Trinity Foundation     |     The Wittenburg Door

Money pitch is a hit with followers

Reprinted from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Monday, Nov. 17 2003
by Carolyn Tuft and Bill Smith

The spray on Joyce Meyer's hair and the sequins on her tailor-made pink suit sparkled in the bright stage lights. She stood before 8,000 people in the arena where the Buffalo Sabres play hockey.

Meyer's rough, homespun south St. Louis drawl thundered out to her audience, which suddenly had become silent and still.

To give is godly, she said. Never fear giving too much in the name of God, even if it means sacrificing dinners out during the three-day conference. Fear, she said, is the work of the devil.

She lectured for nearly an hour before ending with the same plea she'd been delivering for a decade: "Make your checks payable to Joyce Meyer Ministries/Life in the Word. And million is spelled M-I-L-L-I-O-N."

Many in the crowd flipped open their wallets or pulled out their checkbooks.

No one came forth with a million dollars that day in June. But in September, the ministry says, an East Coast woman gave stock worth that amount. Meyer then asked for more.

"I didn't have that thing for five minutes and I said, 'OK, God. Next I'll take $5 million,'" Meyer later told an audience in Tampa.

It is this kind of hard-edged audacity that has made Meyer one of the biggest names in big-name TV evangelism and has endeared the Fenton grandmother to millions of faithful supporters worldwide. At 60, she shows no signs of slowing down as she stretches herself further.

In St. Louis last month, Meyer asked for a $7 million check.

"That would really bless me," she said.

Meyer's 20 or so conferences each year, where followers usually have their only opportunity to see and hear her live, are part old-fashioned tent revival, part motivational rally and part unrelenting sales pitch.

Meyer attracts her fans to her gatherings with promises of a free conference. The only conference with an entrance fee is her annual St. Louis women's conference, which charges $50 per person.

Yet, from the moment followers enter one of her free conferences, Meyer pushes for their money.

"God does not need our money. The giving thing is not for Him, it's for us," Meyer told a Detroit audience in September. "I should not have to work to try to support myself."

The Post-Dispatch attended four of Meyer's conferences: Buffalo in June, Atlanta in August, Detroit in September and St. Louis in October.

The newspaper found virtually identical elements at each conference — heavy doses of modern religious music, an unwavering religious faith of her audiences and a strong, focused effort to bring in money.

Joyce Meyer Ministries is, without question, a well-oiled moneymaking machine.

Selling as the doors open

Faithful followers line up outside the arena hours before a Meyer conference begins. The doors open exactly two hours early. Some fans arrive in dresses and matching handbags. Others wear jeans and T-shirts. Still others wear miniskirts or shorts. Sheri Davis, 39, a former St. Louisan living in Atlanta, wore an "I Love Jesus" motorcycle jacket.

White women over 30 are Meyer's biggest audience. But all ages and races are represented. The relatively few men in the crowds seem to accompany wives or girlfriends. Children play in the aisles.

After bags and purses are checked by security, Meyer's volunteers hand the followers a 20-page catalog listing Meyer's products for sale.

Just a few steps inside the arena, followers find 100-foot-long tables with Meyer's items for sale. People crowd them, jockeying for places to look at Meyer's products.

Videotapes, audiotapes, books, CDs, calendars and coffee mugs are stacked up to 10 high. Prices range from $3 for palm-size books of 60 pages to $110 for videotape and audiotape packages. The average cost of a videotape is $22.

Meyer's ministry depends on more than 100 volunteers from local ministries to help work her conferences.

Her workers flown in from St. Louis handle the sales. Followers, their arms overflowing with books and tapes, line up in roped-off lanes similar to those at airport ticket counters. Ministry workers behind the counters keep 10 credit card machines whirring.

Nearly everyone in attendance carries a plastic Life in the Word bag containing the products they bought.

Inside the arena, followers troll for seats as close as possible to Meyer. They seem undaunted by having to sit behind two cameramen, perched 10 feet above the center of the crowd.

Another camera, mounted on a mobile arm like those used on TV programs such as David Letterman's, is positioned beside the stage to catch Meyer's every move and her audience's reactions.

The stage is set to look like the gates of heaven, with towering columns and flowing drapery. An image of a blue sky with puffy clouds is projected behind the stage.

On each side of the stage is a large video display. Each flashes messages to the audience:

  • "Buy $500 worth of product and get $100 free."

  • "The music now playing is from our 'Free at Last' CD and is available at the product table."

  • "The tapes of these sessions can be ordered at the product table."

Minutes before the session is scheduled to start, Meyer's daughter Laura Holtzmann steps onstage. She urges the audience members to buy Meyer's books and tapes and offers them special deals. She tells them not to be discouraged by long lines at the product tables. The lines move fast, she says, because 15 Life in the Word employees are working them.

Holtzmann tells them that their money will go to good causes — 50 charities.

In June in Buffalo, a video outlined one of Meyer's charities: Her ministry says it has sent care packages with Meyer's books and shampoo to 789,898
prisoners in 946 prisons in more than 40 states. Unnamed men identified as prisoners tell how they love Meyer. The tape ends, but no one applauds. The crowd wants to see Joyce.

The videos often show followers giving testimonials on how great things happened to them after they gave to Meyer. In Buffalo, Meyer called a woman to the stage to talk about how her husband gave his last dollar after seeing Meyer at a conference. Her husband's name: Dan Goodson, Meyer's general manager.

Enter: Joyce Meyer

At each conference, Charlie and Jill LeBlanc come onstage and sing modern gospel songs, preparing the audience for Meyer. The video screens flash lyrics so the audience can sing along. After each stanza, the screens tell the audience members how they can buy CDs containing the songs.

Meyer walks onto the stage, singing along. The audience goes wild. They hang on every word. When she tells them to do something — stand, say amen, answer her — the audience quickly responds.

Hundreds yell: "We love you, Joyce," "Hallelujah" and "Praise the Lord."

Meyer keeps the audience standing. She tells them that through her, God will cure their headaches, depression, stomach problems, drug addiction and homosexuality.

In Buffalo, Meyer instructed the women in the audience to place their hands on their stomachs while she spoke. Most did. She told them she had healed all of their female problems. She announced that she once did this and a woman with cancer went to the doctor and found it had gone away.

Meyer then told the audience, which had been standing for an hour, that she was going to heal their backaches. She let them sit down.

"I know someone is already feeling better," she quipped.

Meyer then delivered her sermon for giving. She told them that some Christians are worried that if they give it all, they will end up with nothing. If they give, she said, they can expect much more in return.

"Sowing and reaping is a law," Meyer told the Buffalo audience. "If you sow, you will reap. I believe stingy people are very unhappy people. I want you to give your best offering. I believe one person could write one check to cover all of the expenses of this one conference."

A middle-aged man wearing worn jeans pulled a wad of $20 bills from his pocket and placed them in an offering envelope. An elderly woman in a wheelchair wrote out a check for $100.

As hundreds of volunteers passed around white paper tubs resembling movie theater popcorn buckets, Meyer lectured on her partnership program. She said regular partners who allow her to deduct a monthly donation directly from their bank accounts get a tape of the month, the ministry's monthly magazine and are prayed for "as if in the room."

She said she has 120,000 partners that have monthly donations taken out of their bank accounts. She's hoping to double that number by next year.

"Don't procrastinate, because procrastination is the tool of the devil," she warned the Buffalo audience.

After the offering, the bucket-bearing volunteers were ushered to a remote part of the arena. There, ministry workers counted the money, supervised by Dave Meyer, the ministry's business administrator and Meyer's husband.

A practical message

While money pleas dominate most of her conferences, Meyer also gives a practical lesson. It's the main thing the followers come to see. Each lesson is edited for use on her TV show and videotapes that she sells.

On June 26 in Buffalo, Meyer's message was about "thinking big." She told the crowd that everyone there needed to become a "fresh piece of clay, starting over."

"Stretch out your borders. Enlarge your tent," Meyer urged. "You need to stop telling God what you've done wrong all the time. You need to move on."

Meyer told them they should never let their disabilities or disadvantages stop them. Like her — an abused girl, and a housewife from Fenton when God called her to preach — He has a plan for them, too.

"I don't care what anyone says about me," she said. "Just hide the wash. Mmmm, mmm! I feel like the Holy Ghost."

The hall erupted in shouts of "Hallelujah" and "Praise the Lord."

"Don't let mutterers stop you in life," Meyer told them, shaking her fist in the air. "People are jealous, critical. They're resentful. Most people want what you get but they don't want to do what you did to get it."

She told a biblical tale about Zacchaeus, a short man who wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree. Jesus liked his ingenuity so much, he went to the man's house to eat dinner with him.

"When an opportunity comes before me, I go for it," Meyer said. "Thinking about it kills it. Narrow-minded people almost always miss their miracle. They look for Him to come in the front door, and He comes in the window."

Dress well, live well

Outside the Philips Arena in Atlanta in August, about a dozen people had gathered nearly three hours before Meyer's conference was set to begin.

One was Ronald Granville, 45, of Sacramento, Calif., a seminary student. He wore a black shirt with white and gold letters that said, "God has been so good to me."

Granville said he's heard the criticism of evangelists like Meyer: They live the high life while many of those who support them live at or near poverty.

"That's between them and God," Granville said. "If they're getting the word of God out, why should they ride around in a 1980 Pinto? Is Joyce Meyer supposed to come out here in Salvation Army clothes or patched-up jeans?"

Meyer wears nothing but the best. Her clothes are tailor-made. She has a private hairdresser. Her nails are perfect. She wears glasslike slippers and dangly earrings and sparkly necklaces.

Her workers back in St. Louis pack the things she needs at the conference. Perrier water is a must.

It takes four 18-wheelers to carry her products and stage setup from St. Louis to each conference.

On the road, Meyer and her husband live in exclusive hotels.

In Detroit, they stayed in a suite in the Townsend in Birmingham, Mich., the area's richest suburb. The Townsend houses movie and rock stars when they appear locally. Privacy protection is the hotel's hallmark, and it prides itself on its "discreet" handling of each guest. Suites cost about $1,500 a night.

Meyer's magnetism

There is something magnetic about Meyer's appeal to women. Much of this appeal is Meyer's willingness to share nearly every aspect of her life, including sexual abuse by her father, her quick temper with her four children, how she hates it when her husband overdirects her — telling her how to walk or to close the blinds while undressing in front of hotel windows.

In St. Louis last month, Meyer told her audience about an exploded hemorrhoid that had sent her to the hospital during her Thursday evening session.

All of Meyer's past flaws are an open book to her fans: She chain-smoked. She drank. She slept with men she had just met. She stole things she didn't need.

And those are the things that endear Meyer to her followers. Her advice hits home: Forgive those who hurt you. Copy others' successes. Believing will heal you and make you wealthy.

At times, Meyer's speeches ramble as if she is speaking thoughts at the very same time they occur to her.

"I can stand up and talk all day and not even know what is coming out of my mouth next," she told the Buffalo audience in June. "That's my gift."

In Atlanta in August, Meyer's followers wanted to see her perform one of her classic acts. Meyer hinted she might do her so-called robot routine. Hundreds of women began chanting: "Robot, robot, robot. . .!"

Meyer finally went into a stiff-armed, animated walk, her representation of a self-indulgent, windup robot that repeats the phrase: "What about me? ... What about me? ... What about me?"

Meyer demands order at her conferences. In St. Louis, Meyer commanded that nobody leave the hall during her sessions. She said she has to talk for two hours without going to the bathroom, so if she can wait, they can wait.

In Buffalo, when her microphone was not positioned the way she liked, she stopped the conference and ordered an employee to the stage to fix it.

Meyer wanted to teach them to talk in tongues, a practice that she says caused her, in part, to leave her Lutheran church in St. Louis. She ordered the crowd to stand and told them she was filling them with the Holy Spirit.

"Soak in the Holy Ghost," she demanded. She began muttering inaudible words. Many followed her lead.

"I believe His presence is here," her voice thundered.

A middle-aged woman wearing a white bow in her hair and a hunter-green dress began howling, "Oh, Jesus ... Oh, Jesus." She collapsed on the steps inside of the arena. Meyer's workers quickly whisked her away.

"Thank you, God, for reaching the people tonight," Meyer told them. "We're not going to leave the way we came."

Meyer's money pleas

Sometimes soft, sometimes tough, Meyer's plea for money, like most things she does, is matter-of-fact and without apology.

"Some of you need to sow a special seed this weekend," Meyer told her Detroit audience. "Don't be a $10 man all your life. Don't even be a $100 man all your life. . . . You have to give sometimes until it hurts. It needs to cost you something."

Sometimes, she's more demanding.

"I don't have to stand here and beg," she told the crowd in Buffalo. "What God wants you to do here tonight is to pay for somebody else to watch my show."

Meyer told her Detroit audience about those who are unhappy with the way she pleads for money.

"People say, 'I don't want to hear about the money, the money, the money, the money. I came to hear Joyce. I didn't come to hear about the money,'" Meyer said. "Giving will change your life. When God gives you an increase, you give more."

Meyer often stands on stage hawking her products. In Atlanta, she held an enormous basket, overflowing with 50 of her books — "free" for a $1,000 offering.

She showed off new tape offerings packaged like suitcases. At one point, Meyer struggled to carry four of the massive tape cases, which sell for $110 apiece, across the arena stage.

"I need to see you leaving my meetings just like this," she said.

She pointed out that her audiotapes are cheaper than the $100 an hour that some professional counselors charge.

She told her flock in Buffalo that they have to stop being jealous of people like her who have nice things.

"Don't be jealous of what somebody's got," she said. "It's not about somebody getting your money. You need to give."

Reporter Carolyn Tuft
Phone: 314-340-8105

Reporter Bill Smith
Phone: 314-340-8125

More information is available at St. Louis Post Dispatch's index of Joyce Meyer articles.

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