Sunday, March 28, 2010

Free Labor: The Lifeblood of Teen Mania Ministries

Although they spend massive amounts of money to produce expensive stadium events and send teens on missions trips to foreign countries, one line item on Teen Mania's IRS Form 990 is surprisingly small: labor expenses. Most religious organizations spend anywhere from 35 to 60 percent of their budget on payroll expenses (many ministries spend even more than that), but in 2007, Teen Mania spent just $4,170,373 on payroll, or 20.6% of their twenty million dollars in revenue for the year. This is especially surprising since so much of what Teen Mania does is so labor intensive.

Producing dozens of live stadium events each year, with elaborate stages and lighting to set-up and tear down nearly every weekend, takes a massive team of dedicated employees who do nothing but travel from city to city producing events. The tickets to the live events don't sell themselves, and another huge team of employees spend their time calling youth pastors and teens all day long to try to convince them to buy tickets and ensure the events are well-attended. Arranging travel for thousands of teens to foreign countries each year, and keeping track of all the money coming in to pay for these trips are also jobs that are very time intensive. Not to mention the work required to maintain a huge campus in the middle of Texas, and produce a weekly television show. So how does Teen Mania do all of this on what would appear to be a 'shoestring' labor budget?

The only way Teen Mania Ministries is able to afford all of their massive undertakings is that most of their employees not only work for free, but also pay Teen Mania thousands of dollars per year for the privilege of working for them. You heard that correctly: most of the people working for Teen Mania are required to pay between $600 and $800 directly to the ministry each month, and will never receive a single penny for their long hours of hard work. The vast majority of the people producing Teen Mania's live events, selling the tickets, planning the missions trips, and just making the ministry run in general are members of The Honor Academy, Teen Mania's year-long internship program for high school graduates.

Teens (primarily recruited at Teen Mania's live events) who want to attend The Honor Academy live in dorm-style housing on the Teen Mania campus in Garden Valley, TX for one year while they work full-time for the ministry, and also attend mandatory TMM classes & events when they are not working. To cover the cost of the program, all Honor Academy participants must pay monthly tuition, and interns who are unable to raise the money due are kicked out of the program. According to the Honor Academy website, the program is "designed to cultivate and develop the leadership potential in young adults while preparing them to impact today's world for Christ." Luckily for Teen Mania, the program has the added benefit of providing hundreds of free employees each year, in addition to being a steady & dependable source of income for the organization.

In future posts, we'll look at some of the finer details of the Honor Academy program, as well as some of the dangerous dynamics this "free labor" model creates at Teen Mania Ministries.

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