Aug 11, 2016

'Very clear signs of trouble' at Trinity Broadcasting Network as revenue shrinks, attractions close

July 14, 2016 

 The Orange County Register 


It has inspired awe in the God-fearing, and in those who mock them.

The elaborate campus of Trinity Christian City International in Costa Mesa – home of Trinity Broadcasting Network’s studios – has been likened to a mashup of a Disneyland castle, the White House and a wedding cake.

Visitors are free to wander the opulent grounds, marvel at historic Bibles, have their pictures taken with the giant archangel Michael, and get what no other attraction in Orange County can give: “A creepy adventure AND salvation!” one fan recently enthused online.

Admirers across the religious spectrum may be disappointed to learn that two attractions are closing at TBN campuses in Costa Mesa and Nashville: Trinity’s Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh Gift and Book Shops (“a tempting array of items for every budget, including music, tapes, Bibles, gifts and a complete selection of TBN souvenirs”), and the Virtual Reality Theaters, once described as state-of-the-art, high-definition experiences featuring a 48-channel sound system that “virtually puts you in the picture.”

This comes as Trinity’s revenue has taken a precipitous dive, from $207 million in 2006 to $121.5 million in 2014, according to a Register review of its most recent tax filings. More on that in a minute.

Trinity is moving toward an internet-based model for the gift shop because people simply don’t visit brick-and-mortar gift shops like they used to, and “it simply is not economically sound to continue to operate under said conditions,” said spokeswoman Tanya Wiley. “This is a decision which has been reviewed and discussed for well over a year.”

The Virtual Reality Theaters were essentially high-definition digital projection and display experiences, which were once cutting-edge. “However, today, this technology is commonplace,” Wiley said. “Some home theater systems can now do the same, therefore it does not make economic sense to keep the theater open.”

The complex on Bear Street will continue to house Trinity’s production facility, studio and offices, and other attractions remain open to the public, including Bible displays and some studio productions, she said.

“TBN’s vision, long-term plans and short-term goals have not changed, and that is telling the world about Jesus through traditional and non-traditional broadcasting,” she said.


Trinity calls itself the world’s largest Christian broadcasting network. Its religious programming, designed to spread the Gospel across the globe, can be seen throughout Europe, Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa, Russia, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific islands.

It’s built on the “Have a need? Plant a seed” philosophy, or what critics call “the prosperity gospel.” The idea is that if you give money to God, God will send riches back to you.

Trinity’s tax filings suggest the seed hasn’t been sprouting as it once did.

The company spent millions more than it took in for six straight years. The widest gap was in 2014 – the most recent year available – when revenue was $121.5 million but Trinity spent $162.6 million.

Trinity’s meaty net assets – what’s left after liabilities are subtracted from assets – help it through. That nest egg, though, shrank from a high of $857.9 million in 2009 to $755.8 million in 2014.

“These are very clear signs of trouble,” said Sandra Miniutti, vice president at nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator.

Charity Navigator does not rate Trinity, but has posted a “donor advisory” informing potential donors of tumult within the organization, as reported by the Register, The New York Times and The Christian Post.

Trinity’s returns are public because it’s a nonprofit in the eyes of the IRS and must file financial details in exchange for tax-exempt status.

The next chapter in Trinity’s evolution waits to be written.

Founder Paul Crouch – who heard God tell him to start a Christian TV network while tooling down MacArthur Boulevard nearly 40 years ago – died in 2013. His wife and co-founder, Jan Crouch, died May 31.

Their heir apparent was eldest son Paul Crouch Jr., until fissures within the family opened in 2012, including back-and-forth allegations of financial mismanagement and a claim that some in the family covered up sexual abuse.

Paul Crouch Jr. and his family were ousted from Trinity’s board of directors and its employ. The empire is now in the hands of the Crouches’ younger son, Matthew.

Trinity declined to share Matthew Crouch’s plans for the nonprofit, or to comment further on its financial situation.

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