Has Teen Mania died?
Religion | The once-prominent youth ministry shutters its website
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 11/21/15, 09:49 am
Last year Ministry Today named Teen Mania one of the most influential ministries of the 21st century. Now, 18 months later, the organization appears to be dead.
Teen Mania recently took its website offline, leading many to wonder if the organization is no longer in operation. Teenmania.com automatically redirects visitors to acquirethefire.com, which lists no contact information (except for a generic email) and no future events. It lists endorsements but no board of directors.
“Does anyone have a current email or phone number for ATF?” Mari Nieves asked on the Acquire the Fire Facebook page last week. “I have tried the website, previous numbers that are now disconnected, emails that are no longer working, Facebook inbox, etc.”
Teen Mania’s disappearance leaves a host of vendors, churches, and individuals in the dark on how—or if—they will obtain payment for services rendered and refunds for canceled events.
“$1,400 of money that was raised for teenagers gone,” Seth Gardner wrote on Facebook in late October. “Disappointed. Will not support again nor recommend to anyone.”
Over the past three decades more than 3 million youths have attended Acquire the Fire events, Teen Mania’s signature weekend rallies. The organization, once among the largest youth ministries in the country, raked in more than $300 million since 2001, but it fell into financial disarray in recent years.
In early 2014, the organization went into foreclosure on its 472-acre, East Texas property, which it had obtained in 1996 from the widow of former Christian musician Keith Green. At the time, Teen Mania founder Ron Luce said the organization was intentionally allowing the foreclosure so it could move to Dallas and expand.
“We are headed to Dallas with our eyes focused on the 1.5 billion teenagers worldwide whose lives and character will be shaped by culture or Christ,” Luce said in a 2014 press release.
Those plans never materialized, although Luce did conduct one event in Myanmar (also known as Burma) last August.
In October, Luce purchased naming rights for two organizations in Smith County, Texas: “Teen Mania International” and “Generation Next.” The Smith County clerk’s office told me it only issued the assumed names to Luce and that an application for nonprofit status would come from the Internal Revenue Service, which declined to comment on any possible investigations related to Luce or Teen Mania.
It is unclear what Luce plans to do with the new organizations, and he has declined to speak with WORLD. The new entities are registered to Luce’s home in Lindale, Texas, a lakeside property worth $511,243, according to Zillow. The property had been up for sale until Nov. 6.
Luce’s new organizations come amid multiple lawsuits against his original entity, Teen Mania Ministries Inc. Last year, Compassion International filed suit against Teen Mania Ministries and is still seeking more than $174,000 in compensation.
In September, a Colorado court issued an arrest warrant for Luce, who failed to appear for a proceeding. On Friday, the court told me the warrant is still outstanding.
Futureshirts, a Nashville, Tenn., company that produces merchandise for touring artists, has also filed suit against Teen Mania Ministries, its subsidiaries, and an employee. In September, a Tennessee court ruled that Acquire the Fire should pay Futureshirts $70,161.53, according to a court official. In October, the court issued a judgment against Teen Mania Ministries for $80,779.93.
Numerous former employees have told me Teen Mania Ministries owes other vendors large sums of money. Charity Navigators ranks Teen Mania as the fifth-most insolvent charity in the country with a net worth of negative–$5.2 million.
J.C. is WORLD Radio’s managing editor. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012 and eventually becoming WORLD’s Washington Bureau chief. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.