Ron Luce admits Teen Mania is finished

Religion
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 12/18/15, 01:05 pm

Teen Mania founder Ron Luce has posted a public statement acknowledging the organization has shuttered, confirming a WORLD report published last month.

“After talking with our board members and pastoral leadership at Gateway [church in Southlake, Texas], we have decided that the season of Teen Mania as an organization has come to a time of conclusion,” Luce said in the statement.

The news finalizes a stunning fall for what was once one of the nation’s largest youth ministries. It attracted more than 3 million teens to its signature Acquire the Fire events during the past three decades and generated some $300 million in revenue since 2001.

Former Teen Mania employees say the organization was unable to live within its means while maintaining a schedule of events around the country, sending teens overseas on mission trips, and maintaining a 472-acre property in East Texas. The property went into foreclosure in early 2014, an avoidable outcome, former employees told WORLD—citing irresponsible spending.

But Luce painted himself as the victim in an interview with Christianity Today: “I guess we’re guilty of reaching as many kids as we could, thinking our business model was sound.”

While Teen Mania’s future is clear, many questions remain about the payments and refunds the ministry owes vendors, churches, and individuals. At least three organizations, including Compassion International, have filed lawsuits against Teen Mania. In September, a Colorado court issued a warrant for Luce’s arrest when he failed to appear at a proceeding related to one of the suits.

In a statement posted on Acquire the Fire’s website, Luce said the organization will file bankruptcy to liquidate remaining ministry assets “in an attempt to satisfy vendors.” Luce told Christianity Today he’s doing everything he can to “make it right with youth groups and churches.”

Calvin Edwards, founder of an Atlanta-based consulting firm that has evaluated hundreds of nonprofits—including Teen Mania—in more than 50 countries, told me most people should not expect to receive anything.

“Obligations to creditors (accounts payable, debt, LOC, etc.) and to donors (funds given but not spent as designated) both create liability and risk, but there is virtually nothing a disgruntled party can do,” Edwards told me via email. “Once the assets are gone, there is no recourse.”

Edwards’ company led a comprehensive audit of Teen Mania in 2011 and made 32 recommendations, but “it was met with strong opposition from Ron Luce, who sought to maintain the status quo.”

“[There is] really no excuse for the mess,” Edwards said.

J.C. Derrick

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.

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