A religious leader and expert is urging churches to remain vigilant against financial fraud and embezzlement.

There is no limit to the amount of money being poured into churches today. The larger the congregation, the more the funds could roll in. This sets the stage for cases of embezzlement, which is impacting Christian ministries and churches of any size. In fact, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimated that thieves will earn up to $170 billion in 2050 if churches do not become more vigilant about their funds.

Todd Johnson, co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, recently spoke with Christian Today to discuss the trends in church embezzlement. He explained that the group found that despite being convicted of embezzlement, many church members and staff still could not believe or accept that a pastor could carry out such a crime.

"That shows the power of trust. And trust is good, but if it's misused-which is the definition of affinity fraud-that's really a problem," Johnson remarked.

But the Center for the Study of Global Christianity projects that church embezzlement will be down about $10 billion due to the "composite figures" that are 'tied to gross national income, the demographics of Christianity, rates of Christian income and giving, and the dynamics of fraud." Johnson explained that these constantly change, describing it as "complex" with "competing trends within them," mostly powered by "economic growth."

The Roys Report noted several multi-million dollar church embezzlement cases in recent years, including the case of a bishop and a lay leader of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in California who mortgaged church properties to get their hands on $14 million in loans to purchase real estate. Another case is that of a Lubbock, Texas church bookkeeper who spent  $450,000 on church credit cards to fund her car loan, medical expenses, and meals, as well as to finance a business she co-owned.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity reported that one in three churches will be victims of embezzlement, but 27% of them will not report the crime. Instead, churches trust people to do the right thing.

"Our hope in bringing this to light is that churches would take seriously the issues of accountability and stop this as much as possible," Johnson said. He predicted that the growth in church embezzlement will be tied to economic progress, such as in countries like India and CHina, where Christianity will spread from the rural poor to more financially capable urban centers.

In Cleveland, Tennessee, a church administrator is being investigated by the FBI for embezzlement, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported this week. The business administrator at Broad Street United Methodist Church has allegedly embezzled "tens of thousands of dollars from the church"

The 25-page affidavit filed on April 5 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee revealed. It also requested a warrant to search the residence and storage units of David Michael Apps, who worked for the church since January 2014. He is accused of embezzling money from the church between July 2014 and October 2020, by using the church credit cards to purchase airline tickets, hotel accommodations, firearms and accessories, and a storage unit on East Brainerd Road.