By Julie Roys
For decades, John MacArthur has railed on prosperity preachers, likening them to “greed mongerers” who led First Century cults.
Recently, he’s also taken aim at scandal-plagued evangelical leaders, like the late apologist Ravi Zacharias and former Hillsong Pastor Carl Lentz, saying these celebrities were in ministry only for the money. That’s why “liars and frauds and false teachers” are in business, MacArthur said in a recent sermon. “False teachers always do it for the same reason—filthy lucre, money.”
Yet according to financial statements and tax forms obtained by The Roys Report, John MacArthur and his family preside over a religious media and educational empire that has over $130 million in assets and generates more than $70 million a year in tax-free revenue.
MacArthur and his family and related companies have been paid more than $12.8 million from ministry and donor funds.
And MacArthur owns three luxury homes worth millions.
In one year alone, MacArthur made more than $402,000 for part-time work at his broadcast ministry, Grace to You (GTY), and another $103,000 from The Master’s University and Seminary (TMUS). This was in addition to MacArthur’s salary from the megachurch he pastors, Grace Community Church, as well as book royalties and speaking fees.
Also, in a scenario very similar to Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), the board of GTY has been stacked for decades with MacArthur family members. Like RZIM, GTY also stopped filing IRS 990 tax forms in 2015, which enabled the ministry to keep executive salaries secret.
Grace Community Church (GCC) refuses to release its financial statements in violation of a core standard of the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability (ECFA) of which Grace was a member.
When I contacted the ECFA about GCC, Compliance Team Lead Jake Lapp replied that the ECFA requires its members to provide a copy of their current financial statements upon written request. He added, “We have been in communication with the church regarding this requirement and expect you will hear a response soon.”
That was 10 months ago.
To date, I have not heard back from GCC, even after emailing the church again to request financial statements. However, I recently learned that GCC resigned from the ECFA less than two weeks after Lapp contacted the church about complying with ECFA standards.*
I also reached out to Grace Church elder and GTY executive director, Phil Johnson, inquiring about some of these matters. Johnson responded that some of the information I requested is “a matter of public record. A real journalist would know that.” (The composition of GTY’s board is publicly available; the answers to my other questions were not.)
Johnson further stated that his email, dated March 23, 2020, would be “the last correspondence you will receive from me. Nor will anyone who speaks for our ministry ever answer questions for you regarding any story you intend to write.”
MacArthur’s Millions in Homes
MacArthur first came under fire for his money in 2014, when several bloggers published MacArthur’s salaries, calling them “reprehensible” and noting that MacArthur “earns more than the president of the United States.”
In response, Phil Johnson posted a statement at the Sharper Iron website, defending his boss’ salary (see “MacArthur’s Salary” below).
Johnson also argued that “(MacArthur’s) lifestyle, not his income, is what biblically-minded people should look at if they want to evaluate his character.”
He added that MacArthur “has lived in the same house for the past 35+ years” and owns only one car.
“(N)o one who actually sees how John lives has ever accused him of self-indulgence or even thought in their wildest dreams to describe him as a lover of money,” Johnson stated.
While it is true that MacArthur has lived in his home in Santa Clarita, California, since the 1980s, the property is worth 1.5 million, which is more than twice the median value of homes in the area.
The five-bedroom, four-bath house sits on more than two acres and includes a tennis court and a swimming pool. The home also is not John MacArthur’s only residence.
Since 1996, MacArthur has also owned a $700,000 villa about an hour west of Santa Clarita, according to a document The Roys Report obtained from the Ventura County Tax Assessor’s office.
The three-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom home is located next to a world class private club with a championship golf course, tennis courts, pool, and fine dining. The home also is just 11 miles from the beach.
MacArthur’s third and largest home—a seven-bedroom, 7.5-bathroom ranch on five acres in Colorado Springs—was built in 2007, according to El Paso County records.
The property was given to Circle M Ranch—a limited liability limited partnership (LLLP) owned by John and Patricia MacArthur—by David Wismer Sr.
Wismer is a longtime member of TMUS’ Board of Directors and has also served as TMUS Board secretary.
I spoke with Wismer and he told me that in 2007, MacArthur approached him, expressing that he wanted to build a home in Colorado Springs. Wismer said he owns a 2,600-acre ranch in Colorado Springs and was happy to give five acres to MacArthur as a gift.
Wismer said MacArthur then built a home (valued around $800,000) on the Colorado property using his own funds.
From 2005—2015, MacArthur made about $3.4 million in compensation from GTY and TMUS, for an average of about $320,000/year.
On top of that, MacArthur also took a salary from Grace Community Church that was “well within the upper-medium range” for California church employees, according to Johnson’s 2014 statement.
This puts MacArthur’s annual combined salary at an estimated half-million dollars most years. And in 2012, when he was paid an especially high salary and benefits from GTY, MacArthur’s salary likely pushed three-quarters of a million dollars.
In Johnson’s 2014 statement, he explained that MacArthur’s “salary and benefits” topped $400,000 in the fiscal year ending in 2012 because the GTY Board gave MacArthur a “rare 1st-edition KJB” that year. The Bible, Johnson said, was a “one-time gift capping 40 years of faithful ministry.”
In addition, Johnson stated that “Grace to You paid John MacArthur zero salary or benefits for the first 30+ years of our ministry’s existence.”
However, this statement does not match the facts.
According to a GTY 990 from 2002—the earliest 990 The Roys Reportwas able to obtain—MacArthur made $88,336 that year. This was just 16 years after GTY was founded, not 30.
It’s possible that Johnson was dating GTY’s beginning to the first year MacArthur was pastor of Grace Community Church (1969). That’s when a volunteer reportedly began recording MacArthur’s messages and giving them to members of the congregation who were too ill to attend. But the ministry didn’t even have a name back then and likely didn’t require any extra hours of MacArthur.
I reached out to Johnson to explain the apparent contradiction, but he did not respond.
Also, in his 2014 statement, Johnson stated that sometime after 2000, the GTY board “made a deliberate decision to pay (MacArthur) a full salary rather than a diminished wage that was arbitrarily curtailed based on the fact that he has other income.”
While it’s true that MacArthur received a huge increase in his GTY salary in 2003 (72%), MacArthur never worked full-time hours at GTY. MacArthur’s GTY hours varied each year from 10 to 30 hours per week, according to the organization’s own 990s.
Yet the hours MacArthur claimed to work each year seem to bear little relation to the salary he received. For example, in 2007, MacArthur claimed to work 20 hours per week at GTY and received $174,191. In 2008, he reportedly worked 10 hours per week and received nearly as much—$177,083.
Similarly, MacArthur’s hours at TMUS varied from 10 hours to 40 hours per week from 2005—2015 and didn’t necessarily correspond to the amount he was paid.
MacArthur logged a tremendous number of hours for GTY and TMUS, especially considering that he also worked as pastor of GCC. In one year, 2012, MacArthur reportedly worked a combined 60 hours a week at GTY and TMUS. This was in addition to the time he spent pastoring GCC, a church with an average attendance of more than 8,000 people.
Below is a chart compiled by The Roys Report, showing both the hours MacArthur claimed and the salaries he received for the years analyzed.
(Though it is not documented below, Phil Johnson received between $160,000 and $238,927 per year between 2005—2015 for his role at GTY. He also received a no-interest loan of $50,000 from the ministry for the purchase of a home, which was fully forgiven over a five-year period.)
A Family Affair
On its website, the ECFA states, “When a ministry encounters failure—or even worse, scandal—its difficulties can almost always be traced to a breakdown in governance.”
A key characteristic of good governance, according to the ECFA, is maintaining “the reality, not just the appearance of independent board governance.” The ECFA considers board members to be independent if they are not related by blood or employees of the organization.
For decades, though, two of MacArthur’s sons have served on GTY’s board along with their father. Phil Johnson, a key GTY employee, has also served on the board for many years.
Since 2002, the GTY board has ranged in size from eight to 12 members. So at times, as many as half of the board was either a MacArthur or an employee under John MacArthur.
One of MacArthur’s sons, Matthew MacArthur, remains on the board and has been listed on every 990 since 2002 as the treasurer of GTY.
MacArthur’s other son, Mark MacArthur, is also listed on every 990 since 2002 as a GTY board member.
In February 2020, Mark MacArthur was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with defrauding clients in a $16 million investment scheme. As late as August 2020, Mark MacArthur was still listed on GTY’s website as a board member. Mark MacArthur is not listed as a board member today.
In his 2014 statement, Johnson stated that board members “with blood relationships or employment connections to John MacArthur recuse themselves from salary decisions.”
However, it’s not just John MacArthur who is potentially benefitting from his sons’ and Johnson’s presence on the board. GTY has also paid MacArthur’s son-in-law, Kory Welch, and companies Welch owns, millions over the years, as has TMUS.
Millions to Kory Welch
In 2008, Welch was an employee of GTY, making $83,677 as director of television broadcasting. Welch, who’s married to MacArthur’s daughter, Melinda Welch, also was enjoying a $20,000 no-interest home loan with total debt forgiveness from GTY.
In 2008, there were no other contractors providing video production services for GTY, according to the organization’s 990s.
The next year, however, Welch began working for GTY as a video production contractor through a company Welch had formed two years earlier, called The Welch Group. In 2009, GTY paid The Welch Group $741,000 for “post-production services”—nearly 10 times what GTY had paid Welch the year before.
Since then, GTY has paid either The Welch Group or Dorma Productions (another small company Welch owns) between $659,000—$790,000 per year for a combined $8.3 million between 2009—2019.
Another company owned by Welch, called WeKreative, has also received more than $1 million in contract work from TMUS. From 2016 through 2019, TMUS paid WeKreative nearly $1.1 million for “marketing, public relations, and video production services,” according to TMUS audit reports and 990s.
During this time (in 2018 and 2019), TMUS also employed Welch as its COO, and for a time as its chief marketing officer, for which Welch received more than $138,000 in salary and benefits.
TMUS did not respond to requests for comment about Welch’s contract work or the potential conflict of interest concerning his positions at TMUS.
In addition to these jobs and positions, Welch is the CEO of The John MacArthur Charitable Trust (formerly The Master’s Grace Fund). This is a California nonprofit created “to support various ministries of John MacArthur, according to GTY’s 2019 financial statement.”
The sole member of The John MacArthur Charitable Trust is GTY and GTY elects a majority of the trust’s board. The trust does not file 990s, so it is not known if it pays Welch a salary for his services.
Money & Ministry
“You show me a person who preaches the money gospel, the money message, the wealth message—I’ll show you a person who has been corrupted by the love of money.”
So said John MacArthur in a 1987 sermon.
MacArthur added that he “never ever wanted to be in a position to look at ministry with a price tag.” That’s why, MacArthur said, he never asks for money when he preaches at other churches. “That is just too overwhelming a problem for my flesh to deal with.”
Yet clearly, MacArthur takes plenty of money from his own ministries. And though MacArthur may have never preached the prosperity gospel—a gospel that promises health and wealth—his income and portfolio looks an awful lot like those who do.
MacArthur may be America’s anti-prosperity gospel preacher, but his life, and the life of his family members, appears to be quite prosperous—and he seemingly has his ministries to thank.
*UPDATE: The original version of this story did not report that GCC had resigned from ECFA.