As the son of evangelical Christian missionaries, Paul Crouch has always understood the importance of using a powerful voice to reach the far ends of a crowd. Now, 40 years after he took a huge leap of faith and bought his first small TV station in Southern California, his Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) is using the power of technology to deliver the ministry’s message loud and clear to the far ends of the globe.
Founded and managed by Paul and his wife, Jan, TBN today is the second-largest U.S. broadcast-TV group, with 37 stations. The nonprofit church organization has five full-time satellite-delivered domestic networks available free of charge to cable and satellite operators across the country, as well as 19 separate channels available via international satellite and streamed via the Internet.
TBN’s programming is retransmitted by 18,000 broadcast and cable affiliates worldwide. Its domestic network has 92 million cable and satellite subscribers; another 8 million TV viewers receive TBN’s message via broadcast TV stations. The organization has a presence on almost every continent, with networks in 13 languages serving 22 countries.
It wasn’t always so grand. Paul Crouch was already a veteran of radio and TV, having spent 14 years working for various stations and organizations, when he and Jan launched TBN on a nearly defunct low-power station in Orange County, Calif., in May 1973. Several months later, they struck a deal to purchase their first station, KTBN-TV (channel 40) in nearby Fontana, a move that would dramatically expand their coverage in the Los Angeles area.
The pair had long been involved in Christian evangelism, and with the launch of TBN, their vision of delivering the gospel to a wider range of believers was finally realized. However, it was rough going at first. “While I had some background in producing TV programming, we had a sharp learning curve, to say the least,” Paul recalled. “No one had ever really attempted what we envisioned — and every day was an adventure.”
At the start, the station offered up religious programming for a few hours each night and the set was the epitome of simple: Jan bought a folding chair and shower curtain from Sears that served as a backdrop that Paul would sit in front of for his nightly show, Praise the Lord. In spite of its humble trappings, it was thrilling and exhilarating to have the opportunity to reach out to fellow Christians and the general public via television.
“So many people from around the area were thrilled to have Christian programming,” Jan said. “And they were so kind and encouraging as we were learning how to do Christian television.”
But after only a few days of operation, the euphoria everyone felt quickly evaporated. The station was broke. “You have to understand that our whole mindset was one of faith,” Paul said. “Faith in God and faith that our fellow Christians would partner with us. So when this first major crisis hit, we prayed and we reached out to our viewers.”
That combination, which the Crouches have turned to often over the past four decades, did the trick as viewers responded with support, and contributions and operations continued. Soon, the Crouches began building up the station’s lineup with more pastors, ministers and teachers. The station was decidedly non-denominational, but all the programming had an evangelical and Pentecostal bent and was hugely successful.
As they succeeded, the Crouches purchased other stations, first KPAZ-TV in Phoenix, Ariz., in 1977, followed by WHFT in Miami, Fla., three years later. Over the next 10 years, TBN added key stations in Oklahoma City, the New York City suburbs and Seattle, following up several years later with station buys in other key U.S. cities.
Meanwhile, in 1976, another major development offered momentum, as Paul became convinced of the need to embrace the emerging technology of satellite broadcasting in order for TBN to reach the Christian community nationwide. The process was arduous, tedious, and expensive. Nonetheless, he forged ahead, filling out application forms and buying the necessary equipment.
TAKING SATELLITE FLIGHT
On April 10, 1978, TBN broadcast its first satellite-delivered transmission during the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention in Las Vegas. “Getting into satellite was a major step of faith and finances for us,” Paul said. “But we knew that was the only way we could effectively broaden the influence of Christian television.”
The ministry continued to expand its broadcast footprint as it purchased stations all over the country. It also added an all-in-one mobile production and satellite uplink truck called the “Holy Beamer” that could be dispatched to Christian events around the country. The signals were beamed up to the satellite and delivered into viewers’ homes nationwide. Suddenly, TBN’s voice was more thunderous than ever.
Although he doesn’t have an email account, Paul Crouch is no slouch when it comes to adopting new technologies to expand the reach and accessibility of TBN’s voice. In addition to its early-adopter status as a satellite-delivered network, TBN has been streaming many of its shows since 2000. And in the past two years, the network has launched its iTBN.org website, along with a mobile app that gives viewers 24-7 access to many of TBN’s domestic and international networks, as well as an estimated 10,000 hours of faith- and family-friendly movies, programming and even retro on-demand video content.
Over the years, TBN has given a number of Christian personalities and pastors an electronic platform, among them Billy Graham, Joel and Victoria Osteen, T.D. Jakes, 1980s rap star MC Hammer and former Hollywood actor Kirk Cameron. And while TBN has been criticized in some conservative circles for its theology, the Crouches have remained unapologetic for their decision to partner with ministries representing a broad range of biblical teaching.
“It would be incorrect to imply that we’re tolerant of biblical error,” Paul said. “But our tent is big in welcoming those whose focus is reaching and helping people understand and express their faith in God.”
While TBN’s first decade was spent expanding its presence in the U.S., in 1984 the network officially launched its international effort when it took over two TV stations in the Caribbean. That same year, Paul signed a deal with Eutelsat to put TBN’s Praise the Lord program on a satellite covering 14 European countries, parts of Russia and all of North Africa. It also purchased a small broadcast station in Italy, which gave TBN the ability to deliver Christian programming to Italy and Switzerland. By the end of 1985, TBN would have three stations in Italy. At the same time, Paul set his sights on Africa and South America, where he and Jan launched several stations and networks.
One of the most successful expansion efforts was in Russia. With the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, a team of more than 200 TBN-aligned musicians and ministers, production technicians and others arrived in the country for an evangelistic outreach. Over the course of three days, some 70,000 Russians attended massive TBN-sponsored meetings in three cities.
It wasn’t long before TBN’s first Russian broadcast affiliate was launched in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Today, TBN Russia boasts six Christian networks that reach around the world, including a newly launched channel in Israel catering to the millions of Russian Jews who have moved there.
TBN vice president Matt Crouch, who joined the network full-time in 2007 after a career as a Christian filmmaker and TV producer, is intent on magnifying his parents’ international legacy. He has been instrumental in overseeing the construction and activation of high-tech studios in London, Jerusalem, Madrid and other major cities around the world.
Like his father, Matt has been combing the globe for partners and voices TBN can deliver to its viewers worldwide. Some of the ministry’s most popular voices have come from pastors on different continents. Case in point: Joseph Prince, a pastor originally from Singapore. His New Creation Church in Singapore has grown from about 150 when he first took over the church to more than 22,000 today. His show, Destined to Reign, is broadcast on TBN worldwide.
“My dad was a missionary, as was most of his family,” Matt said. “American missionaries have been exporting the gospel for over a century, and with TBN’s international networks we’re seeing a dramatic increase in fruit from the seeds these courageous men and women sowed long ago.”
In addition to the expansion of TBN’s worldwide footprint, the ministry has continued to develop unique networks to reach every Christian demographic. In 2000, TBN launched the Church Channel, a 24-hour network dedicated to broadcasting church services and ministry programs from a variety of Evangelical, Charismatic and Catholic churches and other Christian traditions.
In May of 2002 TBN followed up with the launch of Enlace, a Spanish-language channel that delivers around-the-clock Christian programming to the nation’s more than 50 million Hispanics. About 70% of Enlace’s programming comes from Latin America, while 30% of the Spanish language programming on the channel originates from the U.S.
Also in 2002 TBN launched JCTV, the first-ever 24-hour Christian youth network, aimed at teens and young adults ages 13 to 29. “Our goal from the beginning was to offer young people the type of cutting-edge programming that would rival what secular youth channels were airing, but with content that was clean and pulled kids into a dialogue about character and faith in God,” Mark McCallie, JCTV’s program director, said. “And I think we were successful right off the bat. We began pulling in viewers from around the world with JCTV’s mix of high-energy Christian music videos, extreme sports shows, and faith-based comedy and entertainment programs.”
TBN’s networks aren’t encrypted and the ministry doesn’t charge a license fee to distributors, Bob Higley, TBN’s vice president of worldwide distribution, said. “Our message of hope and inspiration is our mandate, so we don’t charge a license fee for our signal.”
About a third of TBN’s funding comes from other ministries that pay a cost-share fee to deliver their programs. TBN owns or licenses the other two-thirds of its programming mix.
Viewer donations are accepted, but the network doesn’t subscribe to the “give money and go to heaven” idea, Higley said. Every viewer that makes a donation to the ministry gets some sort of gift — DVDs, CDs, Christian books or special mementos.
The ministry has never gone into debt to expand, Higley said. Rather than go to a bank or sell part of the ministry to pay for something, Paul and Jan would wait until they could pay for it outright or they were creative in their expansion efforts.
BEYOND THE SCREEN
Not surprisingly, TBN’s ministry outreach has expanded beyond television, including its humanitarian effort Smile of a Child, which was born after Paul and Jan took a trip to Haiti in the late 1970s. The motivation for the organization came from Jan, who was deeply affected by the poverty and despair she saw, especially among the children. “My heart couldn’t let go of what I saw, and I determined to go back as soon as possible with help,” she said.
The effort started simply, with a shipment of 10,000 toys to Haitian children at Christmas time in 1979. Since that time, Smile of a Child has grown into a global outreach program that takes food, clothing, toys and medical help all over the world.
In 2005, TBN launched its own Smile of a Child kids’ network that broadcasts child-friendly Christian and educational programming globally 24 hours a day.
In 2007, TBN purchased Florida’s Holy Land Experience theme park for about $37 million. The Orlando-area attraction is near other media-owned theme parks, including Universal Studios Florida and Walt Disney World. Under TBN’s ownership, Holy Land Experience underwent new construction and the addition of fresh landscaping, exhibits, restaurants, and theaters, which feature live musical and theatrical productions.
The network also added the 2,000-seat Church of All Nations, a state-of-the-art auditorium that features live dramas, church services and concerts to supplement other popular Holy Land Experience attractions such as the reproduction of the Jerusalem street market, and vibrant scenes that take visitors back to biblical times. One of the park’s most impressive exhibits is the Scriptorium, which includes a collection of priceless biblical antiquities. There’s even a Smile of a Child Adventure Land, featuring a host of activities for children.
Throughout its 40-year history, TBN and the Crouches have withstood and overcome a broad range of challenges and obstacles, according to Colby May, TBN’s lead legal counsel. The organization had to fight to receive TV broadcast licenses; it fought challenges from cable operators regarding TBN’s “must-carry” rights; it has fended off personal and professional lawsuits by former employees and competitors; and it has even found itself on the opposite side of the legal aisle with members of its own family.
“Sad to say, litigation is part of life and part of doing business in America,” May said. “TBN and the Crouches have been challenged, but have prevailed every time. Have they gotten bloody a few times? Yes, but each trial has just strengthened their resolve.”
One of the greatest trials came in the 1990s when the renewal of TBN’s station in Miami, Fla., was challenged, with accusations that TBN had created a “sham” entity to circumvent the FCC’s multiple ownership limits.
Back then, FCC rules restricted a group owner from holding more than 12 full-power TV station licenses. If the owner was part of a “minority controlled” corporation, though, it could own two additional stations.
To hold the two additional licenses, TBN created National Minority Television Inc. (NMTV), a non-profit ministry whose controlling board of directors was comprised mostly of members of minority groups. The case dragged on at the FCC and in court for nearly seven years, with the regulator denying the renewal of TBN’s station in Miami by ruling — for the first time — that its rule for “minority control” required minority-group members to have daily operational control, as well as control of the board of directors.
Ultimately, TBN was victorious at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which vacated the FCC’s rulings and confirmed that TBN had acted properly, and held that the FCC had never given notice that anything more than control of the board of directors was needed to comply with its rules.
May recalled that TBN’s standing to remain a qualified FCC licensee was on the line. “If it had not prevailed at the Court of Appeals, TBN could have lost all of its broadcast licenses, and the ministry would have been stopped dead,” he said.
“Even in the face of this enormous and unrelenting pressure, Dr. Crouch remained steadfast,” May said. “Like Nehemiah in the Old Testament, who in the face of great opposition responded to God’s call to rebuild the walls of the Temple in Jerusalem, Dr. Crouch persevered in what God had called him to do. Paul and Jan have never backed down from pursuing the vision of covering the earth with Christian television. They — and now Matt — have continued to build and expand TBN despite all the obstacles they have encountered along the way.”
A NEW GENERATION
Paul still comes into the office every day, Matt said. But the younger Crouch is slated to take the reins of TBN once Paul steps down from the daily operations of the ministry. Indeed, Paul gave his blessing to Matt’s ascension as the ministry’s CEO last September during a TBN Praise the Lord program broadcast live from Caesarea, Israel, during one of the network’s popular Holy Land tours.
In recent years, as TBN has expanded, the network has also been giving away assets. In April TBN donated its 50,000-watt Caribbean AM radio station, Radio Paradise, to Flowing Streams Church in Vero Beach, Fla., which will use it to continue broadcasting the Christian message throughout the Caribbean region. TBN valued the donation at about $500,000.
And in 2011, TBN donated more than 150 low-power TV stations to the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, a nonprofit organization that assists minorities, women, and under-represented communities in purchasing and operating television and radio stations. That multimillion- dollar transaction represented one of the largest donations of such frequencies in broadcast history.
As the ministry enters its fifth decade, TBN is poised to continue its mission of spreading the gospel to as many people around the world as possible with a loud and clear voice. “When I came on board with TBN in 2007, I realized my mom and dad didn’t fully realize they had created the largest Christian voice in history,” Matt said. “They never intended to be the face of the ministry long-term. Dad was a businessman first. But people listened to him and my mom. Now, we’re adding new international voices.”
Looking back over the past 40 years, Paul Crouch said that he is still awestruck over the extent of TBN’s success. “We certainly had faith that God would bless our efforts,” he said. “But as we went on the air that first night, May 28, 1973, I am sure we never envisioned that one day TBN would span the globe with over 20 networks and tens of thousands of stations broadcasting 24 hours a day.
“I feel tremendous confidence with the ability and vision of the next generation of TBN leadership, as this network continues to embrace technology and innovation to broadcast the good news all over the world.”
May 28: TBN goes on the air with signature show, Praise the Lord
Aug. 2: Federal Communications Commission approves license of KTBN-TV
April 24: First Holy Land Tour
May 18: TBN breaks ground for Tustin, Calif., studio
April 16: TBN moves into Tustin studio April 16: First Shrine Auditorium Good Friday rally
Dec. 23: First live Christian satellite broadcast from Jerusalem
Jan. 1: TBN’s first 24-hour broadcast
May 1: TBN originates a live broadcast from Mount of Olives
July 21: TBN’s second station, KPAZ-TV Phoenix, launches
April 10: TBN broadcasts Praise the Lord via satellite to the NAB convention in Las Vegas
April 23: Dedication of TBN Orphanage in Haiti
May 13: Studio C completed
June 14-16: Indonesia crusade
May 15: “Holy Beamer,” the network’s mobile TV studio, is launched
July 21: TBN’s third station, WHFT-TV in Miami, Fla., goes on the air
Jan. 26: Paul Crouch receives Merit Award for Outstanding Service from NRB
March 9: Fourth station, KTBO-TV in Oklahoma City, launches
October: His Hand Extended ministry established
July 13: Station No. 5, WTBY-TV in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on the air
Aug. 5: Station No. 6, WKOITV Richmond/Cincinnati, on the air
Feb. 3: President Reagan declares 1983 “The Year of the Bible”
May 28: TBN celebrates 10th anniversary
June 6: TBN Peace Award presented to former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin
February: TBN’s first affiliate network, Tri-State Christian TV, launches
March 30: Station No. 7, KTBW-TV Seattle/Tacoma, goes on the air
July 6: TBN signs contract with Eutelsat to broadcast into Europe
August: TBN carries International Kick-Off Rally for 1984 Olympics
Nov. 13: First international station, Nevis St. Kitts TV 13, goes on the air
April 29: Station in Campoine, Italy, goes on the air More than 400 cable affiliates carry TBN
May 16: FCC grants TBN eight station permits in a single day
June: WDLI-TV 17, Canton/ Akron/Cleveland, Ohio, begins broadcasting
December: Second international station launches in Ciskei, South Africa
January: KDTX-TV, Dallas/Ft. Worth, goes on the air
March:WCLJ-TV in Indianapolis goes on the air
March: The King of Tonga visits TBN
TBN has more than 100 TV stations and affiliates
March: NRB gives Paul Crouch and TBN special award for building the most foreign TV stations in the history of U.S. Christian broadcasting
March: TBN wins 12 Religion in Media Angel Awards
May 28: TBN’s 15th Anniversary
March: Milan, Italy on the air
April: South Africa approves nationwide Christian TV network
TBN has more than 150 TV stations and affiliates
March: San Jose, Costa Rica, station goes on the air
March: TBN wins 16 Religion in Media Angel Awards
May: San Salvador, El Salvador, station goes on the air
December: TBN USA reaches 25 million households
Feb. 22: WHSG-TV Atlanta goes on the air
May: TBN conducts missionary journey to Russia
August: Arbitron rates TBN America’s “most watched religious TV service”
April 19: TBN broadcasts Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service
Aug. 30: Managua, Nicaragua, station goes on the air
TBN has more than 300 TV stations and affiliates
May: Paul Crouch’s autobiography, I Had No Father But God, is published
May 28: International Production Center dedicated in Texas on TBN’s 20th anniversary
November: TBN adds closed captioning services
March: TBN purchases Music Village and Twitty City outside Nashville
June 15: Rome station goes on the air
June 3: Trinity Music City opens
October: TBN establishes Internet site
TBN has more than 500 TV stations and affiliates
March: TBN launches on Dish Network
April: TBN broadcasts audio signal on World Wide Web
June: Madrid, Spain on the air
December: TBN Latino network begins satellite broadcasting
April: TBN launches on DirecTV
April: TBN broadcasts audio and video signal over World Wide Web
June: KAAH-TV, Honolulu, Hawaii, goes on the air
July: Uganda station goes on the air
Nov. 21: WWTO-TV, LaSalle/Chicago, goes on the air
May 28: Trinity Christian City International is dedicated on TBN’s 25thAnniversary
May 28: 12 satellites carry TBN’s signal to the world
TBN has more than 700 TV stations and affiliates worldwide
January: India goes on the air
July: Kenya goes on the air
Oct. 15: Movie Omega Code is released into theaters
December: TBN USA reaches 50 million households
May 5: Federal court victory saves station in Miami
May 10: FCC approves 24 stations in one day
November: Church Channel debuts
December: 420 stations on the air
April: TBN begins plans for HDTV transition
May: TBN Enlace USA launches
November: JCTV launches
January: Seven new satellites launch
May 28: TBN’s 30th anniversary
April: TBN carried on 43 satellites
Oct. 1: Philadelphia station signs on the air
December: TBN USA reaches 75 million households
May: Healing Channel launches
Dec. 24: Smile of a Child TV launches
May: Virginia Beach on the air
September: TBN launches in Orlando
March: TBN programs on 66 satellite channels
May: TBN available on mobile phones
June: TBN acquires Holy Land Experience theme park
May: TBN installs hundreds of home satellite dishes in Sri Lanka
June: New TBN studio in New York City opens
August: New TBN station in Columbus, Ohio, launches
October: TBN’s Denver station launches
Feb. 18: TBN goes 100% digital
Jan. 10: TBN begins humanitarian outreach to Haiti earthquake survivors
February: TBN introduces iPhone app
December: TBN USA reaches 100 million households
June: TBN Shalom goes on the air in Israel
September: iTBN online portal launches
Sept. 4: TBN hosts 1,800 on Holy Land tour
October: New studio in Jerusalem
January: New international production facility in London
May 28: TBN celebrates 40 years of Christian
TV TBN’S FOUNDING FAMILY
Paul Crouch, Sr.
Background: Paul, a son of Pentecostal missionaries, was born in St. Joseph, Mo. He began his career in broadcasting by helping to build an oncampus educational AM station, KCBI-AM, while a student at Central Bible Institute and Seminary. He married his wife, Jan, in 1957. In 1961, Paul was appointed by the General Council of the Assemblies of God to organize and operate their newly-formed Department of Television and Film Production in Burbank, Calif. After spending the next several years holding management positions at various TV stations, Paul formed Trinity Broadcasting Network in 1973.
Interesting Fact: Paul has received three honorary doctorates: a Doctor of Litterarum in 1981 from the California Graduate School of Theology, Glendale, Calif.; a Doctor of Divinity in 1983 from the American Christian Theological Seminary in Anaheim, Calif.; and a Doctor of Laws degree in 1985 from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.
Background: Jan is the child of Pentecostal ministers. Her father helped found what is now Southeastern University, a Christian university in Lakeland, Fla. She met Paul when she was a student at Evangel College in Springfield, Mo. They married in 1957. Paul and Jan have two children: Paul Jr. and Matt. Jan formed the Smile of a Child Foundation in 2005. The foundation is a humanitarian relief organization providing medical supplies, food, clothes, and toys to underprivileged children around the world. She has also been instrumental in TBN’s purchase and daily operations of the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando, Fla.
Interesting Fact: In May, 2009, the United Nations officially recommended the Smile of a Child Foundation to receive special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council for the Democracy Coalition Project.
Vice President, TBN
Background: Matt was born in Muskegon, Mich., where his parents worked as assistant pastors at a local Assemblies of God outpost. Matt married Laurie Orndorff in 1985. They have two sons, Caylan and Cody. Matt spent his youth working behind the scenes at TBN in its formative years. He eventually became the producer of the network’s flagship program, Praise the Lord. He later produced a Christian music video series, Real Videos, and a children’s program, Kids’ Club, for the network with his wife, Laurie.
In 1995 Matt and Laurie Crouch co-founded Gener8Xion Entertainment, a Christian fi lm studio based in Hollywood. Matt rejoined TBN’s board in 2007 and has worked for the ministry ever since.
Interesting Fact: His first feature as a producer — The Omega Code — was the No. 1 grossing limited- release film of 1999, according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).