In the mid-1970s a vision came to Paul Crouch, but it wasn't what a man of the cloth might have expected.
A map of North America had appeared on his ceiling, glowing with pencil-thin beams of light that shot in every direction. "Lord," asked Crouch, a Pentecostal minister, "what does this mean?" God, according to Crouch, had just one word for him: "Satellite."
Crouch, who belonged to the Assemblies of God, had been trying to spread the Gospel through a small television station in Tustin, but the vision changed his business plan. He bought more television stations, then piled on cable channels and eventually satellites, filling the airwaves with evangelical programming until he had built the world's largest Christian television system the Trinity Broadcasting Network, or TBN.
The controversial pioneer of televangelism, whose broadcast empire was called "one of evangelicalism's most successful and far-reaching media enterprises" by the Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, died Saturday, said his grandson, Brandon Crouch. He was 79.
Crouch, who had heart problems and other ailments, was hospitalized in October when he became ill during a visit to a TBN station in Colleyville, Texas. In early November the network announced that he had improved enough to return to California. His family did not immediately disclose where he died or the cause of death.
TBN was not the first Christian network televangelist Pat Robertson had launched the Christian Broadcast Network a decade earlier but TBN surpassed its rivals in scope and ambition, bringing the word of God to a global audience of millions
"He has created an enormous platform for many ministries to do what he says is very important to him that is, to spread the Gospel not only in this country but around the world," said Steve Strang, founder and chief executive of Charisma Media, a leading publisher of books and magazines for charismatic and Pentecostal Christians.
The son of a poor missionary, Crouch was known for preaching a gospel of prosperity. His twice-yearly Praise-a-Thons on TBN generated as much as $90 million a year in donations, mostly in small amounts from lower-income Americans. "When you give to God," Crouch said in a typical appeal, "you're simply loaning to the Lord and he gives it right on back."
Crouch channeled much of the revenue into charity, funding soup kitchens, homeless shelters and an international humanitarian organization, Smile of a Child, founded by his wife, Jan. In 2011 he donated more than 150 low-power TV stations to Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, which helps minorities, women and other underrepresented communities own and operate TV and radio stations.
But Crouch's main mission was to build an alternative to secular media, a dream he achieved with single-minded devotion and creativity. TBN, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, is a 24-hour family of networks with something for nearly every evangelical Christian demographic. Offerings have included Biblical cartoons and soap operas, game shows, programs on fitness and faith healing, religious movies and late-night Christian rock videos. Prominent independent ministers such as Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart and Robert Schuller bought airtime on TBN, which also broadcast Billy Graham's crusades.
The center of Trinity's lineup has long been the nightly talk show "Praise the Lord." Hosted by the silver-haired Crouch and his flamboyantly coiffed wife, it emanates from an Orange County studio decorated with stained-glass windows, gilded imitation antiques and plush pews for the audience.*************************************************************************************