With COVID-19 restrictions and concerns keeping churches closed or only partially reopened, Colorado Springs-headquartered David C. Cook has been hard hit by the downturn at a time the Christian publishing industry already was struggling with a dwindling market.
David C. Cook leaders say the organization, which was founded in 1875 and publishes Christian books and curriculum and operates The Integrity Music Group, intends to ride out the recession and evolve its products and services.
The organization received a loan in April of between $2 million and $5 million through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. The money was awarded to help retain 182 jobs, records show. In 2018, there were 275 employees, according to tax filings.
But it's unclear exactly how much in PPP funding the organization secured.
Chief Executive Officer Cris Doornbos declined an interview request, instead sending a statement in response to questions about the organization’s financial health.
The nonprofit ministry “used all of it (PPP funds) for its intended purpose, which was to continue to pay salaries for employees,” he said in the statement.
The organization moved its headquarters from Elgin, Ill., to Colorado Springs in 1995 and changed its name in 2007 from Cook Communications Ministries to David C. Cook, after merging the original for-profit publishing company with a Cook foundation that had been established later on.
Today’s 501(c) (3) nonprofit operates two profitable divisions, the Learning Resources Group, which publishes books and educational materials for Sunday school classes, and The Integrity Music Group, a recording and publishing label the organization acquired in 2011.
Integrity, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Eastbourne in East Sussex, England, provides books and tutorials to worship leaders around the world, as well as produces “songs of substance” with Christian musicians such as Lincoln Brewster, Matt Redman and Paul Baloche.
Generating curriculum for churches has taken the hardest hit, Doornbos said in his statement.
“Curriculum is down,” he said. "Book revenues are flat, and our Integrity Music revenue is up over the prior year."
The growth of online retail, self-publishing and online distributors such as Amazon selling Christian materials, has adversely affected the industry as a whole.
More than 5,200 evangelical bookstores have gone out of business over the past two decades, according to Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine founded by the Rev. Billy Graham.
The trend led to the demise of the former Christian Booksellers Association, the Colorado Springs-based lead trade group for Christian retailers.
Founded in 1950, the association helped retailers find and stock Christian products.
Financial problems resulted in downsizing, and in 2018 CBA was acquired by a Dallas entrepreneur, who invested $1 million to save the struggling association, which he renamed the Association for Christian Retail.
But CBA is no more; offices on Garden of the Gods Road have been vacant and for lease for about a year.
David C. Cook now is “reimagining” its business model, with the intent of continuing its mission to “equip the church for making and teaching disciples,” Doornbos said.
Creating more voice and video content are goals, Doornbos said, with a plan being worked out by a newly formed New Business Innovation Group.
“The biblical worldview that we help churches teach will not change,” he said.
Despite the economics, Doornbos said that “revenues today are higher than they were 15 years ago.”
Tax forms 990 show between 2013 and 2018, Cook lost more than $20 million, which MinistryWatch, an independent reviewer of Christian ministry financials, first reported.
Doornbos disputed the numbers, saying 990s do not reflect foreign revenue. But as MinistryWatch pointed out, the organization’s most recent audited financial statements show a revenue decline of about $8 million between 2017 and 2019, for a total revenue of $55.8 million. Assets have also declined in recent years.
But executive salaries continue to be high for industry standards, with Doornbos earning a salary in 2018 of $491,353 plus $16,791 in other compensation, according to the 2018 990 tax form. A total of 26 executives earned more than $100,000 that year.
Doornbos’ statement to The Gazette did not address other questions about David C Cook’s finances and operations.
He did say the organization is “actively seeking new acquisition opportunities” and has “no plans to divest any of our assets.”
A global endowment, built from operational profits and contributions from donors, funds ministry programs in 88 countries in 41 languages, Doornbos said in his statement, with 100% of administration and fundraising expenses covered in-house.
“This means that every penny of every dollar from every donor is used solely for external global ministry programs impacting children, youth and adults,” he said.
Cook headquarters, at 4050 Lee Vance Drive, are on a 13-acre site with a market value of about $16 million, according to the El Paso County Assessor’s Office.
The organization also still owns its former headquarters in Elgin, Ill., where Sunday school movement leader David Caleb Cook started the company in 1875 as a for-profit operation. The business grew to become the largest interdenominational religious publishing house in the United States.
But, according to newspaper reports from Illinois, the organization has been involved in a contentious battle with city and historic preservation leaders, who want to designate as a historic landmark the 119-year-old mansion on the property.
The former office has been vacant since the company relocated to Colorado Springs 25 years ago. The property also has warehouses, which Cook still uses for storage.
After listing the property for sale for years, Cook leaders want to raze the Greek Revival mansion that served as an administrative building.
Doornbos did not comment on that aspect of the organization.