made sure I could figure out how much change I had coming to me before I went to the register. That way, that swarthy teenager ringing up my purchase couldn’t short change me.
My dad was right and unfortunately times haven’t changed.
Most of you know that I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life planting a church. I found out the hard way that, just like some lowlifes have no problem stealing money from children, many people will also gladly take a baby church’s money and actually make a living out of it.
Last year, when I was looking for some help getting our church’s legal structure set up, I came across a website called www.start-your-own-church.com. It guaranteed to put us on sure legal footing and to get our 501c3 approval. I called the number on the site and spoke with a Mr. Abe Hernandez. I was really impressed! He claimed to be an attorney with years of church legal experience. He claimed he’d be available to me for any legal questions and that together we were going to get the church set up right.
I was sold! I immediately wrote him a check for almost $1,200 with the belief that he’d get right to work for me.
A strange thing happened though. As soon as the check cleared, he became difficult to get a hold of. Eventually, Mr. Hernandez provided us with a constitution and bylaws to start with and instructions for incorporating. He also sent me step by step instructions for preparing all the materials necessary for him to complete our 501c3 application. I was to follow the instructions and mail all materials to him so that he could do so. This is where his true intentions were revealed.
I mailed all the materials to him and waited. And waited and waited and waited. I called and received no answer and no return call. I emailed him and got no response. He never filed our application. He took the money and ran.
It gets worse! Several months later I finally gave up and called another company to take care of our legal setup. When I explained our situation to this new company, they asked me, “By any chance was the man’s name Abe Hernandez?” I said, “Yes.” They said, “Unfortunately, we get several calls a year from people who have ended up in the same situation.”
He steals from several church plants a year! Wow!
Please don’t misunderstand me. This is not “airing dirty laundry”. I’m a church planter and have several church planter friends. Every dollar is precious during this season. We operate on very little. I don’t want to see any other planters taken the way I was. Be warned! Abe Hernandez gets great Google search rankings when making relevant searches such as “church legal setup” or “church 501c3”.
The moral of the story for me and other church planters is DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Check the Better Business Bureau. I found out too late that Abe Hernandez’ www.start-your-own-church.com has an F rating from the Bureau.
I recently filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau hoping to recover a portion of our payment to Mr. Hernandez. I’m not very optimistic about it, but maybe I’ll be surprised.
It was an expensive lesson, but I’ve learned to be more careful with money. I’ve learned that a web presence and a great sales pitch mean very little. And I’ve learned that local is the way to go. Abe Hernandez lives in San Antonio, Texas. I can’t exactly show up at his office demanding a refund.
So what about you? What are some expensive lessons you’ve learned? I’d especially like to hear from you church planters out there!