Forced Cancellation of T4G Due to COVID-19 Pandemic Has Them On the Verge of Bankruptcy

By | March 19, 2020

As you weigh whether to request a refund for your ticket to the cancelled T4G Conference, consider that your ticket in 2018 helped provide the following:

  • $25,000  salary to Mark Dever for two hours of work per week.
  • $62,000 grant to Thabiti Anyabwile’s Anacostia River Church.
  • $247,000 annual salary and other compensation to Matt Schmucker.

For further details see the article below.

 

Two days ago I wrote an article titled “T4G – When Will the Evangelical Leaders Cancel Their Gospelly Conference?” In the article, I stated that “I fully expect the T4G Gospelly boys to announce they are cancelling their conference any day now, but it’s rather shameful that the Governor of Kentucky may have to threaten the leaders with house arrest if they refuse to do so!”  This morning Mark Dever and Matt Schmucker published a statement and a video in which Dever said, “Government officials have informed us that we can no longer gather for the Together for the Gospel Conference.” Schmucker, not quite as forthright in his written explanation as Dever was in the video, stated: “our love for neighbor and submission to authority overrides even our desire to gather, hear good preaching, sing, and collect books.”  Call me skeptical, but if one realizes that above all, these guys are peddlers of the Gospel their actions become much clearer.

One didn’t have to be a Nostradamus to make the prediction I made above, a modicum of common sense and observation of current affairs made it abundantly clear to this member of the proletariat.

Two days ago I also stated: “Watch for them to ask those who have paid the $300 conference fee to donate it to T4G.  And watch their “partners in the gospel” do it!” Again, I am a rather simple-minded man, but a child of three could have figured this out. If you have followed T4G over the years you know that the crowd queuing up to plunk their hard-earned cash down for a seat in the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville is comprised of overwhelmingly winsome white men in their 20-30s. They idolize preachers like John MacArthur and C.J. Mahaney (neither were scheduled to speak this year), talks about church discipline, church membership contracts, and all things Calvin.

John MacArthur at the 2016 T4G conference, surrounded by his worshippers.


Below is a screenshot of T4G’s evolving response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

 


 

“Government officials have informed us that we can no longer gather for the Together for the Gospel Conference.” -Mark Dever

Don’t sound so shocked Mark. If the government officials hadn’t shut you down would you still be pressing on with your plans to hold the Conference? I can think of no better way to create a hot zone in all of Louisville, the USA, and the world, than to pack an arena full of men from all over the world shoulder to shoulder for 3 days and then disperse them back across the country and the world to transmit the COVID-19 virus. Ah, but you “held out hope for as long as we could.”  But of course, as Matt stated, “love for neighbor” won out, even though many of the resilient, bold, happy, (and may I add woefully ignorant) registrants were clamoring for the show to go on!

“We’ve taken your money that you have given us since September and have already invested it… So we’ve invested all this money, in one sense we don’t have it anymore, and the expenses still remain and we are completely relying on the registration money and our sponsor money. So the remaining expenses have to be paid, about ninety percent of it, from the registration money.”  -Matt Schmucker

Not exactly Matt. The definition of invest is “to use your money with the goal of making a profit from it, for example by buying property or buying stock in a company,” I’m no business expert, but it appears to me that what you, according to Mark Dever’s quote below, have been engaging in for several years, is a sketchy business practice. As the President and Executive Director of “Gospel Projects” (the umbrella non-profit group for T4G, Cross For the Nations, and The Front Porch), Conference-goers are paying your yearly salary of $250,000, while Mark Dever, a Vice President of “Gospel Projects” receives $25,000 per year for his 2 hours per week he spends working for the non-profit. (That works out to $240 per hour if Dever works 52 weeks in the year. Not bad money if you can get it!)

“And this is the only responsible way to work. It worked in ’06, ’08, ’10, ’12, ’14, ’16, ’18 and we had every reason to think it to work in 2020 unless the Lord allows such unusual providences, which again we trusted for.” -Mark Dever

Maybe Dever is right. Common sense tells me otherwise, but I would like to hear what an individual with a Masters in Business Administration has to say. Dever is a sharp guy, but I believe his specialty is theology, not business. Schmucker’s and Dever’s plans worked in normal times, but in the history of the world, times are not normal indefinitely. Pandemics happen. Natural disasters happen. War happens. Economic collapse happens.

So now Dever and Schmucker are reduced to cobbling some alternate plan together in hopes of coaxing a vast majority of those who signed up to attend a Conference to allow “Gospel Projects” to keep their “investment.”

Dever jumps in with “to be fair to you and the organization side of it is, that’s why you’re clear when people register that there are no refunds. That’s on the website.”

Is Dever being truthful? Not exactly. See the screenshot below.  There were refunds given, but the website shows the refunds ceased on February 28th. I believe a refund policy is established to protect the Conference organizer from whimsical Conference attendee who decides at the last minute they want a refund, rather than a Conference organizer who cancels the conference, even though it is for circumstances beyond the organizer’s control.

I don’t think I need to spend much time on this subject because it is clear that Dever and Schmucker have not said they will not give a registrant a full refund if requested, they are simply attempting to coax as many registrants as possible to choose not to request a refund. Dever’s comment above serves no obvious purpose and would have been better left unsaid.

 

 

 

“That’s one of the main reasons we have this conference, to get out those books! That’s the main thing, honestly, we do with your money.” -Mark Dever

Really? Then I have a suggestion. Why don’t you stop holding conferences and set up a massive book club? You could work with publishers to feature one book per month at an unbeatable price.

I think Schmucker’s plan to mail the books that were going to be given away to all Conference attenders is a generous offer, but perhaps not a wise business decision. If they were to mail out 12,000 boxes of books at $20 per box, total cost, they would spend $240,000. That is nearly equal to Schmucker’s yearly salary!  “Gospel Projects” is desperately attempting to stave off bankruptcy by convincing people not to demand a refund and then they turn around and promise to send books to everyone.  They have stated the postage for this will be $12.50-$17.00, but all those books will need to be packaged and addressed. I can’t imagine what the cost of that will be. At any rate, it will really cut into their profit margin.  I have seen that on the T4G Twitter account they are really encouraging people to donate money to them to cover the shipping expense, and as you can see below, one winsome man encouraged everyone to donate $20.

 

Now I would like to look into T4G’s finances and structure. I want to thank my blog partner, Janna, for digging up these tax returns for me.

As I have already stated, T4G is an entity operating under an umbrella 501(c)3 non-profit organization called “Gospel Projects.” There are two other entities also operating under Gospel Projects – “Cross for the Nations” and “The Front Porch.” I believe Cross for the Nations is spearheaded by David Platt and John Piper. They have an annual conference held around New Years Day. They make emotional pleas to college students to live “Radical” lives by becoming missionaries.

The Front Porch is a group that appeals mainly to African Americans and is headed by Thabiti Anyabwile.

 

 

Below is a screenshot from the 2016 tax return of the Gospel Project. Highlighted in yellow are the three entities I mentioned above. It is interesting to read their stats.

 

The officers of Gospel Projects are Chairman Jamie Dunlop. Below is a brief bio of him.

 

Next is President and Executive Director, Matt Schmucker. I have already given him enough exposure, but the document below, taken from the Gospel Projects 2018 tax return shows  Schmucker to have an annual salary of $204,156 and other compensation of $42,824 for a total of about $247,000.

Next is Vice President, Thabiti Anyabwile. There was a short bio on him above. He formerly served as an assistant pastor under Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He has also been a regular plenary speaker at the T4G conferences, although he was not scheduled as a speaker this year.

Next is Vice President, Mark Dever. Dever is shown to work 2 hours per week for the Gospel Projects and received $25,000 for his labors!

Next is Secretary, David Verhey. Verhey is a prominent attorney in the Washington, D.C. area and has been an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and then Del Rey Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA.

Finally is Treasurer, Matthew Freeman. He is an investment advisor and is a member of Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

 

Next, I would like to draw your attention to a troubling $62,000 grant that Gospel Projects gave to Anacostia River Church. The pastor of Anacostia River Church is Thabiti Anyabwile! I have no inside information about this gift from Gospel Projects/T4G, nor am I a tax expert, but on the surface, this appears to be an obvious conflict of interest. How can you explain this large sum of money given to a church which is pastored by an officer of the Gospel Projects? How does a non-profit group who Matt Schmucker admits in a video above that “T4G isn’t a large non-profit or backed up by a lot of money, we essentially live off the event from year to year,” justify gifting $62,000 to Anacostia River Church?

 

 

 

nn

 

Below is a copy of the 2018 IRS 990 tax return filed by Gospel Projects.  If you find it hard to view you can click on the link and read the document at the Scribd website. What I was unable to determine, and would really like to know is how much money the Celebrity Christian speakers who appear at the T4G conference receive. If anyone has that information I would love to hear from them.

2018 IRS990 Tax Return by … by Todd Wilhelm on Scribd

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I am wondering how much money T4G has to spend to purchase the books to give away. I am sure that T4G has a fantastic deal with the publishers. I can’t imaging buying the “free” books is that much of an expense.

Yes yet that assumes Matt Schmucker bought the 17 relevant books at a very discounted wholesale rate. Instead, he may have paid the full retail price, or almost the full retail price, for them instead. That would likely put more money in the pockets of the “celebrity pastors” that he serves so well, in my view.

Paying the retail price for books might also artificially inflate the number of new books sold, for the purpose of ranking them on bestseller lists.

To my knowledge, paying retail prices for books, to solely benefit their authors, is widely considered an unethical thing for non profits to do. However,that practice is not illegal, to my knowledge.

Matt Dever and Matt Schmucker seem desperate to have the 17 “free” books distributed, despite the obvious health risks associated with physically packing and shipping at least 100,000 books during a pandemic.

I suspect that the accounting systems and processes, for T4G, are set up to only provide “celebrity pastors” with big paychecks if the conference books are purchased AND distributed.

Matt Schmucker could certainly shed light on the subject we’re discussing. I think that he should provide full financial transparency regarding expenditures for T4G, if he’s going to beg for money on the grounds that the T4G conference may go bankrupt.

That’s just my opinion. As always, I respect other people’s right to support organizations that they like.

Thanks. Janna L. Chan (blog team member)

I’m not a tax person, but check:
https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/exempt-organizations-annual-reporting-requirements-form-990-schedule-r-meaning-of-related-organization
I wonder if that means Anacostia Church is somehow a related or controlled organization. T4G did not list a Schedule R. Maybe someone out there knows.

The conflict of interest thing is a red flag for sure. I work in the field of compliance. I can say who I will and will not contribute to as a result. Most ministries are flooded with contributions. This one is driven by their conferences. I just want to tell people to stay home and love their families! (And get their money back).

Amen! Mark Dever has now declared that listening to sermons streamed through the internet is ungodly, so his church isn’t going to offer spiritual solace in that way.

I’m not making this up. You can find more information here.

Thanks for the comment.

Janna L. Chan (blog team member)

That looks like it was recorded in 9Mark Dever’s study at CHBC.
But the lighting seems unusually dim in the video, was that for effect?

Interesting observation, Jerome. Sadly, I think that the video’s content is pretty dim and insensitive as well.

Yes, I’m not a fan of 9Marks or T4G in general. However, I know that many people look to Mark Dever, in particular, for spiritual guidance. I’m trying to respect that choice right now. Others can feel differently understandably.

I genuinely hope that Pastor Dever shows more compassion and common sense in his future statements about this devastating pandemic. Its ramifications go far beyond needing to cancel a conference for public safety reasons, and people are depending on him for real spiritual leadership.

Thanks for the comment, Jerome.

Janna L. Chan (blog team member)

What I think that you are not factoring is that most pastor’s have a conference allowance. So many pastors because of their loyalty will most likely not ask for a refund. What could be annoying is Together for the Gospel still going bankrupt when most registrants did not ask for a refund.

You could be right. I’ve actually seen a projection indicating that most non profits will go bankrupt, including those that do very practical things for society such as running food banks and helping the homeless.

In this case, it’s interesting that Mark Dever has publicly stated that the conference’s primary purpose is distributing books, most of which are written by wealthy “celebrity pastors” like himself.

People can support whichever organizations they like.

I just personally hope that no one feels pressured to sacrifice rent money so that Mark Dever and Matt Schmucker can stay in business.

Thanks.

Janna L. Chan (blog team member)

I wouldn’t say they were going bankrupt. They were just keeping a low asset balance. It will be interesting to view their FYE 2020 IRS 990 to see the difference between this year and past years in terms of Contributions (line 8) and Program Service Revenue (line 9). The unrefunded $ will have to count as a donation. Which is fine. I’ll keep my eye on this charity.

Thanks for the comment.

I just want to point out that in the video in this post, Mark Dever and Matt Schmucker state that the T4G conference will go bankrupt, to the point that it cannot be held in future years, if too many attendees request refunds.

Schmucker and Dever themselves use the word “bankruptcy” to describe their perceived plight regarding the future of T4G.

They also say that the Yum conference center was booked four years in advance, and then imply that it and many other expensive prepaid expenditures cannot be refunded.

Mark Dever gets paid $25,000 for doing 104 hours of unspecified work. Matt Schmucker’s salary is more than $200,000 and his full compensation package is close to $250,000. That’s declared on the 2018 990 tax form.

Even if each of the 17 pre-purchased “free books” only cost $2 a piece, that comes to $408,000 for 12,000 attendees. According to the video in this post, those books also have to be warehoused and trucked to the conference center.

Now that the conference has been cancelled, 17 books per ticket have to be packed and shipped, if ticket holders reside in the US. Most of them do. So conservatively, providing what T4G calls “zero dollar books” likely costs at least $425,000 in actuality. If each book costs $4 a piece, that figure almost doubles.

Many conferences give away a free book or two. However, I’ve never heard of any other conference giving away 18 books? Have you?

So the Gospel Projects, which runs T4G, doesn’t seem like a fiscally responsible, non-profit ministry to me. It looks more like a business entity designed to run a giant, wasteful party that merely masquerades as a ministry.

Thanks again for your interest, Godith. Your views are very helpful because you’re not as cynical about T4G as me and Todd. 👍 Thanks.

Janna L. Chan (blog team member)

(Embarrassment here: I didn’t watch the video). Thanks for explaining that. I guess God put a wrench in their plans, big time! James 4:13-16. Don’t boast of tomorrow. Why can’t we learn truth through the Bible in our devotions and through our local church–both are the God-ordained means! They made vast plans that didn’t pan out. I think T4G and Gospel Projects is part of what Carl Trueman calls “the evangelical industrial complex”. Their mission is “training” and of course, they could do so without big events. The books are already written, ready for anyone to purchase online. It’s possible, even though they don’t admit it, that the conference center will give them a partial refund. By then, loads of registrants may have already “donated” their registration fees. I think I’m probably almost as cynical as you are on this issue! Thanks again.

There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, my friend. The evangelical industrial complex is hard to keep tabs on, in my experience.

I believe that T4G mentioned that they were potentially going bankrupt, in a written communication as well. If so, I’ll post that “memo” close to the video on this post.

Plus even a real cynic like me was surprised
when Mark Dever publicly admitted, in the video above, that distributing “zero dollar books” was the T4G conference’s primary purpose.

It’s hard to imagine how arrogant and reckless some celebrity pastors can be.

I miss stuff all the time, and Todd and I are just grateful when thoughtful people like you read Todd’s blog.

Thanks again.

Janna L. Chan (blog team member)

Correction, Mark Dever is reportedly paid $25,000 for 104 hours of time per year. I apologize for my error and have corrected it in the comment above.

Janna L. Chan (blog team member)

Please note that T4G gave away 18 books in 2018, yet is only giving away 17 books in 2020 according to the following source on T4G’S website.

https://t4g.org/update/

I am redoing the math in the comment above. Thanks. Janna L. Chan (blog team member)

Let me be the first to say, “Please do go bankrupt, you Mammon loving, Gospel twisting, Narcissist white-washed septic tanks!” This has never been about anything other than your own money and fame. May this drag down the rest of what you do with it. People need Jesus, not a bunch of self-important wind bags robbing God of His due glory. May the lemmings of the sheep wake up and see something greater then their own reflections in the bald heads of the celebrity speakers!