In many ways, the modern-day Christian Church resembles a business industry. The success of a congregation is determined by how many clients – in this case, Christians – it services. As technology improves, businesses becomes more efficient and so has the Church. What are televangelists, if not marketing coordinators? And what distinguishes super-churches from other global corporations? The only factor by which most of today’s churches divert from the traditional business model is their non-profit tax status.
First and foremost, most pastors are entrepreneurs. Like any other type of business, if a church is successful, it’s owner become richer. Most pastors adapt to the laws of supply and demand – preach whatever attracts more followers – to improve their business model. If they succeed, they expand (relocate their church), invest into marketing (put up professionally designed ads, hire telemarketers to ask for donations over the phone, etc.) and acquire assets ( usually by signing pro choir singers and paying for airtime on TV).
It should be noted that, though they’re rare, there are exceptions. Not all pastors are cynical liars – some are sincerely living what they preach. These are honest, kind and admirable people who every single person, regardless of faith, can learn something from. Unfortunately, nowadays the truth is – they are one-in-a-million.
For obvious reasons, there’s no way to determine the annual turn-around of an average church. Most people don’t realize just how rich American pastors are. To get a better idea, use our list of the wealthiest U.S. pastors. If the leader of your church is one of them, you may want to change your mind about donating.
1. Noel Jones
Bishop Noel Jones had a long but steady career. He earned a PhD from the International Circle of Faith and became the pastor of a Los Angeles community church. Over the next few years, his congregation grew from around 1,000 people, to almost 20,000. Jones had an additional building constructed by his church to accommodate everyone comfortably.
He has declared $5,000,000 in assets last year, though he claims most of it came from the gospel album released by his church’s choir. The City of Refuge Sanctuary Choir really was successful, appearing on Billboard’s 100 list and topping the gospel charts. But Jones is the only choir member who made millions on the record.
2. Paula White
Pastor Paula White is the face of her family’s church. The South Tampa Christian Church a.k.a. Without Walls International Church has a following of around 22,000. White was one of the first to be called a televangelist. Her latest TV show, “Paula White Today”, is one of the highest-rated programs on the Trinity Broadcast Network. Of course, how she got from tax debt to $5.5 million in assets, getting richer as Without Walls Church became more popular, is a mystery.
White is also a self-published author. Each of her ten books features her face on the cover and none discuss Biblical teachings directly. In fact, it’s impossible to tell that White is a pastor from her books, unless you read the author bio.
3. Bishop T. D. Jakes
Hailed by many as America’s best preacher, Bishop Jakes is as famous as the average 90’s pop singer. The businessman, writer, producer and preacher was even featured on the cover of TIME magnetize a few years ago. Jakes is the head pastor of his very own mega-church. As of 2013, the Potter’s House Church had a congregation of just over 30,000. He often drew audiences only championship sporting events could match.
After he became famous, Jakes already managed to pay off $1.7 million for a house and buy a luxury apartment in Manhattan. As any ambitious businessman, Jakes took every opportunity to add zeros to his bank account balance. He has produced half a dozen movies and written almost 50 books, including two best-sellers. Still, he hasn’t sold nearly enough books and films to justify his $12,000,000 in (declared) assets.
4. Pastor Rick Warren
If any of America’s richest pastors deserve their respect, it’s Rick Warren. Almost 36 years ago, during one of his first sermons at the Sattleback Church, Warren made this public statement about his commitment: “I will give my all to this church for 40 years. I will then retire as its pastor because it’ll need a fresh outlook.” He stayed true to every word – he spends most of his days learning, teaching and living the Bible. The Sattleback Church is the 8th largest congregation in the country and Rick Warren still holds service four times per weekend. Warren has written just two books, yet he sold over 50 million copies, earning a fortune from them alone.
Warren may have used some donation money for personal needs early on in his career, but not for a million-dollar mansion and not for long. When his book “The Purpose-Driven Life” became a #1 NY Times best seller, Rick and his wife began committing 91% of their family income to charities. In 2005, Warren even paid back every penny he earned as pastor – that’s 25 years worth of salaries.
5. Billie Graham
Franklin Graham was born in 1918 and raised on a North Carolina dairy farm. By the time he was establishing the Graham Evangelic Association, the Civil Rights movement was starting to receive widespread support. Billie Graham gained his initial following by being among the first pastors to boycott segregated churches and join protests. He became a celebrity after a collaborative 4-month Christian gathering with Dr.King himself. Graham and MLK occupied Madison Square Garden (the now-iconic NY venue) for 16 weeks, speaking to over 2,000,000 people combined. However, fame must have had a bad influence on Graham because starting from the mid-1960’s, profits became his main concern.
Graham stopped holding regular sermons and would only appear at high-publicity events. By 2002, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was earning him over $1,000,000 each year. In addition to that, pastor Graham held a massive campaign, made up of various TV material, for over 20 years. Why a 98-year-old pastor needs all that money is anyone’s guess.
6. Edwin Barry “Ed” Young
Pastor Ed Young is the head of Fellowship Church, a Texas-based mega-church, which grew from 150 to over 25,000 enlisted members in less than 10 years. There are now nine satellite locations in addition to the main venue, which can accommodate over 3,000 people at a time.
Pastor Young rarely preaches at his church nowadays. He spends his days at his 10,000-square ft. home. The mansion is valued at around $1.5 million. The pastor surprised many followers when he bought a luxury private jet for $8.4 million. Young receives $240,000 in annual personage allowance money, while making approximately 1.2 million dollars a year through the Fellowship Church.
7. Bishop Eddie Long
Some pastors take things too far and get caught as in the case of Eddie Long. From mid-1997 to early 2000, Long made $3 million as the head pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. He might have gotten a bit too reckless when he decided to siphon off another million dollars from his religious non-profit. And even after a very long investigation, Long’s army of lawyers allowed him to avoid any real repercussions.
Nowadays, Bishop Eddie Long doesn’t even try to seem modest. He redesigned his 1,400,000-dollar home and bought a nearby property extending his residence to almost 20 acres. Here’s the kicker: the pastor drives around in an exotic Bentley convertible.
8. Joel Osteen
In 2010, Pastor Joel Osteen made headlines when he sold his $2.9-million home and moved to a $10.5 mansion in a Huston-based private community. Osteen now has 17,000 square feet of hardwood floors but you know he’s not counting. With a net worth of around $40,000,000, the pastor spends most of his time writing. He stopped accepting his $200,000 church salary in 2005, after signing a 13 million dollar book deal.
Joel Osteen is among the pastors who almost saw the inside of a jail cell. Investigators weren’t able to prove fraud legally but everyone knew he did it. To explain 3 surprise allegations, Osteen claimed three robberies took place within the span of two months. Apparently, $700,000 cash was stolen (from the same safe, on 3 separate occasions) but the robbers were never reported by a 20,000-member congregation.
9. Benny Hinn
Pastor Hinn made his fortune as a televangelist and is famous for hosting “Healing Crusades”, which are huge Christian meetings centered on ‘spiritual healing’. Hinn still claims to have physically healed thousands of people, though an HBO documentary demonstrated the obvious – none of those people turned out to be healed. The pastor only declared people healed on national TV and gave them false hope. Those who fell to the floor from Hinn’s touch were clearly paid actors.
Benny Hinn was featured on six different Christian TV networks by 1995. When asked about his salary during that time, the pastor said he made $500k-$1 million a year until 2002. What he forgot to mention is that his salary is made up of donations. Hinn’s ministry also employed his wife and kids, who made about $325k combined as “General Staff”. Plus, the pastor also used donations to lease a private jet for 110,000 dollars a month.
10. Charles Blake
California’s largest super-church, the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, was a small community congregation until 1969, when Charles Blake was hired as head pastor. Today, it lists over 35,000 active members. Most Christians who belong to the church reside in the poorest L.A. neighborhood – the infamous South Central. Their donations payed for the pastor’s 10-million-dollar Beverly Hills mansion. And the 10,000 square ft. house isn’t Blake’s most ambitious architectural project. He payed a whopping $65 million for the mega-church’s new location. It’s an intricately designed cathedral that can accommodate up to 5,000 worshipers.
Pastor Blake makes $900,000 annually for holding services. He was named one of the most influential people of Los Angeles after his mega-church topped the list of LA’s must-see tourist attractions.
11. John Hagee
John Hagee is the head pastor of San Antonio’s largest congregation, the Cornerstone Church. He founded the church in 1972 and only started drawing a significant following a decade later. Once he had the funding, Hagee created the first Christian multi-media giant, named John Hagee Ministries.
Hagee was bold enough to name his salary in a 2004 interview but, after finding out the pastor-turned-CEO receives $900,000 a year, hundreds of his followers voiced strong disapproval. That was the last time Hagee commented about his finances. Next year, it was determined that he used $5.6 million from his non-profit’s Trust to purchase a ranch. The fact that it remained a secret for five years can probably be attributed to the private jet sitting on the property’s private landing strip.
12. Creflo Dollar
Someone should have wondered why a Michael Smith would change his (traditional Christian) name to Creflo Dollar before becoming a preacher. Maybe he secretly wanted to be a rapper. Pastor Dollar is responsible for the rise of World Change Church International, one of the three largest U.S.-based congregations. He is also a successful televangelist. His hit TV series – Changing Your World – was featured on four Cable Networks. Dollar was publicly discredited by numerous spiritual leaders after he purchased the most expensive private jet on the market.
Just when everyone thought he couldn’t be more obnoxious and disgraceful, Pastor Dollar bought himself a top-of-the-line Rolls Royce. His new $2.4 million dollar Manhattan apartment didn’t help either.
13. Kenneth Copeland
Pastor Kenneth Copeland has the largest estimated list of assets among American spiritual leaders. He doesn’t officially release his salary information, though experts agree on the $760,000,000 estimate. For some reason, Copeland claims to be worth over a billion dollars but denies to present his financial information. He lives on a 150-acre property with a lakeside view. His second private jet is worth $17 million and was fully funded by donations.
Why does Kenneth Copeland need a residence as big as 18,000 square feet? Well, his fleet of airplanes, which he lists as church property, takes up almost half of the house. And his private airport would look ridiculous next to anything smaller than a college campus.
14. Pat Robertson
Robertson is widely known as the host of “The 700 Club” and CEO of the CBN TV network. However, the media mogul made his first fortune as a Baptist. He didn’t have his own congregation but his corporations have religious non-profit status. Apparently, he’s worth just $100 million. Most of Robertson’s private assets are listed under his charities.
One of Robertson’s for-profit ventures turned out to be an African diamond mine. It wasn’t established how long it was in operation, or how much the would-be-pastor made from sales of precious gems.
15. Joyce Meyer
Joyce Meyer has been influential among Christians long before establishing her Evangelistic congregation in 2009. She started out as a radio talk-show host in 1985. By 1993, Mayer’s TV series – “Enjoying Everyday Life” – was aired on two Christian networks. It became a huge success and is still being broadcast on BET. In 2002, she was photographed in her husband’s $500k Mercedes Benz.
This pastor lives in a $2-million mansion. Meanwhile, Joyce Meyer Ministries is headquartered in a $22-million corporate-style building. Meyer commutes to work aboard a $10,000,000 private jet.