Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) has an enormous reach today. Paul Crouch and his wife Jan started their dream of sharing Christ through media with a single, bare bones show, and it has grown beyond their wildest dreams. These Assemblies of God ministers just wanted to reach their neighbors with the gospel, but God has given them a voice throughout the U.S. and in countries all over the world and in other languages. In addition to the parent network, four stations broadcast in America. JCTV features youthful programming for teenagers and young adults. Smile of a Child has biblical and encouraging children’s shows for kids up to twelve years old. TBN Enlace is the new Spanish language network, and the Church Channel is devoted to preaching around the clock. Outside of the U.S., TBN now has fourteen international networks. With all of this success and influence, the basic format has never changed. The story of TBN is really the story of the Crouches and the journey that God has given them.
A young Paul Crouch and his new wife, Jan, moved to Rapid City, South Dakota to take positions as assistant pastors in a small church. When the couple moved, they had no idea that it was the beginning of a journey that would birth the largest Christian broadcasting network in the world. Today, Trinity Broadcasting Network reaches millions of viewers in more than thirty countries. Paul’s original plan for ministry was not about appearing on TV, but that is exactly what happened.
Paul is the son of one of the founders of the Assemblies of God denomination. He grew up in church and always felt called to ministry. Even before he entered adulthood, he had a dream of taking the gospel to Egypt as a missionary, but political turmoil in that part of the world kept him from gaining entrance to the country. Undeterred, Paul then enrolled at the Central Bible Institute, an Assemblies of God Bible college and seminary in Springfield, Missouri. He remembered that when he was still in high school, he discovered ham radio and loved it. He knew that he wanted the gospel to be his life’s work and discovered that the device could take that message around the globe. After graduating from college he used that talent to manage the Assemblies’ film department until he and Jan took that first pastoral job in South Dakota. While they worked at the church, Paul found a job as an announcer for a country music station and helped launch and manage a small NBC affiliate. It seemed that broadcasting was in his blood.
Not long after, in the early 1970’s, Paul and Jan moved to the Los Angeles area where he helped launch a Christian television station. It wasn’t long before he wanted to go out on his own. He found an opportunity and leased his first station, hoping to earn enough to buy it in the future. The young couple worked for months on a tiny budget. He and Jan bought a folding chair and a shower curtain from Sears that served as a backdrop. Almost 40 years ago, he sat in that chair and launched the station’s only show: Praise the Lord. It is still the flagship program for TBN today.
In 1973, after losing that initial station to a wealthier buyer, Paul and Jan purchased channel 40 in Los Angeles. It became the first of many stations that they would own outright. They began to build the station’s lineup with more pastors and teachers. They decided early to add shows from varying denominations to expand the appeal of the station, but most of the programming followed their own Pentecostal background. It wasn’t long before they had a legitimate station with a full lineup. Many entities come and go that produce single shows or series, but for this couple with limited resources, it was a huge step to own a complete television station of their own. The next step was to continue adding stations and stretching the influence of TBN.
In 1978, he received licensing to broadcast TBN via satellite. This was a huge step for the Crouches, allowing them to find a viewing audience outside of LA. They could make TBN available to cable providers, and they gained the ability to feed more stations across the country. This is exactly what they were hoping for. Paul’s business sense sprang to life, and he bought as many stations as he could. He had a vision for TBN’s future and didn’t hold back. In less than five years, TBN also owned stations in Phoenix, Miami, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, New York, and Seattle. Amazingly, Paul and Jan did all of this without incurring any debt. They believed that God would provide, so they refused to take out loans. His board of directors objected to his rapid expansion, but he felt that it was God’s leading and didn’t back down. Every time a possibility surfaced to buy another station, Paul would explain the opportunity to his viewers and ask for donations. Every time, the funds were provided.
Things were going great for Paul and Jan until the mid 1980’s struck them with difficulty. First of all, televangelists everywhere were marred by scandals that overtook the nation’s perception of the televised preacher. Jim Bakker was arrested for conspiracy and mishandling funds, and Jimmy Swaggert was caught in several adulterous affairs and also accused of mishandling funds. All of the sudden, every television preacher was scrutinized. TBN was not an exception. Many, often unfairly, painted all televangelists with the same brush that fit other men who lost their ministries or went to prison. Paul Crouch opened his books to anyone who wanted to see them and came through the ordeal with his integrity intact, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was hard for him to fall under that kind of subtle accusation or take away all of the damage that had been done to society’s perception.
Further, and even more difficult, the FCC challenged some licensing aspects of the TBN networks. It began with the Miami affiliate. The charge was that the federal paperwork for the station misrepresented the identity of its controlling body. They ruled against the Florida station, and the decision could have affected all of the TBN stations and brought down the entire network. It was a scary time. The board was certain that they would lose the now enormous network. A brokerage firm actually offered TBN $1.9 billion, but Crouch refused. He believed that this was God’s plan for him and he wasn’t going to let it go for any amount of money. After nearly a decade of trouble over this ruling, a federal court ruled in favor of TBN and the station was exonerated. It ruled that the legislation used to punish the station was unclear and unfairly enforced, and that TBN had been forthright from the beginning.
In spite of these problems, TBN has thrived. As was mentioned above, the station now has a worldwide reach that is cross-cultural and cross-generational. These days, a lot of the day to day operation has fallen to Paul and Jan’s sons, Paul Jr. and Matt. Paul Sr. has been steadily handing over more of the leadership to his sons, who have the same dream of using the airwaves to spread the gospel of Christ around the world. One unique feature of the TBN by-laws is that the station may never be sold, not even by future generations. Whatever the future may hold for TBN, the Crouch family will be there for wherever God leads them.
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