Michael Chitwood says he aims to keep ministers, churches and nonprofits on the right side of the Internal Revenue Service.
"It seems like the IRS has become very aggressive against ministers," the Chattanooga businessman and author said earlier this week. "When they get the minister, they can also audit the church. So their first point of entry is through that minister."
Chitwood operates a Chattanooga bookkeeping and payroll business, Chitwood and Chitwood PC, for churches across the United States, a venture he said has grown to 7,000 clients over 75 years.
Its roots go back to his grandfather, he said. His father, in turn, was a certified public accountant in the city for about 60 years, according to Chitwood.
At the same time, Chitwood is founder and on the board of governors of the International Congress of Churches and Ministers, a group that's holding a four-day annual general assembly at the Chattanooga Choo Choo this week. He said the meeting is slated to draw about 500 people to the organization directed at training and mentoring pastors, would-be ministers and others.
Earlier this year, ICCM bought the former Circuit City building on Lee Highway for $1.35 million so it can better conduct its efforts.
Chitwood said plans are to plow another nearly $3 million into the building starting in November to house an auditorium and fellowship hall that together will seat about 1,200 people.
Work is slated to finish April 1 at the site, where ICCM will offer financial classes for church members along with classroom work related to pastoral studies coupled with meetings for women and youth, he said.
Chitwood said ICCM won't compete with churches.
"We're excited about it," he said. "We think the Lord has put this in our heart.
To mark the planned April 1 date, Chitwood said ICCM is crafting a 30-day event highlighted by well-known speakers. Among those invited to speak are Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Andy Stanley, Ron Phillips, Jesse Duplantis, John Kilpatrick and others, he said.
At the ICCM center, Chitwood said he will be involved in the business part of the teaching and leave the spiritual emphasis to pastors.
Kammy Chitwood, his daughter-in-law and executive director of ICCM, said his vision is to help others to fulfill their's.
"That's what he's all about," she said. "That's what he does."
ICCM also provides 501(3)(C) tax-exempt charters to churches and ministries, according to its website.
At Wednesday's opening of the ICCM general assembly, the Chattanooga man said this was the first year a business and financial class was added. He said he'd had a lot of requests for such a seminar.
"We want to make sure they're compliant with the IRS," Chitwood said. If not, penalties could be levied and there could even be revocation of their 501(C)(3) tax exemption, he said.
Still, Chitwood said the IRS "isn't really the bad guy. It's Congress. They're the ones who passed the laws."
Chitwood added that tithes and offerings to churches are down, which press ministries to pay their bills.
"There's an awful lot of money out there for faith-based grants," he said. "If you set up a different corporation from the church ... you can have a Christian day care or a youth center. The government will give you money for that if you do some of the things they want - like providing jobs."