The Holy Land Experience, one of America’s largest biblical theme parks, lies in ruins, after Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) spent more than $130 million on the project.
AdventHealth purchased the Orlando property from TBN in 2021 for $32 million. According to Orlando TV station WESH, AdventHealth submitted plans to build a hospital on the site.
(Photo: Theme Park before demolition began. Screenshot from video by Steve Ronin.)
Demolition is currently underway. Adam, host of TheDailyWoo YouTube channel, recently visited Holy Land Experience, and documented the theme park’s destruction.
Expenses from Purchasing and Operating Holy Land Theme Park
Religion News Blog reported in 2007 that TBN spent $37 million to acquire Holy Land Experience. The purchase involved three financial transactions: TBN paid off an $8 million loan from Grace Foundation to Holy Land Ministries, spent $12 million to acquire land from Sola Scriptura and donated $17 million to Master’s Gate Foundation.
According to Trinity Foundation informants, The Holy Land Experience became TBN co-founder Jan Crouch’s pet project. Jan oversaw remodels and new exhibits as the theme park produced Broadway-style musicals.
(Screenshot: Jan Crouch and actor Les Cheveldayoff who played Jesus at the theme park.)
The Holy Land Experience became a money pit and was subsidized by donations from TBN. A review of The Holy Land Experience financial disclosure documents (Form 990) shows that from 2007 to 2020, TBN made $96,764,685 worth of donations to Holy Land Experience Ministries, which included $28,530,154 in non-cash donations in 2010.
Matthew Crouch became president of TBN in 2016, the year Jan died. In addition to discontinuing TBN’s annual Praise-A-Thon fundraisers, Matthew made programming changes to appeal to a younger and more diverse TV audience.
As the network relied less on donations, TBN sold assets. The network’s Costa Mesa, California studio was acquired by a real estate developer.
When Covid forced Holy Land Experience to close in 2020, TBN began searching for a buyer. The sale of Holy Land Experience would help TBN streamline its operations and allow the Crouches to spend more time at other TBN facilities.
Though their private jet is owned by Trinity Broadcasting of Florida, Matthew and his wife Laurie Crouch rarely fly to Florida. Due to Trinity Foundation’s Pastor Planes (Instagram and Twitter) project tracking church and ministry aircraft daily since 2021, it can be reported the Crouches spend most of their time in four locations: southern California (TBN studio located in Santa Ana), Texas (TBN offices in Fort Worth and Irving), Colorado (TBN-owned Little Papoose Ranch) and Italy (home of Televisione Cristiana in Italia and Trinity Broadcasting Network Europe).
Lessons to Learn
In 1978, almost thirty years before TBN acquired The Holy Land Experience, televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker launched Heritage USA, which quickly grew into one of America’s largest theme parks, attracting millions of visitors and generating more than $100 million revenue in a year.
Attorneys warned Jim that his business operations could endanger his ministry’s tax-exempt status, but he ignored them. While PTL, the parent organization of Heritage USA claimed to be a church, it operated a hotel, and failed to pay taxes on unrelated business income.
After rapid growth, the IRS audited PTL, the parent organization of Heritage USA, and revoked the organization’s tax-exempt status due to excessive compensation paid to executives and failure to pay taxes on unrelated business income.
In 1989, Heritage USA closed. PTL filed for bankruptcy. The ministry owed $56 million in back taxes. Millions of dollars wasted.
Even if Jim had not committed fraud by overselling timeshares or engaging in a sexual scandal, his ministry would have still been imperiled by hubris.
The Bakkers and likely the Crouches were inspired by Walt Disney. They pursued a dream: the opportunity to build a Christian Disneyland.
But God’s kingdom is not about personal vision casting. Instead, God has chosen the foolish things and despised things for his purposes. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)