For as little as I’ve written at this site, a disproportionate share has examined Stephen Bennett Ministries. As far as I can tell, he’s got a knack for communicating smoothly, yet often unable to get beyond self-contradiction and hyperbole.
So, when I read large red banner text at the ministry’s home page saying his ministry might not continue unless it receives donations of $100,000 by New Years Day, I struggle to understand why he doesn’t see some of the obvious disconnects.
Background: In 2004 the Bennett ministry made a dramatic call for $50,000 in donations to fund buses and bible tote bags for evangelism to lgbtiq folks in Provincetown, Mass. I pointed out that the dollar amount seemed out of proportion to the outreach planned at Ex-Gay Watch; some weeks later the fundraising goal was slashed in half.
Late in 2005, the Bennett radio venture, Straight Talk Radio, was expanded and relaunched. (In it’s previous incarnation it consisted of 1-2 minute daily sound bites to Christian radio stations, but had gone dormant.) The new version was a daily half-hour show. Funders and monthly supporters were solicited. It, too, went dormant after a few months, finally calling itself a subscription-based service with an unpublished production schedule.
Mid-2006 brought more changes in direction. Stephen’s weekend travel schedule for speaking and preaching was slated to be curtailed from June through August, and office responsibilities were off-loaded to staffers, so that he could devote himself full-time to writing his autobiography. The amount of time actually concentrated on the book-writing project is not clear given that energy was also poured into promoting, funding, and planning a week-long evangelism trip to Jerusalem in August.
The summer ended with the announcement of yet another new venture, founding of a (largely online) church which Stephen would pastor. Heavenly Hope Christian Church (HHCC) is located in Connecticut, but without a published street address. Preparation for its launch included creating a sanctuary equipped to do professional-quality video broadcasts over the internet. The church shares phone/fax numbers, a P.O. box, and apparently a Tax ID with the Bennett ministries. There are no indications as to whether its physical presence is more than a room in the Bennett family’s basement.
Summarizing: 2006 has been an ambitious and tumultuous year of radio production (then not), travel to speaking gigs (then less so), book-writing (the finished product, with a co-writer, due out some time in 2007), evangelism to Israel, and founding a church.
The $100K Pitch: Given all of the changes in direction, it’s no surprise that this ministry’s revenues and expenditures may have been volatile in 2006. Details worth noting from the Campaign Mailer and Return Coupon (.pdf) — let’s call this the flyer — include:
- Omitted from the description of the year’s accomplishments are any mention of the radio show, the book project, or the church, and their impacts on expenses and donations.
- A $20,000 monthly budget is mentioned, and a total of $25,000 debt. The $100K in donations will be used to retire the debt first, and then fund the operating expenses for the first quarter of 2007.
- Donations are down significantly.
- The ministry has operated in the red for the past 3 years, sometimes not paying Stephen and Irene, getting disconnect warnings from the phone company, and taking 60-hour work weeks from its staff and volunteers.
- The flyer says, “I’m not a quitter and I don’t give up easily, but it’s been six financially difficult years,” and “as much as we love this ministry, SBM can’t operate like this any longer.”
The obvious gaps there:
- No mention is made of funds earmarked for, or expenses paid because of, the radio show, the Jerusalem trip, or the new church.
- A drop in donations would be expected after giving up travel for preaching and speaking engagements in June.
- Receiving $100K in December might increase Bennett’s peace of mind, but only $25K is urgently needed to pay off debt.
- Is the new church is consuming a significant proportion of the ministry’s energy? If so, is there a plan to bring in enough $50/month global members in order to fund it?
It wouldn’t be surprising to find that the target audience for this flyer is folks who already know more about the ministry’s financials than I do, and that the fundraising campaign makes more sense to them than it does to me. But, if donations are down significantly, perhaps it has something to do with the sorts of credibility gaps I’m seeing here.
Frankly, who among us wouldn’t love to have the funds land in our laps by New Years Day to clear our debt and pay our expenses through March?
Not too many of us are likely to see that happen, though.