They have hundreds of thousands of followers worldwide and are praised for their views on life. Beyond that, they happen to be multi-millionaires. And no, we’re not talking about your average celebrity. We’re talking about spiritual leaders, healers, and preachers. Read on to discover the world’s richest religious leaders, ranked.
Famed televangelist Jack Van Impe is most widely recognized for his TV series, Jack Van Impe Presents. For half an hour each week, he discusses the news through the lens of the Bible. His wife Rexella begins each episode with a review of recent news headlines, and Van Impe follows by interpreting the stories through scripture verses.
Van Impe’s vast Biblical knowledge has earned him the nickname, the “Walking Bible.” As he shows on his series, which airs on religious networks around the globe, he has a vast number of long scriptures memorized by heart. Aside from his television program, Van Impe has also released a number of spoken word and gospel recordings with his wife.
Bronx-born, Boston-raised Louis Farrakhan did not always go by this name. He was born Louis Eugene Walcott, eventually dropping his surname and replacing it with the letter X. Before that, however, he was called “The Charmer,” a nickname that was assigned to him in the 1950’s when he began a professional career as a singer.
In his former life, Farrakhan even performed in cabaret as a dancer. But everything changed in 1955 when he heard sermons by Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam at the time. Farrakhan took over in 1977 and has been the head of the movement ever since.
Prior to becoming a Baptist minister, Clifton Davis was part of the entertainment world. Not only did he try his hand at Broadway, having performed in plays such as Aladdin and Shakespeare’s, but he also starred in television shows like Amen and That’s My Mama.
Perhaps one of the least-known facts about Davis, however, is that he wrote Jackson 5’s hit 1971 song, “Never Can Say Goodbye.” It seems his background in entertainment and music certainly helped him become a preacher! Today, he frequently appears on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and is the author of “A Mason-Dixon Memory,” an autobiographical essay where he chronicles his experience with prejudice.
Tony Campolo is considered one of the most influential figures in the Evangelical community. As an iconic commentator, he frequently appears on discussion-based shows such as Larry King Live, The Charlie Ross Show, and The Colbert Report, where he speaks on religious, social, and political issues.
Campolo was also a spiritual adviser to a past United States president. Fans of his believe he rightfully earned this role, especially given his extensive scholarly background stemming from the worlds of both Biblical and secular education. Campolo holds degrees in both sociology and theology. In fact, he earned his PhD Philadelphia’s Temple University.
German evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke is most widely recognized for his gospel crusades throughout Africa, where he has served as a missionary since 1967. Bonnke was only ten years old when he heard his calling to do missionary work. He then moved all across the African continent as he carried out his gospel campaign journey.
Unbeknownst to many, Bonnke is responsible for commissioning the creation of the largest mobile structure in the world. It was constructed as a way to accommodate all the people who attended his meetings. While his first meetings were held in a tent and could only fit 800 people, he eventually needed to scale up as he gained popularity. In 1984, Bonnke’s mobile tent was built to seat 34,000 attendees.
NEXT: These spiritual figures have accomplished far more than establishing communities.
Evangelist pastor Joseph Prince was a founder of Singapore’s New Creation Church. Launched in 1983, the church is a non-denominational Christian place of worship. Prince, according to his website, became a senior pastor in 1990 and transformed the church into what it is today.
Prince’s appointment initiated a period of extraordinary growth. Under his leadership, the church expanded from a congregation of 150 to around 33,000 people. When he isn’t preaching to his congregation, Prince is writing books, speaking on podcasts, or traveling around the world to help people find the “covenant of grace.” He and his wife, Wendy also dedicate themselves to serving less fortunate children around Asia.
Paula White had a difficult life growing up. However, as she explains in her sermons, it all turned around once she was introduced to the Bible at age 18. According to White, she had a vision around this time where she was able to heal people from sickness whenever she opened her mouth and “declared the Word of the Lord.”
When she closed her mouth, she said, people “fell off into utter darkness.” Since then, White has spent her years paving the way for women in Christian ministry and dedicating herself to humanitarian work across the United States. She is also the wife of Jonathan Cain, the keyboardist from the rock band Journey!
Charlotte, North Carolina-born Eddie Long grew up with a Baptist preacher father. After earning his degree in business from North Carolina Central University, he went on to work as a car salesman. When that didn’t work out and he was fired from the job, he reportedly turned to religion.
Long took up studying theology and then went on to preach at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia, which he helped grow from a 300-person congregation to one with over 25,000 members. Long adhered to what is considered “prosperity gospel,” which teaches that the faithful will be repaid through financial success.
Pentecostal bishop Noel Jones was raised in Spanish Town, Jamaica, until his parents moved with him and his six siblings to Syracuse, New York. He and his brothers and sisters were admittedly very different from one another, which taught Jones about the power of patience and forgiveness.
In regards to handling the diversity among his siblings (one of whom is none other than the singer, actress, model, and Hollywood legend Grace Jones), Jones was quoted saying, “If I could reconcile and keep peace among us, I can reconcile the Church through the power of God.” And that has been his mission ever since. Today, Jones is recognized as a charismatic preacher, television personality, and gospel singer.
Texas native John Hagee is a pastor and the founder of John Hagee Ministries, which claims to have donated over $100 million to humanitarian efforts in the State of Israel. He is also the founder of Christians United for Israel. On the 70th anniversary of its independence, Israel recognized him as “one of the 70 greatest contributors to Israel since statehood.”
US Ambassador David Friedman also invited Hagee to do the honor of giving the closing prayer at the American embassy’s opening in Jerusalem. Hagee is the author of seven New York Times Best Seller books, and is the founder of Cornerstone Christian Schools, which dedicates itself to Bible-based education.
The late astrologer Walter Mercado was a famous actor and dancer in his native island of Puerto Rico. While he got his start in entertainment by appearing in telenovelas, he is perhaps most well-known for delivering people’s daily horoscopes via their television screen.
According to CNN, Mercado didn’t have a background in astrology prior to gaining fame. His career started when the person in charge of reading horoscopes on a Telemundo program failed to show up, and Mercado happened to be on hand to fill in for him. After his appearance, the television station was apparently inundated with requests to have Mercado return and the rest was history.
NEXT: These religious leaders are known for more than just their sermons
Christian minister, motivational speaker, and New York Times-bestselling author, Joyce Meyer is recognized by many for her television and radio series, Enjoying Everyday Life. Through candid conversation, she claims to help people find hope in Jesus Christ. But not everything Meyer speaks about is serious.
The charismatic preacher is also known for adding humor to her sermons, and sometimes even pokes fun at Christians like herself. With 130 books to her name and a massive radio and television audience, Meyer has afforded herself a pretty lavish lifestyle with private jets and fancy cars. In response to her critics, she says, “There’s no need for us to apologize for being blessed.”
Juanita Bynum, who goes by the title “Prophetess Juanita Bynum,” is considered one of the world’s most recognized gospel singers. Not only that, but New York Times reporter Shaila Dewan referred to her as “the most prominent black female television evangelist in the country.”
Bynum first began preaching as a fresh high school graduate. Traveling through her hometown of Chicago, Illinois, she quickly gained popularity among churchgoers and started a series that she named “Lessons in Submission.” It didn’t take long for Bynum to become a regular on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and with its help, she has successfully amassed a group of dedicated fans.
Televangelist Ernest Angley was raised Baptist in his native North Carolina home. But when he turned 18 years old, he claimed that he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. He got married and he and his wife Esther spent the early half of the 1950s journeying across the United States in a camper van.
With few possessions aside from their tent, they worked as traveling evangelists, bringing healing and salvation to those around them. When they finally settled in northeast Ohio, Angley founded Grace Cathedral, which is used today for Bible study, youth programs, and church weddings. Since then, Angley has earned international recognition through his one-hour weekly show, The Ernest Angley Hour.
Bishop Thomas Dexter Jakes founded Texas megachurch The Potter’s House back in 1996. Today, it is ranked as the United States’ 10th largest church, thanks to its ability to hold 8,000 people, along with an attendance that reaches around 17,000 people a week.
Despite it being non-denominational, Jakes holds the title of Bishop. Running a four-campus church isn’t all that the Bishop is known for, however. He has also made a number of appearances on television shows like Good Morning America and Doctor Phil. In 2004, his book Woman Thou Art Loosed was turned into a movie. Since then, Jakes has gone on to produce a number of films.
Recognized by most as having played Mike Seaver on the ABC sitcom Growing Pains, Kirk Cameron is far from being a stranger to the Hollywood spotlight. Yet while the child actor has also made appearances in films such as Fireproof and Saving Christmas, his career stretches beyond being an award-winning performer.
Cameron is also a preaching Evangelical Christian and the leader of The Way of the Master ministry. This ministry is best known for its self-titled television show, which Cameron co-hosts alongside Ray Comfort. The series has won three National Religious Broadcasters’ People’s Choice Awards and two Best Program Awards.
Next: This rich religious figure took everyone by surprise.
Evangelical icon Billy Graham apparently preached “to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history.” According to his website, that translates to a mind-boggling 215 million people in over 185 territories and countries. With such a large reach, it’s no wonder he made this list.
Graham has given sermons everywhere, from the bustling heart of New York City to remote villages in Africa. He has published 33 books, started the “Hour of Decision” weekly radio program — which had a global audience for over 60 years — and created one of the most widely distributed religious magazines in the world, Decision.
Originally hailing from California, Rick Warren is the founder of the sixth-largest megachurch in the United States, Saddleback Church. Founded in Lake Forest, California, the place of worship has grown to serve 19 different locations, four of which are internationally based. But Saddleback isn’t all Warren is recognized for.
Pastor Warren also started Pastors.com, an online platform meant to provide a community where church leaders can encourage one another and grow their leadership skills. He rose to fame as an author following the release of his New York Times best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life. Following its release, Warren allegedly quit taking a salary from the church and gave back all that he had earned in his 25 years there.
Pentecostal minister Benny Hinn was born in Israel to a Greek Orthodox family. Following the Six Day War, they packed their bags and moved to Canada. Hinn has since dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel to audiences around the world. Part of the “Miracle Crusades” of the 1980s, Hinn has traveled near and far performing what is known as “faith healing.”
By exercising the Biblical belief of the “laying on of hands,” he claims to invoke the Holy Spirit and heal the sick. HBO aired a documentary about this in 2001, A Question of Miracles, which followed Hinn and Reinhard Bonnke as they performed what they believe to be miracle healings.
Televangelist, pastor, and author Joel Osteen is the current face of Lakewood Church. As it was originally founded by his Southern Baptist father, Osteen spent 17 years working at the church behind the scenes. He produced his father’s televised sermons until 1999, when his father unexpectedly passed away and Osteen filled his shoes as pastor.
Under Osteen’s direction, the church’s attendance grew from 5,000 people to around 43,000. In addition to those who visit the church, an estimated 7 million people watch his broadcasted sermons each week. His teachings reach more than 100 countries and are also played around the clock on Sirius XM Radio. Additionally, he is the author of best-selling book, Your Best Life Now, which was also apparently made into a board game.
Victoria Osteen, wife of Joel Osteen, is the founder of Lakewood Church Women’s Ministry, which offers classes for women and aims to help them connect with one another and feel inspired. As co-pastor, her sermons are broadcast on the Daystar Television Network.
Aside from her work with the Women’s Ministry, Osteen is also a successful author. Her first book, Love Your Life: Living Happy, Healthy, and Whole, made it to number two on the New York Times Best Sellers list upon release. What’s more, it was initially printed with 750,000 copies, making it one of the most book copies of any American publisher in 2008.
Kanye West catapulted to Hollywood fame for hit singles like “Jesus Walks.” Add the fact that he quite literally dubbed himself Yeezus, and it’s undeniable that faith plays a major part in the rapper’s life. In early 2019, he endeavored to take things one step further, announcing the start of his own Sunday service.
Ye’s wife Kim Kardashian told Elle magazine that while there’s no sermon, “there’s a Christian vibe.” She added in an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians that “he just started it for his close friends and family. It’s just really about the music and about healing. And there’s this whole gospel choir that’s really magical.”
The massively-successful televangelist Kenneth Copeland is the leader of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and is another seed faith preacher. With the help of his wife Gloria, he has opened seven ministry offices across the globe. Together, they feel called to teach Christians how to face life’s obstacles and come out stronger.
In fact, they claim to have done just that. On their website, they wrote, “We were broke, in debt up to our eyeballs, sick and flat-out discouraged. Then, one day we made a quality decision to make Jesus The LORD of our lives and…that decision made all the difference…It literally changed everything!”
Former professional boxer and Olympic gold medalist, George Foreman put his boxing days behind him and became a born-again Christian following one fateful dressing room experience. After losing a 1977 Puerto Rico fight against Jimmy Young, the heavyweight champion’s life changed forever.
Foreman explained the moments after losing the fight, saying, “In the dressing room I was walking back and forth to cool off. Then in a split second, I was fighting for my life.” He went unconscious from heatstroke, and woke up with a strong desire to spread God’s word. One year later, Foreman became an ordained minister. Since then, he ranks as one of the richest religious leaders in the world.
Vietnam native Ching Hai got her start to spirituality thanks to a chance encounter she had in Germany in 1977. She met a Buddhist monk whose teachings she followed closely for three years. But because his monastery prohibited female entry, she decided to move to India and study another religion.
While in India, Ching Hai tried to purchase a copy of the Sanskrit scripture Bhagavad Gita at a bookshop. The shopkeeper insisted he didn’t have a copy but she still managed to find one. This started rumors of her having a third eye and one year later, she was ordained by a Buddhist monk. Today, her followers call her “Supreme Master.”
David Oyedepo is considered the richest pastor in Nigeria. Not only is he the presiding bishop of both Winners’ Chapel International (aka Living Faith Church Worldwide) and Faith Tabernacle, but he is also an author, architect, and businessman. His network of churches, Winners’ Chapel International, is located in Africa, Dubai, the UK, and US.
The church also runs a program designed for Bible training, which is called the Word of Faith Bible Institute. Aside from the church, Oyedepo has written a number of periodicals and 70 titles. But that’s not all. He is also the chairman of the ministry’s publishing branch, which is called Dominion Publishing House.
Pat Robertson was a Southern Baptist minister for many years prior to becoming somewhat of a media mogul and businessman. In 1960, he founded the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which became the first Christian TV program in the United States.
These days, the Christian Broadcasting Network is considered one of the biggest TV ministries in the world. Its programs reach a total of 200 nations and are translated in 70 different languages. CBN’s leading program, The 700 Club, is hosted by Robertson. It is one of the world’s longest-running television programs that are religious-based. In 1990, Robertson also founded International Family Entertainment Inc., which, according to CBN’s website, “produced and distributed family entertainment and information programming
Louisiana-based prosperity gospel preacher, Jesse Duplantis is the founder of Jesse Duplantis Ministries (JDM). The ministry not only has branches across the United States, but also in the United Kingdom and Australia. Duplantis is also the author of over ten books – which are translated in 13 different languages, one of which is Braille – and appears in a number of different Christian TV programs.
The televangelist recently announced his desire for a private jet, which caused an uproar among the public. He later explained himself, saying, “I’m not asking you to pay for my plane. The Lord said, ‘I didn’t ask you to pay for it, I asked you to believe for it.’ That is what I said. So I’m believing, and I want you to believe with me.”
Creflo Dollar is a big name in the Baptist community. He is the head of many organizations such as Arrow Records, Creflo Dollar Ministries, Creflo Dollar Ministerial Association, and World Changers Church International. He founded the latter in College Park, Georgia back in 1986.
The public know Dollar for his prosperity theology-based teachings, meaning he preaches that donating to religious foundations will increase an individual’s own wealth. Dollar is the fortunate owner of a private jet, two Rolls Royces, and lots of expensive real estate across the United States in places like Georgia, New Jersey, and New York. He lives with his wife Taffi, their son, and their three daughters.
A New Testament scholar from Northumberland, England, N.T. Wright promotes a re-evaluation of biblical concepts such as ordaining women and being freed from sin. He also advocates looking at common Christian beliefs (like life after death) from a different angle.
Wright is known for his book series called “Christian Origins and the Question of God.” He is the author of over 70 books and is the recipient of a number of doctoral degrees. He earned an honorary doctorate degree from Durham University, John Leland Center for Theological Studies, University of St. Andrews, Heythrop College, University of London, and St. Mary’s Seminary & University.
North Dakota-born Mark Driscoll met his wife, Grace at the age of 17. She gave him a Bible and even though he was a “non-practicing Catholic” as stated on his website, reading the Bible made him born again. He married Grace at 21 years old.
By the time they were 25 years old, they set up a church in their living room at home. Today, they have a family ministry called The Trinity Church, which is in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was founded in 2016. Driscoll also founded Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. It is located in five states across the United States.
Sri Chinmoy was a spiritual leader from Bangladesh who moved to New York City in 1964 and started teaching meditation. He set up his first meditation studio in Queens, New York and eventually expanded to 60 countries with around 7,000 students.
Chinmoy claimed to have dedicated his life to service in hopes of inspiring others. In his own words, “it is only through inner peace that we can have true freedom.” Moreover, he claimed “peace is the harmonious control of life… It is a power that easily transcends all our worldy knowledge. Yet it is not separate from our earthly existence. If we open the right avenues within, this peace can be felt here and now.”
Robert Charles Sproul, commonly known as R.C. Sproul, was a Pennsylvania-born theologian. In 1971, he founded Ligonier Ministries, which is a Christian education ministry based out of Florida. He was also president of Reformation Bible College and a high-up editor of Tabletalk magazine.
But that’s not all. Sproul was also the author of over one hundred books including Everyone’s a Theologian, Faith Alone, and The Holiness of God. He contributed just as many articles to national publications and also advocated Calvinism in video and audio publications. Sproul spoke extensively about theology, Bible study, apologetics, Christian living, and the history of philosophy.
Virginia-born Charles Stanley became a born-again Christian at the age of 12. At 14 years old, he started his work in Christian ministry. Some years later, when he became an adult, he started a half-hour religious program that was called The Chapel Hour.
Stanley is perhaps best known for being the founder of In Touch Ministries and for being a New York Times bestselling author. He is the author of over 60 books and is an inducted member of the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame. According to his website, he believes that “it is the Word of God and the work of God that changes people’s lives.”
Aside from being a Baptist minister, Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr., also known as Al Sharpton, is a talk show host and an American civil rights activist. He is the host of his own radio talk show, Keepin’ It Real and also became the host of MSNBC’s talk show, PoliticsNation.
According to Clarence Taylor’s Black Religious Intellectuals: The Fight for Equality from Jim Crow to the 21st Century, Sharpton is praised by his supporters for “his ability and willingness to defy the power structure that is seen as the cause of their suffering.” He adds that they think of him as “a man who is willing to tell it like it is.”
Sources: The Richest, Herald Weekly