Denison Ministries On Rapid Growth Trajectory
“Faith questions have been part of my life for all of my life,” says Jim Denison, the former pastor who is the founder and thought leader at Dallas-based Denison Ministries, which claims an audience of 6.8 million per month with Christian content via articles, audio, video, and books. The ministry also does events.
Denison’s father was a Christian who taught Sunday school. But the carnage and atrocities he witnessed as a soldier fighting in the South Pacific during World War II paralyzed his spiritual life. After the war, he never attended church again, and the family grew up under a cloud of doubt and lost faith.
When he was 15, Jim Denison heard the Gospel thanks to a local church’s bus ministry. He believed in Christ as his savior, but doubts and questions remained. A friend gave him a copy of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. That’s when Dennison realized you could deal with faith intellectually.
As a pastor of four Southern Baptist churches, Denison wasn’t always able to fit his intellectual concerns into his sermon series. But while he served as pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, where he pastored from 1998 to 2009, members approached him and said they saw a bigger ministry in his future, and they were going to fund it.
In 2009, he launched The Center for Informed Faith, a ministry affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Starting with a daily email devotional he sent to 700 contacts, the list quickly grew to 7,000 subscribers. Since then, the ministry has expanded its offerings through a variety of brands:
- Denison Forum sends a Daily Article providing “news discerned differently” with insights on current events to 2.9 million recipients;
- First15 is a devotional resource for engaging culture redemptively that’s designed to be used in the first 15 minutes of each day;
- Christian Parenting offers practical and spiritual help;
- And Foundations is a Bible study taught by Jim’s wife Janet.
In addition to Jim and Janet, two other family members are among the ministry’s approximately 40 employees. Son Ryan, a recent church history graduate, helps write the Daily Article, while Craig, the ministry’s chief innovation officer, leads First15.
Biblical truth without punditry or partisanship
In a wide-ranging, fast-talking interview, Denison, 63, explained that his ministry seeks to promote God’s teaching, not his own fallible opinion.
“I’m here to communicate biblical truth to cultural issues, not to be a pundit,” he said. “We believe that God’s word never returns void. The only word God is obligated to bless is His word, not our content.”
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Denison tackles controversial issues—radical Islam, the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, vaccine mandates—but does so in a calm, reasoned way that stands out from the angry, divisive voices currently dominating the blabosphere. His goal is isolating biblical truth from partisan opinion.
“It’s a real challenge,” he admits.
“Early on, a friend with nonprofit experience said that in order for our ministry to raise funds, we would need to define who our enemy is,” he recalls. “The friend said, first you have to convince people they have an enemy. Next, you convince them that they can’t defeat their enemy on their own. Finally, you need to convince them you can defeat their enemy if they give you their money.”
Dennison rejected the advice, and remains a conscientious objector in the culture wars, but the ministry has grown regardless. A three-year growth campaign pushed 2021 income to $7.9 million, up from $4.6 million in 2019. That has made it one of the largest ministries of its kind in the country. Because Denison Forum is classified as a church, it does not release its Form 990s to the public. That makes Denison’s salary, and the names of the organization’s board members, inaccessible to the public. It scores 2 Stars (out of a possible 5 Stars) in Financial Efficiency from MinistryWatch. It has a Transparency Grade of C. (You can see its complete profile here.)
H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture described five different ways Christians have historically related to their cultural context. Dennison favors the “Christ the Transformer of Culture” approach over the “Christ Against Culture” approach that seems common today.
Dennison sees a brighter future in an emerging generation of believers who replace angst and animosity with love for neighbors through practical acts of service.
And even though he retired from the pulpit over a decade ago, he still sounds like a Billy Graham-style Baptist preacher who does all he can to present Christ’s Gospel to all people, not merely his ideological tribe.
“I’m called to reach everyone,” he says. “There’s a huge need for people who will speak the truth in love in a way that’s not politically formed or politically oriented.”
Denison says partisanship leads large numbers of Christians to believe “that political activism is an essential step toward biblical morality,” which leads many to “respond to issues in a way that is damaging in the culture.”
He addresses many of these issues in the latest of his 30 books: The Coming Tsunami: Why Christians Are Labeled Intolerant, Irrelevant, Oppressive, and Dangerous―and How We Can Turn the Tide.
Denison explained one of the book’s lessons with an anecdote about a friend in high school who carried a big King James Bible to class, and even spoke to others in a kind of King James-style English. As one might expect, he wasn’t too popular, a problem he blamed on persecution. But Denison reminded him: “Dude, blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness sake!”
He plans to explore the topic of persecution in a future project.
“I hear so many people say that anyone who questions their faith is their enemy,” he says. “I want to help people respond to persecution in ways that don’t see the other as the enemy.”