They also said it was appropriate for TBN to pay for dinners at which network business was conducted. When network credit cards were used to pay for personal expenses or for alcohol, the Crouches or other TBN officials reimbursed the ministry, they said.
TBN never stops raising money. All that varies is the method.
The network appeals directly for cash during weeklong "Praise-a-thons" held twice a year, in the spring and fall. The approach is not subtle. The Crouches suggest that "Praise the Lord" will go dark if viewers don't send money.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 23, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Trinity Broadcasting -- An article about Trinity Broadcasting Network in Sunday's Section A misspelled Phenix City, Ala., where one of the network's supporters lives, as Phoenix City.
No mention is made of the ministry's flush finances.
"The question is: Shall we keep this great, live, prime-time 'Praise the Lord' program on the air for another year?" Paul Crouch asked during last November's telethon. "It's really up to you."
Jan, from a studio in Atlanta, added: "Oh, dear friends, come on. We've got to keep 'Praise the Lord' on the air."
Viewers pledge a total of $90 million during a typical "Praise-a-thon." TBN says it collects about half the money promised.
During the rest of the year, the ministry keeps donations flowing by less intrusive means.
Except during "Praise-a-Thons," pastors appearing on the network can solicit donations only during the last 30 seconds of a half-hour show or the last 60 seconds of a one-hour show. TBN executives call this "the 11th Commandment."
But the network's toll-free "prayer line" is always visible at the bottom of the TV screen, bringing a steady stream of calls from people troubled by debts, illnesses and other problems.
The calls are answered by paid and volunteer "prayer warriors" in a cluster of drab two-story buildings in a Tustin office park.
The workers, Bibles at the ready, write down callers' requests -- for healings, financial relief, mended marriages, jobs -- and pray with them on the phone. TBN officials say the prayer requests are then taken to a chapel on the premises and prayed over.
While they have callers on the phone, the volunteers ask for their names and addresses. Later, the information is entered into a direct-mail database, one of Trinity's most powerful fundraising tools.
If the sumptuous Costa Mesa complex with its biblical murals and reflecting pools is TBN's spiritual heart, the Tustin complex is its financial nerve center.
Workers there deal with a daily avalanche of mail from around the world -- poems, prayers, testimonials and donations in a variety of currencies. With surveillance cameras overhead, employees process the mail in an assembly-line-like operation, separating donations from prayer requests. The Spartan decor and brisk pace suggest a bank processing center.
In an adjoining room, employees enter the letter writers' names and addresses into the direct-mail database, which has 1.2 million names. An in-house printing and mailing operation generates thousands of letters a day asking the faithful to give.
Sheryl Silva of Anaheim is among those who do. She says the network has been a source of strength during difficult times, including a period of homelessness.
"I love to give whenever I can -- at least $15 per month," said Silva, 46, who has glaucoma and gets by on a monthly disability check of about $900. "I give because I don't want them to go off the air. They might be the only thing good on TV that day."
Three Days in Iraq
Just as the fundraising never ceases, TBN's efforts to widen its audience are unending.
In recent years, the network has focused on winning viewers in the former Soviet-bloc countries, the Middle East and Asia. Crouch is negotiating with Chinese officials to make TBN available in hotels, embassies, foreign residential compounds and churches.
Earlier this year, the network converted to a digital signal, enabling it to deliver three spinoff channels through the same pipeline that carries TBN.
The Spanish-language channel Enlace USA serves the growing evangelical audience in Central and South America. JC-TV offers youth-oriented Christian programs. The Church Channel broadcasts church services.
In March, Crouch made a three-day trip to Iraq, where his son Matt filmed him giving a satellite receiver to an Iraqi pastor. Crouch handed $10,000 in cash to another Iraqi clergyman to buy receivers for churches and individuals who wanted to watch TBN.
In a fundraising letter, Crouch said that while he was in the war zone, God granted him another miracle.
"I honestly believe that Matt and I, with our small group, were made invisible to the barriers, checkpoints, armed guards, military infrastructure and enemies all around us!" he wrote. "Supernatural favor was our portion as we moved effortlessly through the war-torn and suffering city of Baghdad."
Then he asked his followers for their support.
"Will you help us help them? I know you will!"
Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this report.