Thursday, March 24, 2011

Teen Mania Publishes Training Documents on Public Website

One of our readers recently contacted Teen Mania Watch to let us know that while doing a Google search, they stumbled across a strange website from Teen Mania Ministries. I took a look at the link that was sent to me, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here were pages upon pages of documents used to train Honor Academy interns who work as telemarketers to sell tickets to Acquire the Fire and BattleCry events. I didn’t believe that all of this information was actually on a website that anyone could stumble across by doing a simple Google search.

So I tried it out....I entered the keywords “Teen Mania tax ID number” into the Google search box, something any major donor may want to find out, and sure enough the second link that appeared in the search results is from this mysterious Teen Mania Internet portal.

Obviously, I expect that this site will no longer be publicly accessible in the very near future. But Teen Mania Watch believes that knowledge is power, so we have archived the entire Acquire the Fire call center “knowledgebase” in the following 10 PDF documents:

Again, all of this information is available on a public website, that can be found by doing a Google search, as of 1:00PM ET on March 24, 2011. All Teen Mania Watch has done is archived this public information.

Teen Mania Watch will spend a lot of time highlighting the ins-and-outs of the Acquire the Fire marketing strategy, as outlined in these documents, in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, a couple of things jump out at me immediately.

First off, I’ve had several jobs as a telemarketer, including raising money for State Troopers, selling infomercial products, and hawking vacations to Disney World. I’ve had to read a lot of sales pitches to people on the phone, but I can honestly say I have never seen sales tactics so aggressive as what is being suggested in the Acquire the Fire call scripts. Honor Academy interns are basically trained to say whatever it takes to sell as many tickets as possible, and some of the lines that are being used are slicker and more deceptive than anything you’d hear from a used car salesman.

Second, it amazes me that Teen Mania instructs ATF callers to basically promise “encounters with God” and “life-changing experiences.” As if those things are something that you can buy with the $50+ cost of admission. Or guarantee will happen over the course of 27 hours, one weekend per year.

Stay tuned for more, folks....we’re just getting started!

Acquire the Fire: Where It All Begins

In the past week, the controversy swirling around the Honor Academy's annual ESOAL event has increased significantly, thanks to a new set of videos released on the Recovering Alumni blog. These videos show interns in extreme mental duress being verbally and physically harassed by Teen Mania leadership, including Dave Hasz and Heath Stoner. The videos are absolutely heart-wrenching, and it makes you wonder how Teen Mania recruits hundreds of teens a year to pay for the "privilege" of working for the organization.

The answer, of course, is that Teen Mania relies heavily on their live events like Acquire the Fire to find new recruits for more expensive programs like Global Expeditions and the Honor Academy. In fact, it is extremely rare to find a Global Expeditions participant or an Honor Academy intern who wasn't first introduced to Teen Mania Ministries through an ATF event. Once youth arrive at Acquire the Fire, Teen Mania relentlessly and aggressively markets these expensive programs to everyone in attendance--some ATF attendees have even described the event as a "weekend-long infomercial" for Teen Mania. High pressure tactics are used to get kids to commit to go on a Global Expedition or sign up for the Honor Academy on the spot. If a teen won't make a firm commitment during the ATF event, their contact information is gathered so Teen Mania can continue their marketing via e-mail, direct mail, and phone calls for the next several months or even years.

In short: the journey from "average American teenager" to devoted follower of a high-control group many have described as a "cult" begins at Acquire the Fire.

Surely, though, Acquire the Fire must really be a great experience for teens....right? Why else would they come? Why would churches bring their youth groups to Teen Mania events year after year? Why would people spend the money on Acquire the Fire tickets if the event wasn't amazing?

The answer to those questions and more may shock you as Teen Mania Watch explores the ins-and-outs of Acquire the Fire marketing in our next several blog posts.