Church budget is $6.6 million

Note: "Together in the Harvest Ministries" (Steve Hill) and "Partners in Revival" (John Kilpatrick) ministries are now both members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

2% is devoted to assist missions

The Pensacola News Journal/November 16, 1997
By Amie K. Streater

Pensacola -- The Brownsville Revival is known the world over for leading sinners to God.

But the 2 1/2-year phenomenon is not only making Christians out of gang members and drug users, it is making millions of dollars. But for whom?

Revival leaders talk at length about the souls they have saved, but they rarely talk about the money they have made. They tell expansive stories about the impact of the revival, but they downplay the expensive lifestyles the revival is underwriting.

A four-month News Journal investigation has revealed spending practices that sharply differ from the activities worshipers are asked to finance.

About 15 percent of the church's $6.6 million budget -$1,019,406 - goes to salaries and benefits for 107 church employees, according to a brief and nondetailed financial statement the Brownsville Assembly of God released to the News Journal.

The church will not release specific information about the salaries and perquisites -- including housing allowances -- for the revival leaders.

The revival leadership makes an unabashed call for money: "Reach into your wallets and pull out the biggest thing you can find," Associate Pastor Carey Robertson urges, suggesting that $100 is an acceptable figure.

Robertson and other leaders assure the audience that most of the money goes to missions -- organizations working to spread Christianity. Yet after evangelist Steve Hill takes his share -- the Friday night offering each week goes to Hill's Together in the Harvest Ministries -- the Brownsville church's donations to missions amounts to 2 percent of the church's annual budget. Church leaders call for money to cover the "tremendous" expense of keeping the church and revival going. Yet 14 percent of the budget goes to cover such costs.

By comparison, the revival pumps substantial money -- $1.2 million, or more than 18 percent of the budget --into activities that gross big returns: pastors' conferences, videotapes and music tapes to sell to revival-goers.

The church tells the revival audience that "our finances are in order" and "everything is open," but the leadership refuses to make full disclosure of the budget details.

"It's nobody's business but ours," Robertson said. "We are not accountable to the people who come to revival because they are our guests. They are making a free-will offering and therefore should not expect an audit or an accounting.

"If you wonder where the money is going, then don't give. Obviously, we can't spend money the way people want us to, but once it becomes a gift, it is ours to use. It is nobody's business how we use it."

That goes for the Brownsville flock as well. The church's membership gets an annual one-page statement, listing revenues and expenditures in general categories. Robertson and church treasurer R.L. Berry say detailed accountings are provided only to the church's eight-member board of directors.

No other church member can get financial answers without getting a two-thirds majority vote from the congregation authorizing release of the information.

By contrast, large churches in the other major denominations in the Pensacola community make full financial disclosure.

What is most clear about the Brownsville Revival money picture is that the leaders have found many ways to keep the money coming in. For example:

  • The church videotapes the four-nights-a-week revival services and sells tapes by the thousands, at $15 and $10.
  • Each of the four major revival leaders started his own individual ministry corporation to sell revival-generated materials and memorabilia.
  • The revival leaders have published autobiographies and other books sold through the individual ministry's corporation.
  • The four top revival leaders have created an unofficial joint venture, Awake America, along with the Brownsville church. Using it as the umbrella organization, they go to big cities around the country to hold stadium revivals and share the proceeds. A recent two-night revival at The Pyramid, a large arena in Memphis, grossed $123,500.
  • During the revival, sinners are coaxed to get rid of "articles of affection" --rings, bracelets, watches and other jewelry they received in adulterous affairs. Church leaders will not give specifics about how many such items show up in the offerings.
  • The revival has given birth to a Bible college that in one year has brought in about $604,500. The church rents classroom space in a defunct Bible school on U.S. 98 in west Pensacola and charges its 507 students an instructional fee of $975 a semester, which includes books, but not room and board, for the 120 students who live on campus.

    The students are mainly young people who tell revival audiences that they were floundering through life before they found salvation at the revival.

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