Revival for sale through merchandise

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.

Top ministers cash in with own products

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

Pensacola -- Brownsville Revival music stirs people to jump up and dance, filling the aisles and pews with swaying, clapping, bouncing, arm-waving, foot-pounding, head-bobbing worshipers.

When they leave for home, they don't have to leave the music behind.

For 200 feet up and down the corridor that rings the main auditorium, tables are piled with music cassettes and CDs and that's just a fraction of the merchandise available for purchase.

The Brownsville Revival has generated a multi-million dollar retail industry, conducted within the walls of the church.

Inside the church's double front doors, tapes, T-shirts and similar revival-generated products are offered for sale all during the day and until about an hour after the revival is under way at night.

The crowds that stand in line throughout the day to get good seats for the night-time revival are a steady source of customers.

Even as the revival service is under way, people leave the pews to browse and buy. At times, the customers are so densely packed that people have to suck in their stomachs and step sideways to pass one another in the merchandise-laden corridor and lobby.

The products are sold not only by the church but also by individual corporations created by the revival leaders.

Most profit figures are unclear.

Revival musician Lindell Cooley's ministry, Music Missions International, has sold close to $500,000 in merchandise, mainly music tapes and CDs, since he established the corporation in March, said general manager Larry Day.

The revival's evangelist, Steve Hill, told the News Journal that his books and tapes, sold through his corporation, Together in the Harvest, earned $224,675.

The church itself, which as a church does not have to make its finances public or pay taxes, says it lost money last year on revival merchandise, despite $625,166 in sales of books, music and video tapes.

An abbreviated 1996 financial statement that the church released to the News Journal indicates the church fell short $239,160 on the products.

Associate Pastor Carey Robertson, who oversees the church, blames that on an overload of inventory at year-end. The church had bought more products than it could sell before the end of its year, he said.

The church's statement lists $864,324 in merchandise expenses:

  • Music $474,549.
  • Cassettes, manuals, books $196,382.
  • Videotapes $143,307.
  • Audio tapes $50,086.
The statement lists $625,166 in merchandise revenues:
  • Music $336,369.
  • Videotapes $185,820
  • Tapes $62,122
  • Cassettes, manuals, books $40,855.

Some products, especially the videotapes of nearly every revival service, are sold under the church's name.

On the other hand, the popular revival music cassettes and CDs are sold under the name of Music Missions International Inc., headed by revival maestro Cooley.

Many people buy two, three, even 10 videotapes, which cost $10 and $15. They gladly spend the money, saying they want to sustain "the anointing" by video viewing numerous different revival services.

They also load music cassettes, at $10 each, and CDs, at $15, into their shopping bags. Cooley's music is a big seller, but so is the altar-call anthem, "Mercy Seat," which is available on cassette and CD in three different keys advertised as "easy to sing" back at home.

The Brownsville Revival has yet another product, sold under the name "The Vision Speaks": kits containing materials to make one of the sequined, jewel-toned, multi-colored banners displayed at the revival.

The kits sell for $125 for a small banner, or $200 for a large banner, the size Brownsville uses. The kit includes all the materials except glue, scissors and pins.

The banner kits are not listed anywhere on the church's financial statement -- not as revenue, not as an expense.

Robertson's explanation: "We have a kit that tells people how to make banners, but we don't sell banners." He would not say how the financial statement accounts for the banner kits and he would not say how many have been sold.

He also would not say how The Vision Speaks is connected to the church.

Some corporations selling revival-related merchandise in the church are independent of the church. They serve to market products for individual revival leaders. Buyers cannot make their purchases at the door, they have to pay -- by cash, check or credit card -- at the cash register set up to handle each minister's business.

Brownsville Assembly of God pastor John Kilpatrick sells his books and tapes through his newly created ministry, Feast of Fire.

He says that his book royalties go to his ministry, but he refuses to disclose any information about the finances of his organization. As a nonprofit corporation, its IRS return is open to the public. But under IRS rules, nonprofits have five months and 15 days after the fiscal year to file, and Feast of Fire has not reached its first filing deadline.

Michael Brown, who heads the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry as well as his own nonprofit organization, ICN Ministries, does provide some figures about his revenues: He estimates his books and tapes bring in $50,000 a month. That amounts to $600,000 a year.

"I don't write the books to make money," Brown told the News Journal. "I have publishers asking me to write. I have to write what I feel burdened to write. Ethically I have a problem with personally getting rich through ministry. I'd be much more at home just with an ample salary." He would not disclose how his ministry spends the $600,000. The IRS said Brown's ministry has asked for two extensions and is not due to file until late this month.

Steve Hill's Together in the Harvest Ministries gave the News Journal an informal financial statement saying he took $30,000 in royalties, but it did not indicate what the sales were. His corporation's most recent IRS return showed he took $34,000 in royalties from sales of $141,592.

The News Journal asked the IRS for copies of the tax returns for all the ministers' corporations because all are registered as nonprofit organizations and thus their financial information and tax returns are public information. Hill's 1993, 1994 and 1996 returns were the only ones the IRS had on file.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.