Gloriavale is one of the top three big-money churches. Its wealth is spread over property, deer and dairy stocks and 'vehicle and aircraft' assets, topped up by cash injections from its loyal flock.

Secretive Christian community Gloria­vale has built up over $40 million in assets ­- including aircraft for its ­charter flight service - through a charity that pulls in millions every year.

The Herald on ­Sunday has examined the reports of 33 ­charities linked to eight Christian goups - ­Gloriavale, ­Destiny Church, Victory Church, Life NZ, C3 Church, Equippers Church, Arise Church and City Impact Church.

Combined, the religious charities have amassed assets worth more than $214m.

Gloriavale, Victory Church and City Impact Church carry the most valuable books.

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Gloriavale's most recent ­balance sheet, registered with the Charities Services on ­January 31, states its Christian Church Community Trust has $41.4m in total assets. Most of that is in land ($10.4m) and buildings ($11.6m) but it also has deer and dairy stocks worth $4.8m and $928,000 in "vehicles and aircraft".

Gloriavale's accounts also show a healthy cashflow, with annual returns over the past seven years never seeing income drop below $3.9m.

The most recent return saw a $1m jump in revenue to $6m. A Gloria­vale spokesman declined to comment.

Gloria­vale, which will this week be the focus of a documentary looking at the roles of women in the ­community, has an emphasis on earning cash through industry and farming but the ­documents also show it is a beneficiary of tithing ­income, with $2.8m gifted from its followers.

Massey University Professor Peter Lineham is an expert in New Zealand's religious history and ­activity.

He says Gloriavale is one of a small group of churches ­doing well ­financially - but it's doing it ­differently to others.

Brian and Hannah Tamaki of Destiny Church. Photo / Twitter
Brian and Hannah Tamaki of Destiny Church. Photo / Twitter

Gloriavale is based on farmland in Haupiri on the West Coast of the South Island and Lineham says it "has done amazing things for a very poor part of the coast". Part of its success lies in its ­ability to hang on to the devoted, compared to high turnovers of followers seen in freer, inner-city churches.

But, he says, it is also a very ­regulated existence.

"It's a highly controlled life and manipulated structure with ­arranged marriages. It's the ­exact opposite of the free-wheeling commercially run operation that's trying to build its numbers," Lineham said.

"Their recruitment is ­entirely from a very high birth rate. But every single member in the ­community is in fact working under community orders, for the community. Nobody gets a ­separate income. All expenditure is controlled by the community."

Peter Mortlock and Bev Mortlock of City Impact Church. Photo / Supplied
Peter Mortlock and Bev Mortlock of City Impact Church. Photo / Supplied

Across all eight churches ­examined, donated cash is by far the biggest revenue stream, with $47.7m piled up on collection plates across the most ­recent 33 ­annual returns. Lineham says they all have something in ­common. "All of these churches hold to what we call the ­prosperity ­doctrine - which argues that the sign of God's love for you will be that you become rich and that you will earn God's love by the generosity of your gifts to the church.

"This is the striking thing. If you look at ordinary ­denominations, almost all are struggling with ­financial issues. Their income is very small compared to their assets ­- Anglicans and ­Pres­byterians.

"[These other churches have] worked out for ­religion to succeed in the present world, they can't be a ­corner store, but a supermarket. Big, with a multitude of associated businesses. They're very alert to commercial realities."

City Impact Church. Photo / Doug Sherring
City Impact Church. Photo / Doug Sherring

Lineham said other ­churches, such as the Brian and Hannah Tamaki-­headed Destiny, with charity assets of $16.7m, have to be vocal to attract new followers.

Two years ago Destiny Church ­formally opened its new "City of God" ­headquarters in Manukau, South ­Auckland. It has an 864-seat auditor­ium, a school and early childhood centre, a gym, recording studio and function rooms.

Tamaki has attracted con­troversy for his overt soliciting of cash and his tweets of the church stage covered in cash, with the caption: "A ­sweet-smelling ­fragrance that is acceptable to God (Phil 4:15-19). My God shall supply all your need."

Life and Equippers said they couldn't comment. Destiny and the ­other ­churches did not ­respond to ­requests for comment.

The most recent annual returns registered with the Charities ­Services ­declares the Presby­terian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand has total assets of $25.3m and an ­annual income of $6,354,237.

The ­Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia has declared assets of $1.7m and ­an annual income of $1,997,265.