The Really Big Business of Bethel Church, Part 1: Show us the Money!

Anyone who lives in Redding knows the name “Bethel.” Our small conservative community is certainly church-friendly, but Bethel takes church to another level, drawing a cult following from around the world.

Some locals have even worried it is a cult. And that’s partially because it’s grown so big. Just how big? According to its annual report from 2018, Bethel Church reports a whopping 11,233 congregants who “call Bethel Redding home”. Of these, more than 6,000 people attend weekly. (Notably, 45% percent of their attendees are under the age of 25, and more than half of those are minors. )

Image from cover of 2018 Bethel Church annual report.

Still, with that many members and attendees, Bethel Church must bring in significant income. After all, members sign a “commitment” in which they agree to tithe to the church. Although, as far as I know, the church does nothing to ensure this giving happens – it’s purely voluntary. And it appears their giving policies pay off. Or that God is at work in new and lucrative ways. Probably both. Because Bethel is making big money. In fiscal year 2017-2018, according to its annual report, Bethel Church pulled in $21.6 million in income JUST from “tithes and offerings”.

For those not familiar with church-speak, the tithe is a Biblical principle, considered by many Christians to be a requirement. It’s a gift to your local church of 10% of your income, sometimes called the “first fruits” of your “harvest”. “Offerings” are gifts of money above and beyond the tithe.

But that’s not all. Even more fascinating was learning about Bethel’s additional funding sources. Most churches receive almost all their income from tithes and offerings. In fact, the concept of the tithe is based on the principle that since churches are organizations dedicated to serving God and humanity, they won’t have time for money earning activities and require tithes and offerings as an income source. However I recently learned that Bethel’s income from tithes and offerings, large though it is, makes up only 35% of their annual income.

In fiscal year 2017/2018, Bethel Church reported almost $60.8 million in overall income. And per its annual report, the bulk of that income came from sales, services and royalties, not from traditional tithes and offerings.

Sales? What sales? What exactly is this non-profit selling? No, not snake oil, as many have speculated. They’re selling culture. Specifically, they’re selling media that incorporates the “kingdom culture” they teach and seek to live, in friendly, bright, well-marketed, expertly designed packages.

Eric Johnson photo and text from page three of Bethel Church’s 2018 annual report.

They do this primarily via two significant income earning entities, nestled under Bethel Church’s non-profit wings: Bethel TV and Bethel Music. Bethel TV is a department within Bethel Media and streams on air in more than 150 countries worldwide to 19,000 paid subscribers. They also offer free live streaming of Bethel Church’s weekly Sunday morning service. Bethel Music is played on Christian radio stations around America, downloaded nationally and internationally via Spotify and iTunes and streamed on YouTube. Bethel Music includes a record label, publishing company, and events department. They hold live events around the country which drew in approximately 125,000 participants last year, again per the church’s annual report.

These two entities, together with “product sales” are the source of Bethel Church’s sales, service and royalties income, which makes up 38% of Bethel’s overall income, or just over $23 million.

They file their I-990s under tax code 509(a)(3), by classifying themselves as “supporting organizations” to Bethel Church, hence their non-profit status. Per the IRS, “a supporting organization is an organization that carries out its exempt purposes by supporting other exempt organizations.”

Bethel Church Communications Director, Aaron Tesauro, clarified for me that the church pays sales tax on all product sales.

I should mention here that sales, service and royalty income reported by the church does not include royalties from the many books written by Bethel leaders, or the fees paid for these leaders’ speaking engagements around the country and the world. This income goes directly to the individuals or their personal non-profits, and the amounts are not reflected in Bethel Church’s numbers.

So far we’ve discussed tithes and offerings ($21.6 million) and sales, services and royalties ($23 million). Additionally, Bethel earns income from their multiple school tuitions which provide $13.7 million, or 22.5% of their total earnings. These include fees paid by students of the three years of Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, fees paid by parents of kids enrolled at Bethel Christian School (K-8), as well as tuition from students of WorshipU (an online as well as on site summer worship school), Bethel Conservatory of the Arts, and Bethel School of Technology. Their online Leadership Development Program also draws tuition-paying students. And word on the street is that a new school, Bethel Business School, is opening soon.

Fair enough, with Bethel’s own big (non-profit) businesses booming, they must have some special wisdom to impart.

Image from 2018 Bethel Church annual report.

And there’s more . . . .Bethel Church is growing even bigger, and its growth is the source of yet more funding. Their brand new worship center and ministry school will be located on Collyer Drive, not far from Bethel’scurrent location on College View, and once built will be, I’m told by sources, the single largest building existing in Redding to date. ( I could not confirm this.) Bethel has an Office of Advancement, with the purpose of networking and fundraising for this building, under a project titled “Arise and Build.” (tagline: Expanding our Capacity to Establish Heaven on Earth.)

Image from 2018 Bethel Church annual report.

Last year, BSSM allocated $1 million to fund the project and this advance team’s efforts; an investment which paid off handsomely. The Office of Advancement is funded by BSSM tuition income, not tithes and offerings. Donors have given $36.2 million in gifts or commitments to the building project since its inception. Bethel’s Office of Advancement still has work to do, though, as the project remains far from funded. At current estimates, it will cost about $148.8 million to finish the project, per their website.

(Editor’s note: The original text in the above paragraph regarding the source of the $1 million was incorrect. The paragraph has been revised and corrected.)

Bethel Church growth graphic from 2018 Bethel Church annual report.

In partial response to my questions, Bethel Church shared this statement with me:

“Bethel Church has a high value for integrity, transparency, and good stewardship, and as such, each year we conduct a financial statement audit through an independent accounting firm. Bethel’s Annual Report is built upon these fully audited financials.”

I was happy to hear of Bethel’s value for transparency, as that’s my goal, too. I think few Bethel attendees, let alone community members, know just how much income the church has. And while financial audits are important and valuable, they don’t tell the whole story on organizational finance.

Bethel Church’s $60.8 million income is a bit mind boggling to those of us who have driven up College View Drive to see the nondescript building on the hill, surrounded by immaculate landscaping and a driveway lined by international flags. It’s pretty, but not all that much to look at, and one imagines that they are a low-budget operation, accomplishing great things for the Lord on minimal donations. But Bethel Church turns out to be something much different; a really big business.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

###

Author’s note: I have written in detail about only the three largest income percentages Bethel Church documents in their annual report. The additional approximately 4% of their income is made up of event registrations, totaling between $2-3 million.

Editor’s note: Annelise Pierce is a graduate of Bethel’s ministry school and a former member of Bethel Church.  

Annelise Pierce
Annelise Pierce is fascinated by the intersection of people and policy. She has a special interest in criminal justice, poverty, mental health and education. Her long and storied writing career began at age 11 when she won the Louisa May Alcott Foundation's Gothic Romance short story competition. (Spoiler alert - both hero and heroine die.) Annelise welcomes your (civil) interactions at AnnelisePierce@anewscafe.com
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51 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Having grown up in Salt Lake City I can see a correlation between the Mormon Church and Bethel. But Bethel has a long way to go to even approach the level of influence the Mormon Church has. Heck, the Osmonds pay more tithe than Bethel gets from their members. And Bethel Music, described by Promise Keepers as candy for pedophiles, has a long way to go to reach the level of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
    The big difference I see between Bethel and the Mormon Church is the Mormons have evolved over the years to be more main stream while Bethel seems to be carving it’s own non-conformist role.
    Great and informative article on Bethel. As Bethel news does not seem to reach beyond Redding the articles on Anews are my only source.

  2. Avatar Doug Cook says:

    What is it with A News Cafe and Bethel? This is like the fourth anti Bethel article in the past 30 days. Good grief

    • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

      Doug, when all the anti Trump articles were on Anews I wrote a LTTE favorable of Trump and it was printed. Likewise when some commenters said there were never articles about Clinton I wrote a LTTE about Clinton and it was printed. Nothing is stopping you from writing a LTTE favorable of Bethel With all your posting you obviously have time.

    • Annelise Pierce Annelise Pierce says:

      I’m sorry to hear you refer to this as an anti Bethel article. Certainly not my intent. I wrote this piece to provide readers with access to information that I found both fascinating and important.

      • Avatar Doug Cook says:

        I apologize Annalise…I originally skimmed through your article at 5:00 this morning, not the best time if the day for me. After re- reading it later, I agree that your article was fair and balanced.. thank you.

        • Annelise Pierce Annelise Pierce says:

          A heartfelt apology is a rare thing. Thank you! Making a story fair and balanced is one of the hardest parts. Thank you for appreciating.

    • Avatar Alice Bell says:

      I disagree that this illuminating article about Bethel Church is “anti Bethel”. Ms Pierce simply relays information that is public as is required for non-profit organizations. It’s information that some of us are too lazy to research on our own.

  3. Avatar Patricia Barrett says:

    I think it’s debatable as to whether believers actually view the tithe as voluntary, since Bethel leaders teach that “God” considers not paying the tithe (and beyond) to be “robbery” and “idolotry”.

    In Bethel CEO Bill Johnson’s “Ten Points on Tithing” below, he also maintains that the tithe is “for the priests” to do with as they please, and that congregants have no say in how their money is spent (it’s my understanding that the biblical tithe was a small portion of a person’s crops and livestock every few months to help feed widows, orphans, the elderly, and the disabled, which a biblical passage Johnson misquotes seems to bear out).

    Johnson’s article also mentions providing loans to congregants at a whopping 20 percent interest (business loans?), which would be another source of Bethel’s income.

    https://oslo.church/read/billjohnson-tenpoints-tithing

    • Avatar Patricia Barrett says:

      Below is another article from Bethel’s second-in-command Kris Vallotton in which he maintains that “God” requires his supplicants to pay the tithe (and a generous offering beyond that) before paying any of their bills, or even buying food. He also advises that if they can’t afford to pay rent after paying the church first, they should find a cheaper living arrangement. He describes not giving generously enough to the church as “embezzlement”, and again stresses that congregants have no say in how their money is spent.

      https://krisvallotton.com/should-i-tithe-when-im-in-debt-and-5-other-common-tithing-questions-answered/

      • Avatar Patricia Barrett says:

        Finally, it’s also worth noting that as “prosperity gospel” preachers Bethel leaders live lavish lifestyles at their congregant’s expense. Astin Martins (which Bill Johnson drives) run into the six figures, and Kris Vallotton’s corvettes are in the $60,000.00-plus range.

        https://churchwatchcentral.com/2018/04/03/god-keys-kris-vallottons-red-corvette-see-the-strong-delusion-in-action/

        • Annelise Pierce Annelise Pierce says:

          Patricia: You don’t cite any evidence to back your claim that Bethel leaders “live lavish lifestyles at their congregants expense”. The fact that they are senior leaders of the congregation and the fact that they have expensive cars may be correlated but I don’t see proven causation at the expense of congregants. In fact as I mention in the article, there is significant opportunity for additional income for these leaders outside of the revenue the church has. It’s important to stick to the facts, otherwise we weaken legitimate concerns.

      • Annelise Pierce Annelise Pierce says:

        These are helpful links since they appear to be direct messages from two of Bethel’s senior leaders. Thank you for sharing. Please clarify for me your source for “Johnson’s article mentions providing loans to congregants at a whopping 20 percent interest”.

        • Avatar Patricia Barrett says:

          Annelise – The statement regarding loans being available at 20 percent interest can be found in the article I linked (in Bethel leader Bill Johnson’s own words).

          Also, we have no way of knowing exactly where the salaries of Bethel leaders come from or even what they are (since – being a “church” – Bethel is apparently not required to make that information public). However, even if those salaries came exclusively from the sale of books, etc. rather than actual tithes and offerings, I think we can probably assume that most of the people buying those items are also Bethel adherents, which would perhaps have been a better, more inclusive word than “congregants”.

          Bethel is a textbook example of a “prosperity gospel” church, in which the poor and otherwise afflicted are supposedly being punished by god for living sinful lives, while the well-off are being rewarded for their godliness and virtue (general information below). This allows prosperity gospel preachers to live lives of luxury as “proof” that they are favored by god, and who claim that their followers can also be similarly rewarded if they donate enough money to the church. In my years of research into Bethel I’ve seen no indication that Bethel leaders are struggling financially in any way. In fact, quite the opposite.

          https://medium.com/we-know-what-we-know/prosperity-gospel-scam-5543be96d8c3

          • Annelise Pierce Annelise Pierce says:

            I guess you are referring to this statement:
            5) Question: Can we borrow the tithe?
            Answer: Yes, at 20 percent interest. «If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it» – (Leviticus 27:31)

            I find this entire statement very unclear and can’t ascertain what exactly BJ is referring to here. You could be right that this is a reference to providing loans at 20% interest but it doesn’t seem to me an obvious inference. Thanks for your clarification.

          • Avatar Patricia Barrett says:

            Annelise,

            It would be impossible to encapsulate my long years of extensive research and personal experience with Bethel and its adherents in the comments here, or to convey all the experiences of the one-thousand-plus members of a group I belong to who research Bethel. Some of my remarks are based on things I and others have seen, conversations we’re had with people associated with Bethel, etc. I felt that Bill Johnson’s admission that loans are available through the church at 20 percent interest was enough to support that particular claim.

            And thank you for your very detailed, well-written article.

  4. Thank you, Annelise, for this informative column. I look forward to Part 2.

    (And thank you, Aaron Tesauro, for your willingness to respond to Annelise for this piece.)

    • Annelise Pierce Annelise Pierce says:

      Mr. Tesauro was prompt and thorough in his responses to my queries and I deeply appreciated his attention to my detailed questions. Responsiveness to the press is one indication of organizational health and something we don’t always see even from our local government officials.

    • Avatar Aaron Tesauro says:

      Doni, of course!
      Annelise, thank you for your thoughtful questions.

  5. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    Nice work Annelise. $60 million from the church, the BSSM, Bethel Music and TV is an enormous haul, and as you point out, there are dozens of individual ministries that operate as their own nonprofit religious organizations, so the total is certainly much higher than $60 million. It would be interesting in Part 2 to see how much state sales tax Bethel generates, so we can ballpark the economic benefit for the county. It would also be interesting to see how that income is distributed within the Bethel network. What, for example, is Bill Johnson’s total income? Again, nice work!

    • Avatar Patricia Barrett says:

      It would also be informative to know how much local real estate Bethel owns, since that property has all been taken off local tax rolls, and would figure into the financial impact Bethel has on the area. And I assume Bethel’s 39 acre, $148 Million upcoming mega-church campus will also not generate any property taxes for the City, while increasing the demand on already stretched-to-the-limit local services.

      • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

        Patricia, that would be a good question about how much non-taxed real estate Bethel owns in Redding. I would think after years of research by you and your thousand member group you would have that answer available.

        • Avatar Patricia Barrett says:

          Bruce,

          Nope. It could be an insurmountable challenge for someone outside its administration to come up with an accurate analysis of everything Bethel owns and/or controls given its steady monumental growth, and its vast number of “ministries” and agents.

  6. Avatar Linda Cooper says:

    Annelise, I had no idea – $60.8 million! So thank you for the informative article. I remain curious about the reasons why a church like this, and other high income producing churches, attract so many. However, “formal” religion has always been a mystery to me. When a church grows into the $60.8 million range, and perhaps more, it starts feeling like a business, and not a church to me. Anyway, looking forward to Part 2 for sure.

  7. Avatar Roxanna Zalesny says:

    Nothing negative or anti-Bethel here. This piece presents informational facts effectively without an apparent slant. Facts are the way people can ascertain truth. Accurate information is essential to build a knowledge base. As for ANC’s coverage of Bethel. It’s a news source for the Redding area. Some people are interested in news regarding business, media, arts and entertainment, religion, and education. Bethel is influencing all of these areas. As such, they will continue to be featured in Redding news.

  8. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    For money comparison BYU football generates $65 million a year. Provo is about the same size as Redding, 117.000.

  9. Avatar Chris Solberg says:

    What should be offensive to any believer is the idea that Bethel can sell the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. You supposedly can pay for a weekend seminar and learn how to become a prophet, teacher, healer, miracle worker etc when the Bible plainly states it is the Holy Spirit decides which believers get which gifts.

    Indeed we can read the Bible and see what happened to Beth (House) El (God) and how it became Beth (House) aven ( house of nothingness; i.e., “of idols”) Spiritually Bethel has elevated the Golden calves and it is incredibly profitable.

    “Nothing new under the sun”

    https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/beth-aven/

  10. Avatar CODY says:

    Very interesting article, thank you for sharing that info.

    Also interesting that the guy in the photo is wearing a hat in church…

  11. Avatar Candace C says:

    I sent the following email to Info@bethel.com on April 1st. I’ve yet to hear back (I realize my error of incorrectly referring to Aaron Tesauro as “Mrs.”).

    “Good evening,
    I’m responding to a written invitation extended by Aaron Tesauro ( In a comment she made on anewscafe.com) to directly ask your staff the question as to whether your church offers small business loans to local businesses whom are members of your church. I’d rather hear from you directly than make assumptions.
    Thank you”

    • Annelise Pierce Annelise Pierce says:

      Candace: I reached out to Aaron Tesauro regarding your question. Here is his response: No, Bethel does not offer personal or business loans. (This rumor seems to be due to an inaccurate understanding of an interview with Bill Johnson posted by a church in Norway on tithing. Bill answers a question about a person borrowing from their own tithe and what the Bible says about that in Leviticus 27:31. This verse has nothing to do with a church giving a loan.)

    • Avatar Aaron Tesauro says:

      Hi Candace,
      I’m glad you posted this comment, or I wouldn’t have known about this issue! I’ve asked Bethel’s front desk team to look through all emails that came in on April 1 to find out what the hold up is. In the church office, we do our best to reply to all emails within a couple weeks – especially questions from the local community.

  12. Avatar Candace C says:

    * Or rather “she”

  13. Avatar Candace C says:

    Also, impressive investigative journalism, thank you for your work.

    • Avatar Patricia Barrett says:

      Candace,

      A Bethel representative (I’m not sure that it was the person you contacted) denied these loans in this forum under another article, but had nothing further to say when I offered the statement from Bill Johnson I posted above.

      Rather than get into my opinion of Bethel’s truthfulness (or lack thereof) when it comes to activities that further what it considers its god-given right to dominate the 7 Mountains (government, business, education, media, entertainment, religion, and family), I’m just going to post the link below. First up is a video of Lance Wallnau (who has co-written books with Bethel leader Bill Johnson on world religious domination) describing their plans to “sneak” into positions of power, and to implement a religious government and society based on Old Testament law. This should speak to how “truthful” they may or may not be, in their own words.

      https://thechurchoftruth.org/plan-for-christian-domination/

  14. Avatar Candace C says:

    Patricia, My email to Bethel was in response to one of R.V.’s previous columns to which Mr. Tesauro commented on and suggested to ask Bethel direct questions rather than reading opinion ( I don’t remember the actual wording he used). So I did. As I mentioned previously, as of today I’ve yet to hear back. I also called the Methodist Church and left a message for the pastor that I had a question I wanted to ask which was also in response to an ANC piece. It was not a lighthearted question. The pastor called me back. Twice. We had an honest, candid conversation and he was appreciative of the fact that I took the time to inquire and I was appreciative of him being willing to return my call.

    • Avatar Patricia Barrett says:

      I’m not surprised at the lack of response to your email from Bethel. Based on my own experience its staff doesn’t spend much – if any – time on people who it doesn’t feel are likely to be prospective marks.

  15. Avatar Candace C says:

    Patricia, …which is I guess me saying I’m not feeling the “transparency” thing regarding Bethel. To be fair, perhaps my question didn’t reach the right person or perhaps they decided it’s none of my business. Dunno.

  16. Avatar Patricia Barrett says:

    I had a little trouble with the “transparency” claim above. Per the article, Bethel’s spokesperson claims an “independent” audit is conducted every year. However, Bethel leaders also recently claimed that an “independent company” conducted a survey that “proves” graduates of its supernatural school are very successful in general, have longer-lasting marriages than the population at large, etc. It turns out that the so-called “independent company” (link below) is basically just a hired gun for religious organizations. In this case it would have been informative to know exactly who conducts Bethel’s annual audit.

    https://www.eidoresearch.com/

    • Annelise Pierce Annelise Pierce says:

      Patricia, I reached out to Aaron Tesauro regarding your question. Here is his response: “D. H. Scott & Company performed our financial statement audit.”

  17. Avatar Chris Solberg says:

    Signs and wonders…. I suppose in future articles you will explore Bethel Church’s manifestations. It certainly is the big money making draw at Bethel. Gold dust, Feathers falling….. People falling and writhing on the ground making strange sounds, yelling they are on fire, passing out on the floor… All of this supposed to be under the unction of the Holy Spirit. But how can we be sure?

    Best be spiritually in shape to do this….

    Ask them one question while they are manifesting….. A sure fire test to defiantly see if indeed this truly is the Holy Spirit while they are writhing on the floor….

    If they cannot answer this question you should be afraid….

    Heck all of Redding should be afraid….

    1 John 4

    I believe we are ground zero of a much bigger plan God has in store,

    And He has no problem using fear as an instrument of His Salvation…….

  18. Avatar Chris Solberg says:

    1 John 4

    Love for God and One Another

    4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess [a]that Jesus [b]Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

  19. Avatar Chris Solberg says:

    2 Thessalonians 2

    9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

  20. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Thank you so much Annelise for this well researched and factual article. I can so see why young people are enthralled and drawn in by the superb music and exciting events at Bethel. Who isn’t moved by music? I’m wondering if there isn’t a tiny part of every young person that wants to abdicate control of their lives and give in to a powerful force. I do worry about how happy and successful young Bethel students will be as they move on with their lives after their education is complete…with skills that don’t seem as marketable as other skills they might have gained at an accredited school.

  21. Avatar Tim says:

    $60 million was gross income, right? Does the annual report show net income or list expenses?

    • Annelise Pierce Annelise Pierce says:

      Well I can’t give away everything in the first article, now can I? 🙂 Stay tuned.

  22. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    I missed the boat on this yesterday. I’ll try to be more timely for Part 2.

    Besides, I’ve had my say on Bethel. https://anewscafe.com/2018/04/24/redding/to-my-gay-friends-my-bethel-friends-and-my-gay-bethel-friends/

  23. Avatar David Boone says:

    Given their fissiparous “microchurch” community model, their missionary fervor, and their Dominionist “invade and conquer” agenda, combined with the fact that everything they do involves “pushing product”, Bethel is clearly more a Multi-Level Marketing scam than a church.

  24. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Annelise, you have shown how to write an impartial article and even had questions answered by your subject, something others on here have claimed not possible. You have raised the bar for journalism on Anews. I look forward to Part 2.

  25. Avatar Heather Wylie says:

    Excellent investigative journalism! Chris