How Religious TV Networks and Magazine Publishers Report Taxable Advertising Revenue

American tax laws require advertising revenue exceeding $1,000 to be reported by non-profit ministries and churches. However, some organizations fail to report unrelated business income because of either not knowing the law or purposefully restructuring themselves to avoid disclosure.

In recent years some religious TV broadcasters have begun to distance themselves from the high pressure beg-a-thon fundraisers of the past and are adopting the new business model of Free Ad Supported Television (often identified by the acronym FAST.)

The Inspirational Network, a non-profit organization operating the INSP cable network, is the leader in this transformation, having generated hundreds of millions of dollars or more in advertising revenue that has been unreported since 2014 on its Form 990s.

The Inspirational Network was the recent subject of a Trinity Foundation investigation into unreported advertising revenue and excessive compensation.

Which raises the question, how do other religious non-profits report  advertising?

In 2021, Christianity Today International reported almost $2.9 million in advertising revenue of which $637,199 was unrelated business revenue.

(Screenshot: Christianity Today International 2021 Form 990, page 9.)

Meanwhile, God’s World Publications (the publisher of World Magazine) reported all its advertising revenue ($1,543,326 for fiscal year ending June 30, 2021) as unrelated business income.

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The Conspicuous Lack of Congressional and IRS Oversight

A loathsome, terrible lack of Congressional and IRS oversight of televangelists and religious organizations exposes the huge need for new laws to prevent abuses of the public trust.

“No church property is taxed and so the infidel and the atheist and the man without religion are taxed to make up the deficit.” Mark Twain

Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, died on April 21, 1910, and yet his comment is even more appropriate now.

Huge amounts of church property here in the U.S. are not taxed. Aside from places of worship, churches, synagogues, and mosques also often provide property-tax exempt homes for their pastors, rabbis, and imams. In December 2021, the Houston Chronicle published an article we helped with exposing many church parsonages worth over a million dollars (our own article here).

In addition to extravagant church parsonages, religious non-profit laws allow for unhindered money laundering of church funds, obscenely huge tax-exempt housing allowances, loosely regulated bulk-cash smuggling out of the U.S., multi-million-dollar yearly salaries, and ministry-owned private jets used for personal vacations. And the list goes on. Read our “Dark Money” article for numerous examples.

Church, synagogue, and mosque income is generally tax-free. Though churches are supposed to report unrelated business income, there are many exclusions and deductions allowed. For example, Trinity Church in New York City owns more than six billion dollars worth of real-estate but does not disclose rental income by filing a form 990T. This is legal, believe it or not.

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Caller Beware: The Prayer Line Business

Prayer lines are the secret ingredient driving the financial success of televangelism.

In a recent Form 990, Christian Broadcasting Network reported, “In 2020, the prayer center department handled 184,859 outbound and 1,935,522 inbound phone calls. A total of 4,488 people prayed the prayer of salvation with our prayer center employees and 6,677 people rededicated their life to Christ.”

When viewers call the prayer lines, call center employees and volunteers manning phones collect donations and say prayers after obtaining names and addresses.

The harvesting of contact information is a critical component of fundraising. Once a viewer is added to a ministry’s mailing list, solicitation letters are soon to follow.

When a viewer requests prayer for a job or health problem, their prayer need is listed in a database which is later used for generating personalized solicitation letters.

In 1991, ABC Primetime Live broadcast an investigative report featuring a secretly recorded meeting between Jim Moore, head of Response Media, and Trinity Foundation founder Ole Anthony.

The goal of the meeting was to learn the techniques televangelists used to grow their media empires. Moore told Anthony, “Give them something free. You know, we ought to mail you the latest copy of X and get their name and address. New names is the key, new names.”

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Time to Review Church Budgets


With the arrival of the year 2023 in two months, that means many church elders and board members will soon be voting to approve church budgets.

Bob Santy, Executive Pastor of Operations at Sunridge Community Church in Temecula, California, recommends that churches finalize a budget two months before the church fiscal year.

Budgets reveal church priorities. Here are several critical questions that can guide a church leader on voting to approve a church budget. The same questions can also help concerned donors evaluate their financial support for a church:

Discipleship: When Jesus gave the Great Commission to His followers, Jesus told them to make disciples. This is the purpose of the church. Is the church effectively making disciples? If the church is declining, does the church need new leadership or to change its financial priorities by investing more in discipleship programs?

Program Services: How much does the church spend on its stated mission? By subtracting administrative and fundraising expenses, a concerned donor can determine how much is spent on program services.

Salaries: According to executive search firm Vanderbloemen, “The average church uses 52% of the church budget on compensation.” Often the highest paid church employee is the senior pastor. Is the pastor paid too much? Does the pastor receive an outrageous housing allowance? If the senior pastor were paid less, would the church be able to hire another employee? Are the church salaries reasonable?

The IRS website asks an important question: “How do we know whether the compensation we’re paying to our officers and key employees is reasonable?” The answer: “Reasonable compensation is the value that would ordinarily be paid for like services by like enterprises under like circumstances.”

Transparency: Is the church refusing to disclose big ticket expenses? If a  church refuses to disclose pastor salaries, there might be excessive compensation.  If the church has been sued, is the church disclosing attorneys’ fees?

Donor responsibility: In response to the infamous Jim Bakker/PTL scandal, Congress held a hearing in 1987. Pastor D. James Kennedy testified, “I would think that if a person is going to give money to something, that they have … a responsibility to learn where it is going.”

Donor responsibility should serve as a check to prevent the church from straying from its mission to evangelize the world, make disciples, help the poor, the fatherless, the stranger and the widows. If the church primarily operates as a social club for its members, then donors should take their money elsewhere.

Are You Fed Up Yet?

In our May 2022 newsletter (article here) we suggested a simple way to curb religious fraud and excess.  It would hold moderate and large religious organizations more accountable and provide donors with more transparency allowing them to make more informed decisions.

Month after month, we show our (small) mailing list and website visitors, how much religious fraud is going on and how much donor money is being wasted on extravagant, luxurious lifestyles.

Nothing will change until the U.S. public is fed up with the disparity between religious non-profit organizations and all other non-profit organizations.  Non-profits such as the Red Cross and World Vision show the world how much and where their money goes.  Religious non-profits… well, most don’t.

It’s too easy to claim marvelous, wonderful charitable works publicly on the one hand, while wasting donor’s money on frivolities and extravagance on the other.


We dig water wells for the thirsty.  Sure you do; but what about the Perrier, Smart Water, and Champaign served to you chilled in First Class or on your private jet?

We build and finance orphanages for the fatherless.  Sure you do, but compare the mansion you live in to most orphans’ stone walls, uncomfortable cots, meager meals, and dirty bathrooms.

We feed and clothe the homeless.  You must feel good about this, but compare your daily rich diet and the expensive suits you wear as opposed to the bean and rice staples and worn hand-me-down rags of street people in your own community.

This sheep’s-clothing disguise will always wear thin and wear off, eventually exposing the insatiable, self-seeking core of corrupt religious leaders— evident for all to see.

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