They're beloved by followers all around the world as preachers, healers, and spiritual leaders, but they're also a part of an elite squad of multi-millionaires. These men and women have created empires so grand that they have even attracted the attention of entertainers. If they haven't been featured in interviews with Oprah, they've been invited to her private events as one of her closest friends.
While some have stacked their cash by collecting from the congregations of hundreds of thousands who show up to their churches every week and the global audience who give generously to their ministries, others have perfected the art of branding themselves to rake in more money on the side. A trip to the book store can reveal how much can be made by marketing yourself as a spiritual leader who has the answers about depression, loneliness, emotional healing, and mental health. People like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer have dozens of books that have helped them grow from simple spiritual teachers to internationally known celebrity pastors, and T.D. Jakes not only hopes to lead people to salvation at his church the Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, but he owns a production company and a Grammy Award-winning record label.
It's obvious that these leaders are living the good life in their mega-mansions, traveling around the world in private jets, and walking red carpets with celebrity friends, but at what cost? Did they build their fortunes on the backs of the faithful or are they just spiritual leaders who are brilliant at running a business? Whether you're a believer or not, it's clear that these 15 richest religious leaders know how to turn praise into a profit.
15 Joseph Prince- $5 Million
Although Joseph Prince was born the son of a Sikh priest, he opted to follow his own path and built a career as a information technology consultant. His parents named him Xenonamandar Jegahusiee Singh but when he began working in IT, he changed his name. He's the senior pastor of the non-denominational New Creation Church, where 31,000 parishioners visit every week, and when he isn't giving the good word to his congregation, he's traveling the world preaching to hundreds of thousands who hang on to his every word, many times at special conferences for a price.
Back in 2008 he found himself the center of controversy when it surfaced that he was bringing in a salary of up to $550,000 a year. He's also amassed his fortune with his books (written and audio), podcasts, and DVD sales.
14 Juanita Bynum- $10 Million
Minister, author, and singer Juanita Bynum is one of the most recognized gospel figures in the world. The child actor shifted her focus to ministry once she completed high school and made a local name for herself when she traveled throughout her native city of Chicago, Illinois preaching sermons. Soon she was a regular fixture on the popular Trinity Broadcasting Network where she was able to reach the masses who would soon turn into dedicated followers, fans, and customers. She now heads Juanita Bynum Enterprises where's she's perfected the art of marketing her talents into a booming multimillion dollar business.
13 Ernest Angley- $15 Million
Southern boy Ernest Angley was born into a modest, North Carolina Baptist family, but didn't become a Christian until he was 18-years-old. He married his wife Esther and the two began traveling the country in a camper, hosting tent revivals and working as evangelists who offered salvation and healing. The pair settled in Ohio and it didn't take long before the preacher developed a loyal and active following. The Angleys then bought the local news station, Channel 55, and a building that would become Grace Cathedral (Temple of Healing Stripes).
The Ernest Angley Hour was a broadcast that stretched across television, radio, and the internet once a week and proved to be a money maker for the evangelist. He was hit with a scandal when he began preaching that people suffering from AIDS only needed God's healing power to rid themselves of the disease. His newspaper was canceled for delivery in many places in Africa, but Angley stuck by his faith, saying he has medical proof to back up his claims.
The controversy didn't stop there, either. News about one of their youth directors who stepped down because of a substance abuse problem began to circulate, as well as rumors from a tabloid that former members told them that women were advised to have abortions and childless men vasectomies. An associate pastor accused Angley of inappropriately touching him and stepped down from his position, as well as two other members who claimed he sexually abused them. Both Angley and his church call the allegations lies and the 95-year-old continues to live in Ohio.
12 Joyce Meyer- $25 Million
Walk through any bookstore and you will see at least one dozen Joyce Meyer books for sale, most likely with her smiling face on the back cover. The author, preacher, and motivational speaker has perfected the art of personal branding and at any given moment around the world, it's not difficult to turn on the television or radio and see her teaching to a massive audience.
The St. Louis, Missouri native has been open and honest about her past; her father sexually, mentally, and emotionally abusing her as a child, her frequenting of bars and overindulging in alcohol, and her divorcing her first husband who she claims often cheated on her. She was in her twenties in the 1970s and not a part of any church when she says God called her name. So she dedicated herself to ministry and by the 80s she had her own radio program and less than a decade later she moved to television on WGN in Chicago.
Joyce Meyers Ministries now employs more than 150 people globally and brings in millions of dollars annually. Meyers' home is a grand estate worth millions in Missouri and she owns a $10 million corporate jet for travel. She's often been criticized for lavish spending, especially on her $20 million ministry headquarters, which is decorated with over $5 million worth of furniture. She doesn't seem to mind the talk and on her ministry's website she has an option for people to publicly view her financial records.
11 Rick Warren- $25 Million
A Purpose Driven Life catapulted Rick Warren into the Christian author stratosphere, as both the God-fearing and unbelievers flocked to bookstores to pick up the New York Times best-seller. The son of a minister, the Warren apple didn't fall too far from the preaching tree and after attending both California Baptist University and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he created Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. The church is now the seventh largest in America with 20,000 visiting each week; a far cry from when he preached his first sermon in front of 200 people.
Three years ago his family experienced a heavy personal tragedy when Warren's youngest son, Matthew, committed suicide after struggling with mental illness. They used the opportunity as a way to minister to those that are still having difficulty with their mental health diagnoses.
After A Purpose Driven Life became successful, selling 30 million copies, not to mention the study guides and DVDs that were later created, Warren stopped taking a salary from his church and even paid back what he earned for his first 25 years there. The Warrens live off of 10 percent of their earnings, calling it "reverse tithing" as Christians are encouraged to give their church that much of what they make.
10 Billy Graham- $25 Million
At 97-years-old, Billy Graham is certainly the oldest person on this list. He's befriended political figures throughout modern history including presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon- but his relationship with Nixon got him caught up in controversy when the former president's incendiary tapes were released. Graham and Nixon were heard discussing Jewish people controlling the American media with a "stranglehold." His reputation took a blow, but Graham has been such a staple in international Christian culture that he was forgiven and his ministries continued to thrive and some appreciated that, even as a prominent figure in the religious community, he never shied away from stepping into the political arena.
9 Kenneth Copeland- $25 Million
Charismatic prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland knows a thing or two about living the blessed life as he has enjoyed sitting on his mountain of money for decades. The former pilot and recording artist was once responsible for flying around televangelist Oral Roberts until Copeland started a ministry of his own.
As with many of his counterparts on this list, Copeland was hit with a scandal when Tarrant County, Texas, where's Copeland's church resides, was subject to a measles outbreak after residents followed Copeland Ministry's alleged anti-vaccination teachings. The church said they've never openly spoken about being anti-vaccination, and to prove it offered free vaccinations at Copeland's church.
The minister has often been criticized for his $20 million private jet and avoiding paying taxes on his $6.3 million home (and his private resort vacations), but he and his family don't seem to mind hearing the harsh words.
8 Creflo Dollar- $27 Million
Yes, his birth name is Creflo Dollar and, surprisingly, he's a preacher! The Georgia televangelist and prosperity preacher is well-known in the faith-based community, but he was thrust even further into the spotlight in 2014 after his private jet was in an accident on a runway in the United Kingdom. Dollar believed that his jet was just too old, so he started a Crowdfunding campaign, asking his followers to donate money so that he could purchase a new plane. He claimed that he needed $60 million, and even while he was being openly ridiculed in the media, he stood in front of his congregation and asked his parishioners to give $300 or more each; many of these people are barely making ends meet. The campaign was reportedly suspended because of the overwhelming negative feedback in the media.
That outlandish request came just a year after Dollar was arrested over a domestic incident with his daughter. After agreeing to anger management, the charges were dropped, but he faced backlash within the Christian community, and added to a reputation that was previously sullied after he refused to disclosed his financial history to Ministry Watch. He received an "F" grade from the organization, who initially investigated him for having multi-million dollar homes in Georgia, New Jersey, and New York.
7 Joel Osteen- $40 Million
Another pastor who decided not to take a salary from his church is Joel Osteen, who is the Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. It's said to be the largest Protestant church in America. In addition to the 52,000 people that visit Lakewood every week, another 7 million tune in weekly to watch Osteen's sermons faithfully.
The perpetually smiling pastor grew up as a preacher's kid who studied communications in college but dropped out of Oral Roberts University before graduating. He produced his father's televised sermons until he died in 1999 and then went on to fill his daddy's shoes. Osteen's teachings are broadcast in over 100 countries and are played nonstop on a Sirius XM Satellite Radio station.
He's made money off of his best-selling motivational book Your Best Life Now- even turning it into a board game. He and his family enjoy living on their $10 million Texas mansion that boasts six bedrooms, six bathrooms, three elevators, and both a guest and a pool house.
6 Benny Hinn- $42 Million
If there's a name that has made both believers and skeptics, it's Benny Hinn. He's one of the most famous televangelists in American history, but his popularity goes beyond the United States. He's made a name for himself as a healing preacher who goes from coast-to-coast using the Christian biblical idea of "laying on of hands" to miraculously heal people. He even allowed a film crew to document him back in 2001 for HBO to show that he was a true healer, but the director later said that he didn't witness any true healing during filming.
Just a few years later, CBC Television did an undercover story on Hinn and his ministries, where they caught Hinn's staff redirecting the truly ill or sick people who wanted to be touched by Hinn away from the preacher. It was suggested that actors were specifically handpicked out of the audience and pretended to be healed to bolster Hinn's reputation. He was also accused of cheating on his wife with Christian leader Paula White, and in February of 2010 his wife filed for divorce. By 2012 they were reconciled and Hinn stated that they separated because of her addiction to prescription pills. In 2013 the two were remarried.
Even after being allegedly exposed, Hinn is still a world-leading faith healer to the millions who flock to his events every year to buy any one of the dozen books that have turned him into one of the richest religious leaders of today.
5 Chris Oyakhilome- $50 Million
Nigerian minister Chris Oyakhilome preaches out of Lagos and is the founder of Believers’ Loveworld Incorporated and a self-proclaimed faith healer who claims that he has the power to heal HIV. He and his wife lead the church and their various ministries. These include their healing schools around the world and an international children's ministry. Their divorce was finalized in 2016, citing "unreasonable behavior."
Oyakhilome has also written a widely successful book, Rhapsody of Realities, and is featured on three Christian networks that air his sermons and regularly validate him as a miracle healer. He's tapped into attracting a younger audience and has used social media to garner millions of online followers who have helped him build his riches.
4 T.D. Jakes- $147 Million
His bold, loud, and commanding voice is recognizable to the world and T.D. Jakes has taken his televised sermons from the Potter's House church in Dallas, Texas and turned them into a money-making industry. His celebrated book Woman, Thou Art Loosed was adapted into a film starring Kimberly Elise, Clifton Powell, and Loretta Devine. It received such high reviews that he co-wrote a second film.
He makes much of his money through his book sales, international speaking engagements, music sales through his record label, and sales through his production company, though he does receive a yearly sum from his church that is very generous.
3 David Oyedepo- $150 Million
Bishop David Oyedepo's church in Nigeria, Living Faith Church Worldwide or Winner's Chapel, seats 50,000 people and every chair is filled weekly. Oyedepo is hailed as one of the leaders and founders of the charismatic movement's rise in Nigeria and he now leads a number of churches all over Africa, the U.K., the U.S., and Dubai and in 300 cities!
He and his family have developed schools, universities, hospitals, and homes for expectant mothers. Oyedepo was raised by his Christian grandmother but it wasn't until he was an adult that he dedicated himself to his faith. He studied architecture, received his Ph.D., and spent time working as a missionary. He later claimed that he received an 18-hour vision from God telling him how to erase the devil from the world and his ministry began to prosper. He has written over 70 publications and is the chair of a publishing house while his church owns four private jets and numerous properties all over the world.
2 Pat Robertson- $500 Million
Pat Robertson's financial estate is valued at anywhere between $200 million and $1 billion as he sits high on the throne as one of the kings of American pastors. The former Marine received his law degree from Yale University but failed the New York bar exam and, after converting to Christianity, he went to theology school. In 1960 he created the Christian Broadcasting Network and is one of the few elders that blended his religious beliefs with a strong business mind. He also established Regent University, CBN Asia, the American Center for Law & Justice, the Christian Coalition, and the ABC Family Channel, along with his ever popular The 700 Club show.
The minister was once criticized by former President George W. Bush for agreeing with pastor Jerry Falwell who publicly said on national television that the World Trade Center attacks in New York were the fault of the ACLU along with "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians [who have] helped [the terror attacks of September 11th] happen." Falwell later apologized. Robertson stuck his foot in his mouth again two weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated many parts of Louisiana by saying the flooding was God's punishment for America legalizing abortion.
1 Edir Macedo- $1 Billion
He is currently the richest religious leader in the entire world and his bank account outranks many super-successful corporate businessman. Edir Macedo was born and raised Catholic but in 1970 began to follow Pentecostal teachings. He later started Kingdom of God ministry in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and soon saw increased donations which strengthened the church's empire.
The prosperity preacher also makes his money as the owner of the second largest television network in Brazil and used money from the church to buy 40 radio stations, 23 TV stations, newspapers, a health insurance company, and an airline- all of which aid in bringing in major bank for Macedo. That doesn't even count the $2 billion that is donated to the church from around the world every year.
He's been accused of laundering millions of dollars in the U.S. to a fake charity that was really sending money over to Brazil and has been investigated on a number of occasions. Authorities can't help but question how a ministry that's been around for only 30 years has been able to collect such a strong fortune.
Sources: joycemeyer, forbes, npr, washingtonpost, nytimes
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