Televangelists have been mass-media fixtures since the 1970s, when preachers retooled their messages to link Christian beliefs with a materialistic pursuit of wealth. However, getting a detailed account of most TV preachers' salaries has often been elusive, since many of these organizations release little or no financial data. The picture that has emerged is pieced together from accounts of lavish lifestyles, homes and book deals, with many television preachers netting tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Growth of Televangelism
Many TV preachers espouse the belief that God blesses people with wealth, says constitutional attorney and author John Whitehead. Known as "the prosperity gospel," this message fueled televangelism's exponential growth during the 1970s. Faced with declining attendance, many Christian ministers adopted a lifestyle not far removed from their Wall Street peers, Whitehead stated in a commentary for The Tucson Citizen. One of the earliest examples is the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Founded in 1973, Trinity's husband-wife team, Paul and Jan Crouch, raises more than $120 million per year.
In 2007, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley launched a probe of the televangelism world. Of the six high-profile ministers that Grassley contacted, only Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer replied, The Orange County Register reported. Audited statements for 2006 showed Hinn's total revenue and support at $97.3 million, but gave no hint about his salary. Joyce Meter Ministries reported $112.7 million in revenues for 2008, plus $93.3 million in contributions, the newspaper stated. As critics noted, such figures speak volumes about the lifestyles that figures like Hinn enjoy.
Related projects have provided healthy incomes for televangelists like Joel Osteen. In March 2006, the New York Times reported that Osteen's agent sought a $13 million advance for the follow-up to his motivational best-seller, Your Best Life Now. A spokesman for Osteen's publisher denied the figure, but confirmed that a co-publishing deal seemed likely, the newspaper stated. The terms require a lower advance in return for 50 percent of the publisher's profit on sales. Using this measurement, insiders estimated that Osteen netted $10 to $20 million in royalties for his debut.
Grassley's investigation wound down in January 2011, without shedding much light on televangelist salaries. In his final report, Grassley did call for tougher enforcement of IRS rules against unreasonable compensation for nonprofit agency leaders. For example, he cited Inspiration Networks CEO David Cerullo's construction of a $4-million lakefront home while his organization froze wages, laid off employees and stopped contributing to their 401(k) plans, as The Charlotte Observer reported in June 2009.