Business offshoots add to bottom line

Dad sells books and videos, while son buys TV air time for church.

The Kansas City Star/March 11, 2007
By Judy L. Thomas

Not only does the Rev. Jerry Johnston run a megachurch, he also has his own business.

The for-profit corporation, called Jerry Johnston Publications, operates out of a mailbox drop in Leawood. Its only officers are Johnston and his wife, and its purpose, according to records filed with the Kansas secretary of state's office, is "book and video sales."

Johnston said the corporation handled the sales of his books and other products, as well as his speaking engagements around the country.

"Sometimes I'll go gratis, sometimes someone will give me a speaking fee," he said.

A former First Family Church board member said Johnston's business was profitable.

"He does a terrific job of selling DVDs and stuff like that," said Carl Seaton, a supporter of Johnston's who served on the church's board for several years. "The last time I saw that figure was six years ago, and his annual (gross) take on that was $200,000. That would be separate and not part of the church."

A former church member recalled Johnston saying the church needed to focus more on its TV ministry. "Jerry said, 'You know why we're on TV, don't you?' And he looked at me and said: 'That's where the money is. Elderly and shut-ins.' "

Johnston's son, Jeremy, helps the church reach that market through J Cubed Media, a company he runs. The church hires J Cubed to serve as its media buyer to purchase its television air time. The company's address is a mailbox drop in Overland Park.

The job of a media buyer is to market shows to TV stations, said Phil Cooke, who produces programming for some of the largest churches and ministries in the country. Typically, media buyers get commissions of 15 percent from shows' producers, he said, but he has seen some as low as 3 percent.

"As a result, that media buyer makes 15 percent every single time it airs," Cooke said. "It adds up, particularly if it's 15 percent of every single city that it runs."

Jerry Johnston said it wasn't unusual for a church to handle media buys in-house, but would not say how much his son was paid under the contract.

"The board of directors handles that directly with Jeremy," he said.

Board chairman Robert Ulrich confirmed that the church had a contract with Jeremy Johnston's company, but also wouldn't say how much the contract was for.

"We do that because we believe it to be in the best interest of the church," he said. "We can accomplish what we want at a lesser price and obtain our goals."

Jeremy Johnston did not return phone calls.

A church spokesman said the programs currently are aired on more than 90 stations and networks around the world. And Jerry and Jeremy Johnston just returned from Hong Kong on a deal to put the program on the largest TV station in China.

Cooke said that although some churches might think that using an in-house business was cheaper, "the chances are that's not really the case, because an outside media buyer, if they're any good, is going to be able to negotiate a really good deal" for the church.

Cooke also disagreed that it was common for churches to do media buying in-house.

"I work with some of the largest church ministries out there, and they all use really reputable buyers outside the church or ministry," he said.

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