National Religious Broadcasters on Brink of Bankruptcy & in Fight with Past President; ECFA Fails to Flag

By Julie Roys
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A powerful proponent of free speech, especially for evangelical Christian organizations, is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and facing a legal challenge from its former president.

For 75 years, National Religious Broadcasters(NRB)—the nation’s largest association of evangelical broadcasters with members like the Christian Broadcasting Network(CBN), Focus on the Family, and Moody Radio—has been a powerful lobbying group, ensuring that Christian communicators retain their First Amendment rights and access to radio, TV, and internet. As former NRB President Jerry Johnson often quipped, “NRB wants to be for the First Amendment what NRA (National Rifle Association) is for the Second Amendment.”

Yet now, when religious freedoms and speech are increasingly threatened, NRB is facing a serious financial and legal crisis. And though this crisis has been years in the making, it seemingly went unnoticed until recently by NRB leaders, and was not flagged by the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability, a group touted as a financial watchdog.

In February, Jerry Johnson resigned as president and CEO of NRB. Then two months later, Johnson sent an email to the entire, nearly 100-member NRB board, which was then leaked to me. In it, Johnson demanded more severance and health insurance, which he claimed NRB’s executive board had promised him. He also demanded arbitration and threatened to seek damages against NRB if NRB’s board did not meet his demands.

But NRB has no money.

Wright sent the board another email, informing the board that NRB needed $750,000 by the end of May or “NRB will have no option but bankruptcy and reorganization AND there will be no national convention in 2020.”

In March, NRB treasurer (and a former NRB  president), Frank Wright, wrote an email to NRB’s board, which was also leaked to me. In it, Wright stated that NRB had suffered operating losses of $873,000 since 2014 and “has been financially insolvent for each of the last three fiscal years.”

A month later, Wright sent the board another email, informing the board that NRB needed $750,000 by the end of May or “NRB will have no option but bankruptcy and reorganization AND there will be no national convention in 2020.” (NRB’s annual conventions have been a mainstay and major source of revenue for NRB since it was founded in 1944.)

At about the same time, national radio host, Janet Parshall, who was elected chairman of NRB’s board in February, wrote an impassioned email to the board in response to Johnson’s demands and the current financial crisis.

NRB Chairman Janet Parshall

“Over the last years unprecedented financial deficits have accumulated, spending has escalated to new heights, membership has lagged, and our core mission has been left to wander in the desert of neglect,” Parshall wrote. “Adding to that, the past President and CEO, who was at the helm of NRB’s ‘ship of state’ when these very same troubles originated and continued to accelerate, has now launched a legal threat against us in a one-sided mass email that is fraught with inaccuracies and unfounded conclusions, to put it graciously.”

Parshall informed the board that NRB’s executive committee had appointed her husband, Attorney Craig Parshall, to represent NRB pro-bono regarding Johnson’s claims. Parshall also urged board members to give sacrificially to keep NRB “afloat,” noting that 22 board members had already responded with pledges of financial support.

“(I)f you sense that the battle for the free, full and unfettered proclamation of the Gospel is still worth fighting for, then please, I urge you to give sacrificially today,” Parshall wrote.

I reached out to both Johnson and Parshall to comment on Johnson’s dispute with NRB. Johnson declined to comment. Parshall said, “Because any potential arbitration would be a private, internal matter, it would be inappropriate for anyone in leadership of NRB to comment.”

NRB board members apparently responded favorably to Parshall’s email. On June 7, Parshall sent another email to the board, announcing that $700,000 had been raised to meet NRB’s immediate financial needs and that the deadline for the remaining balance was being extended to June 21.

“(T)he past President and CEO, who was at the helm of NRB’s ‘ship of state’ when these very same troubles originated and continued to accelerate, has now launched a legal threat against us  . .”

Yet NRB’s problems extend beyond the organization’s immediate cash shortfall and dispute with Johnson. Though communications by Parshall and Wright described the crisis as a recent development, NRB has been operating in the red almost every year since 2002.

From 2003-2013, when Wright served as president, NRB lost about $1.3 million in net assets, according to the organization’s 990 tax forms. I reached out to Wright for comment, but he did not respond.

NRB’s losses continued under Johnson. From 2014-2016, NRB lost more than $560,000 in net assets and ended 2016 more than $165,000 in the red. The net assets of NRB for more recent years are not available because the group has not published its 990 tax forms for 2017 or 2018. However, according to figures provided in Wright’s March email, NRB suffered combined operating losses of more than $350,000 in 2017-2018. 

NRB’s financial crisis has also revealed significant problems with communication and leadership at NRB. Two longtime board members—Ric McClary, who’s station manager of Minnesota Christian Broadcasters, and Jerry Rose of Total Living Network, who served as NRB President in the 1980s—said they had no idea the severity of NRB’s financial problems until this year’s convention.

“I don’t remember anybody standing up in front of board members at the business meeting saying we had a problem—ever.” McClary said. He added that he was “stunned” to learn, for example, that NRB hadn’t paid all its bills for its recent conventions.

Similarly, Rose said he knew that NRB had some financial issues but had no idea the deficit spending had been going on for more than a decade.

Even the former chairman of NRB’s board, Michael Little of CBN, said he had no inkling that NRB was in dire financial straits when he assumed the chairmanship in 2017. “It was a surprise,” Little said. “When you’re told by people in positions of authority that (the financials) are looking good, you believe them.” (Little declined to say who the people were who gave him misinformation about NRB’s financial position.)

NRB’s Crisis Raises Questions about ECFA

NRB’s current crisis also raises new questions about the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) and its oversight of ECFA members. Already, ECFA is facing scrutiny for failing to police Harvest Bible Chapel, despite numerous red flags. Now comes news that for the past 17 years, while NRB has been slowly sliding toward insolvency, NRB has been, and remains, an accredited member of ECFA.

ECFA President Dan Busby

When asked about ECFA’s oversight of NRB, ECFA President Dan Busby said, “It is common for organizations to have some years where operating revenues exceed expenses or vice versa. ECFA’s key interest on this topic is the overall viability and sustainability of the organization.” Busby added that “ECFA is aware of recent financial challenges experienced by NRB and has been actively monitoring NRB’s financial condition.”

However, immediately before Michael Little became chairman of NRB’s board in 2017, he was chairman of ECFA’s Board of Directors and vice-chairman of ECFA’s board before that. The entire time Little served on ECFA’s board, he simultaneously served as a member of NRB’s board. This makes Little’s ignorance of the financial crisis at NRB all the more puzzling.

But Little isn’t the only NRB board member to serve on ECFA’s board. Lauren Libby served as ECFA treasurer from 2010-2013 while also serving on NRB’s board. Currently, NRB board member, Wayne Pederson, serves as treasurer of ECFA.

This is pertinent not only because of ECFA’s apparent failure to intervene while NRB was failing financially. ECFA also has a financial interest in NRB, raising potential conflict of interest issues.

“It’s clear ECFA is having a hard time identifying problems. They have to be bashed in the face with it . . . and even then, they’re still slow to act.”

NRB requires all of its members whose broadcast revenue equals or exceeds $1,000,000 to be certified by ECFA or another nationally recognized charity-assessment organization. Currently, more than 50 NRB members—most, if not all of which are supported by donors—belong to ECFA. And according to calculations based on ECFA’s accreditation fee schedule, and the revenue of NRB members that belong to ECFA, NRB members annually generate more than $250,000 in revenue for ECFA.

When asked about NRB board members serving on ECFA’s board and the potential conflict of interest, Busby said, “Because the NRB board consists of more than 100 individuals, it is not unusual for there to be overlap with the ECFA board.”

However, some ECFA board members were not just board members, but NRB officers or executives. In addition to Little who was NRB chairman, Frank Wright served on ECFA’s board around 2010 while simultaneously serving as President of NRB.

When asked about ECFA and NRB’s relationship and recent events, Rusty Leonard of the donor watchdog group MinistryWatch suggested that ECFA may have gone easy on NRB because ECFA was receiving significant funds from NRB members. Still, Leonard said he’s puzzled that ECFA didn’t do something earlier.

“It just doesn’t make much sense, with all that financial fire-power, that this was left year after year to falter,” Leonard said. Yet noting ECFA’s track record with Harvest and also Gospel for Asia—a former ECFA member that recently agreed to refund donors$37 million—he added, “It’s clear ECFA is having a hard time identifying problems. They have to be bashed in the face with it . . . and even then, they’re still slow to act.”

How NRB Became Insolvent

The reason for NRB’s financial crisis is debatable, but the organization has been losing members over the years. In the early 2000s, NRB had 1,400 members. Now it has only 1,100.

Ric McClary said he’s noticed a move in Christian radio away from substantive talk programming to more of a music format. Subsequently, some former NRB members are joining Christian Music Broadcasters(CMB)—another association of Christian broadcasters, which was founded in 2002 and now has about 500 members. McClary said the two organizations have similar goals, but only NRB actively lobbies government leaders to protect free speech.

However, NRB board members cite other reasons for NRB’s financial decline.

Little attributed NRB’s recent money problems to a “couple of key individuals . . . with marginal skills.”

Little didn’t say who those individuals were. But he encouraged me to look at Johnson’s track record at his previous place of employment, which I did. Prior to coming to NRB, Johnson was president of Criswell Collegein Dallas, Texas. And in Johnson’s last two years at Criswell (2012-2013), the college had operating losses of $1.5 million and $1.3 million respectively, according to the college’s 990 tax returns. Johnson left Criswell about midway through the 2014 fiscal year. And that year, Criswell ended the year more than $300,000 in the black.

I sent Johnson an email, asking him about his track record at Criswell, but he did not respond.

“The NRB is very much needed to defend the First Amendment for Christian radio, TV, and internet, and to lobby for it before legislators . . . Other associations aren’t going to do it for us.”

Some cited NRB’s convention costs, which increased dramatically under Johnson. Prior to 2014, convention costs rarely went above $1 million. However, by Johnson’s last year—2018—the costs had nearly doubled to $1.9 million. Convention revenues also increased, but not as dramatically. They were up from $1.8 million in 2014 to $2.3 million in 2018.

Ric McClary said one of the convention costs that “raised eyebrows” was paying a piano player from England $10,000 to play at the convention, plus first-class airfare. Jerry Rose noted that under Johnson, NRB hired emcees for the convention, rather than relying on volunteer NRB members as in the past.

Another controversial financial move by Johnson was the decision to sell NRB’s office building in Manassas, Virginia, and lease a building near the Capitol. NRB’s building sold for $1.4 million in 2016, and in that year, NRB retired its $911,000 mortgage. However, what happened to the remaining $500,000 is a mystery. Surprisingly, NRB’s cash balance went down about $150,000 in 2016 and savings went up only about $55,000.

I asked Johnson what happened to the proceeds of the sale, but he did not respond.

Making matters worse, the owners of the building NRB leased decided not to continue renting the building after the lease expired. This forced NRB to find another space and enter a multi-year lease agreement, which board members say is quite expensive. According to Parshall, NRB is now pursuing ways to sub-lease its current office space and find one that is more economical.

In the meantime, NRB has trimmed its costs by releasing two high-level employees—Jim Smith, former VP of communications, and Aaron Mercer, VP of government relations. So far, no successor to Johnson has been named and Troy Miller, CEO and President of NRBTV (a cable channel founded by members of NRB), is serving as interim CEO.

Rose said he doesn’t think NRB needs to hire an expensive president and CEO. He said when he served as NRB president 30 years ago, it was a volunteer position, much like NRB’s current chairman of the board, and an executive director ran the group’s day-to-day operations. Rose said this allowed NRB members to guard and promote the organization’s vision, rather than the staff.

But every NRB member I spoke with believed strongly that NRB must continue. “The NRB is very much needed to defend the First Amendment for Christian radio, TV, and internet, and to lobby for it before legislators,” McClary said. “Other associations aren’t going to do it for us. . . . The NRB has to be to the First Amendment what the NRA is to the Second Amendment. I agree with that.”

*Picture at top of the page is of former NRB President Jerry Johnson

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18 thoughts on “National Religious Broadcasters on Brink of Bankruptcy & in Fight with Past President; ECFA Fails to Flag”

  1. Not surprising given the national drift of what the majority of Christendom clamors for…to be like the world around us…throw the hymns aside and embrace praise songs, clap after every “performance” where the resident band can attempt to compete with their professional counterparts. Running into trouble since 2002 ???, sounds about right when many churches when desiring to back fill pew vacancy’s decided to embrace a more worldly approach to managing the church, so that today we offer emptiness to the younger generation and then wonder why when they leave for college they drop out of attending church.
    Amazing, we are supposed to be in the spiritual business but seemingly so wise in adapting the newest fad, multiple screens with colorful sights to stimulate the mind till the program begins… and then we wonder why we reap what we sow!

  2. No suprise, unfortunately. God’s Spirit grieves. MONEY is surely the root of all evil…and becoming more of a glaring issue among Christian’s. HELP US LORD.

    1. It is the LOVE OF MONEY that is the root of all evil not money , did not James “Ronald” Mcdonald teach you that?

  3. Jessica Hockett

    Good work, Julie.

    When Frank Wright became CEO in early 2003, the NRB’s net assets were approx. $1.63M (based on 2002 EOY amount). By the end of 2005, NRB’s net assets were ~$640K. What accounts for a $1M decrease in three years?

    I’m also wondering about the overall impact of podcasts & other Internet-based media on the NRB. Seems possible that leaders failed to respond to changes that were occurring with how people access/take in programming that were previously limited to broadcast radio.

  4. I had suspected for quite some time now that there was a problem with ECFA. There are numerous organizations whose financial expenditures are very questionable and just recently my daughter was asking about why ministries “get away with” seemingly unethical behavior. I told her about ECFA and how they were supposed to be the watchdog group for ministries and I told her literally just 2 days ago that something was wrong with ECFA. I remember when they were founded and we were so glad that an organization that had integrity would take over after the CBN debacle. I live in Lynchburg, Va where Liberty University is and although I had wanted to attend and have my daughter attend, I am very disappointed in how they handle their money and how little they do for the very poorest people in Lynchburg. Even Moody Bible Institute built a state of the art gym while Joe Stowell was President, for the inner city youth to have access to. Liberty has a LOT of money and they could change the library system in Lynchburg exponentially by donating money to it. But they don’t. And while they are making a LOT of money with online classes, the people teaching the classes and writing curriculum (it has been reported by people who know Liberty very well) are making a mere $11.00 per hour. I wondered why ECFA has never audited or questioned Liberty University for that reason.

    Where there is smoke, there is fire. It is a good thing to expose this situation with NRB. Unfortunately, as the church continues to be watered down and ethics continue to decline, I have a feeling this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of financial mismanagement. Jesus said He will build His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

  5. Actually just the tip of MANY MANY icebergs………. now to quote the comment above : “Jesus said He will build His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. ” DOES GOD MAKE JUNK?
    Are there not 100’s of people here with enough of God’s Spirit to understand that He or His Son DO NOT
    MAKE MISTAKES , therefore DID THEY EVER ASK ANYONE to make a harvest?, a willow springs? a ecfa? or a nrb? THE PURE ANSWER IS NO THEY DID NOT ASK ANYONE TO DO THAT
    Does not satan own the entire world and it’s systems ? Luke 4: 5-6 says he does.
    So it’s easily found that Billy G was a 33 degree freemason (satanic) who formed an association in 1950 named after himself that in 1979 formed the ecfa, does anybody really need any more explanation to understand that these are of the world which is emnity with God the Father?
    AND THE FRUIT IS ROTTEN IN THE END, it does not matter that it may have taken a few decades , AND THAT SOME good was done (because good and evil are wrapped up in the same tree) satan has learned that some patience will get him the greatest bang (deception) for his buck (which were many of your bucks by the way)
    WHAT GOD DID ASK US TO DO IS THIS: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. 2 Cor 6:17
    Do you think these situations are unclean? You better believe it………

    For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the RULERS OF THE DARKNESS OF THIS WORLD, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Eph 6:12

    1. Billy Graham was NOT a free mason. That is a lie that has been pushed for decades. Get your facts straight before you write such things.

  6. It appears that evangelicalism is facing more than one serious reckoning — and that it is time to make sure that our house is in order. We need to see a new generation of trusted leaders raise up. These are serious problems at the top levels of leadership.

  7. FYI, per the 2016 IRS Form 990, dear Jerry Johnson was paid $248k, plus another $34k from “related” organizations, whomever they are. Also, absent contractual paperwork to the contrary, he has no legal basis for demanding severance and health insurance. Too bad so sad for him.

    As a matter of basic prudent governance, it’s de facto ridiculous and mere window-dressing for the NRB to have a board of 100 members. Yeah, the EFCA bears culpability, but the MAIN culpability belongs to those board members who had the PRIMARY responsibility for overseeing the decline in assets year after year. It seems to me that people look at board positions as some kind of prestige thing to have, rather than realize they actually have a job to do.

  8. Yup 1 John 2:16
    “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”

    And who owns the world? Luke 4:5-6
    “And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a
    moment of time.
    And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me;
    and to whomsoever I will I give it.
    If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine”

    Are these organizations worldly ? The answer is YES (by their fruit you shall know them)
    Then WHO OWNS THEM?
    TIME TO WAKE UP !!!

  9. Paul, the great Apostle of Christ, who taught us all how to conduct ourselves would probably point to 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother and that before unbelievers! Now, therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” And then Paul ends this discourse with the following, which I find to be quite assuming of him, but perhaps a bit prophetic, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” NKJV Something for us all to mull over, pray about, and perhaps change our own thinking concerning these affairs of life.Remember what he said about these things only being temporal, and the weightier matters are the eternal. May the Lord bless, help, and direct each of us through these difficult times, and give us peace in our hearts as we search His word for the way to live our lives pleasing to Him, and Him alone. Amen.

  10. a slight correction , should have said foxes , no way this could have happen without others knowing. and shame on the board and leadership , Matthew 10:16

  11. “Yet now, when religious freedoms and speech are increasingly threatened” / NRB “has been a powerful lobbying group, ensuring that Christian communicators retain their First Amendment rights and access to radio, TV, and internet.”

    What is the basis for thinking Christian broadcasters would be in huge trouble getting airtime if the NRB didn’t exist? I don’t think that’s true at all.

  12. May the NRB and the ECFA go the way of the dodo bird. They are not as important as they think they are. The Church has gotten along for millennia without them both.

  13. This is horrific and shameful to all Christians. I am not only saddened at what I read, but am aghast that so many in leadership ignored the obvious failings of NRB, ECFA and the whole shebang. And to think that when I started my career I yearned to be among such men! Julie Roys, you are a blessing. Keep up the good work! And Church, keep praying because as we all know the road is very narrow, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction.” Matthew 7:14.

  14. I’m puzzled as to why you think it is Liberty University’s responsibility to fix the tax funded Lynchburg municipal library system?

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