BigChurch Means Big Money For Penthouse

CEO doesn't see a problem

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[ Social Media]

We’re not the first to notice and double-take. Penthouse Media Group Inc.’s ownership of a Christian dating website called BigChurch.com has been mentioned by a few publications, but usually as an ironic side note. Understandable. It’s kind of a heavy (yes, quite loaded) subject. However, PMGI CEO Marc Bell tells WebProNews it’s just business.

Newsweek brought some more attention to the, putting it mildly, counterintuitive pairing earlier this week with the eye-grabbing and head-scratching headline "Penthouse Gets Pious." Author Jennifer Ordonez followed up with a somewhat deferential take on how Penthouse was broadening its horizons following its $500 million acquisition of Various, Inc., the company that brings the Internet various ways to find likeminded friends.

You may be more familiar with FriendFinder, which will replace the name Penthouse on the corporate letterhead soon, or with the main reason Penthouse picked up Various—Adult FriendFinder. The 18 to 34 year-old male demographic, everybody in the advertising business knows, is the sweet spot. Along with Adult FriendFinder came 600,000 affiliates promoting memberships to 260 million sets of eyeballs at websites like Bondage.com, GayFriendFinder, JewishFriendFinder, LesbianPersonals.com, and LikeMyGayPhoto.com, and 1.2 million paying subscribers to sites like BigChurch.com.

BigChurch offers dating services, Bible search and commentary in four different languages, and boasts half a million Christian members worldwide, though a job posting on the site, the high-salaried requirements for which presume a certain comfort level with adult content, boasts 8 million active members. A footnote at the bottom disclaims any expectations of real-time numeric accuracy, though. 

For as little as $5.55 per month (interesting sequence of numbers, but three sixes perhaps would have set off alarms) you can connect romantically with others "compatible with your Christian values," as promised on the About page, complete with daily horoscopes.

Sin City and Penthouse Pets

Compatibility issues are left at the signup page, it would seem, for if you’d rather be an affiliate of BigChurch.com, then FriendFinder and PMGI claim you can make up to $30,000 per month and even earn "a whirlwind weekend in Sin City with gorgeous Penthouse Pets at your side," echoing what many know already: God is big business.

It’s been said before that the horizon beyond the all-inclusive social network like MySpace holds more exclusive, niche networks, neatly dividing up the audience along demographic lines. Targeting becomes that much more pinpoint, and a boon to networks offering direct access to individual markets. In 2005, the US market for religious publishing and products reached $7.3 billion.   

If you’ve made it this far into the article—if you made it past the first paragraph—the idea that the self-titled "largest global adult entertainment company" owns and operates a Christian dating site may seem a bit incongruent. But CEO Marc Bell doesn’t seem to think so. Bell told WebProNews the company, in advance of an IPO, will be changing its name to FriendFinder Networks. These days they are a social network company, of which Penthouse is just one brand making up a mere 10 percent of its business.

"[Penthouse] doesn’t represent what we do," said Bell, who equated the soon-to-be FriendFinder Network with MySpace or Facebook. As for BigChurch and Penthouse under the same roof, Bell was pragmatic, saying it was just like owning two separate businesses. Under the FriendFinder Network umbrella, BigChurch and Penthouse are independent from one another.

When pressed, Bell dismissed suggestions BigChurch membership would take issue with the site’s ownership, noting both that many Penthouse subscribers hailed from the Bible Belt (indeed, this year’s Pet of the Year is from Mississippi), and that his business partner, Dan Staton is a devout Catholic.

Though Bell seemed to think the idea of a fundamental conflict existing was rather foreign considering BigChurch and Penthouse are separate businesses, we presented the simple fact that Penthouse owned a Christian dating site to a number of area Christians* to get their reaction.  

Four people from four separate denominations had similar reactions, ranging from "wow" to initial silence as they wrapped their heads around it.

Dr. Greg Waltermire, pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., said Penthouse owning a Christian website "undermines the very relationship [the church] is seeking to establish. I think there’s a temptation for people who find themselves lonely, and a person could overlook that type of affiliation."  But Dr. Waltermire characterized Penthouse as a company not known for altruism, and felt the Christian community was being viewed as an untapped market to be exploited for profit.

"Jack the ripper can give you some candy but I don’t want it from him," he said.

Christopher Keeton, a pastor for the Church of God in Northeastern Kentucky, agreed such a relationship was preying on the loneliness of religious people for profit, and doubted the site membership would remain if they knew where their money was going.

"Matthew 7:15 says, ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves,’" said Mr. Keeton. "It would seem that PMGI is attempting to earn ‘false profits’ by pandering to a group they hope are too trusting or naive to discover the truth."

Original Management Page

Keeton expressed concern that ownership was not disclosed clearly enough. Indeed, it is not clear on the homepage, as it is copyrighted to Global Alphabet, Inc. The "business" pages, however, are copyrighted to Various, Inc. Though currently the management link now reroutes to Penthouse directly following our conversation with Mr. Bell, it used to look much like the management page at GayFriendFinder and German FriendFinder, with Rob Brackett at the helm of all of them.

Sarah Parham, Women’s Campus Minister at the University of Kentucky Wesley Foundation, a Methodist organization, expressed similar concerns and doubted membership knew who owned the site. "It would take church out of the equation," she said, acknowledging though, "young Christians tend not to draw their lines as clearly." She doubted that young ones used it, considering the college-aged demographic had a large real-world network of singles from which to draw.

All of these are Kentucky Protestants, though. What about a Catholic from farther down the Bible Belt, such as Mr. Bell defended?

When presented with the information, Nicole John, a Catholic from Atlanta, had to take a minute to process it. "That doesn’t make much sense to me," she said. "They just don’t seem to go together." Though married and not a fan of online dating sites in general, Mrs. John felt eHarmony, whose founder is a vocal Christian, would be a better match. "My recommendation is go to church instead," she said.   

Though BigChurch.com is under a subscription model now, Bell says the site will be moving to a free, ad-based model, but couldn’t say when that would happen. It’s hard to say if that would make a difference to potential members. Mr. Bell also assured us that no adult content would appear on a non-adult site.

BigChurch.com requires potential members to be 18 years of age.



*We would have polled BigChurch members themselves, but it was impossible to do so without paying to join the site. We’re sure you understand.  


BigChurch Means Big Money For Penthouse
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  • Isabel Smith

    Now after all these years of hearing how the state wants separatism from the church, business decides the church is a great source of revenue and invades. I’ve lived long enough to see Christmas going from too commercial to now, when people protest not seeing Christmas commercially. Would it be too simple to say: Turn to God? I’m positve that all the answers are there.

  • Guest

    Consider this, the Bible supports incest, and sex either with your mother or a sibling.

    You disagree?? Well, if we ALL descended from Adam & Eve, how did this happen without sexual relations between son and mother or brother and sister?

    Also, since the world population was reduced to just Noah’s family in the flood, seems like family sex was then a requirement.

    Would you say that this would be an “inconveinent truth” that many religous types would like to ignore??

    I say, too many people are too uptight about sex, or the lack thereof.

    • Cryptblade

      Consider this: You are an idiot. You don’t know anything about the Bible-  just the stupid stories you read in the illustrated children’s bible, that’s why you wrote all that crap. The bible doesn’t support incest. It doesn’t contradict itself. All that happened in the beginning, in GENESIS, the beginning of life, before the laws against incest were established by God with Moses (yes, the same Moses for both Jews and Christians, so watch who yu insult little one).

      It’s not that too many people are uptight about sex, it’s that too many people are too loose about sex. Think about it – you live. So your parents were uptight enough to not have an abortion. Lucky you. Poor us. You living and your ignorance is adding to the carbon footprint on this planet and robbing me of my planet.

      oh wait – did all that sound ridiculous? so did your post!

    • Guest

      You are apparently are very ignorant of the Scriptures, the character of holiness, and the God-given design of marriage.  Neither Adam nor Eve committed incest with their children.  God had given them to each other in holy marriage.  The same is true with Mr or Mrs Noah.  The only acceptable explanation, which does not violate the character of God’s Word, is that brother and sister married each other…and were faithful to each other in this relationship.  Though this is taboo among us, it was not during these generation of people.  Please do not blaspheme the character of God’s Word and the sactity of marriage by suggesting or stating the immorality of free sex within the family unit.

      "In Christ"

  • Merrlyn

    Why am I not surprised? Because this IS business as usual, always had been. It never draws the line, it doesn’t care where its money comes from, so long as it keeps coming.

    And who’s to blame? WE are — we give business our money, no questions asked.  We work for them, not caring what they do so long as we can draw a paycheck and feed our families. In the end, it’s OUR not caring where OUR money came from or went to that brought us to this pass — where religion and big business become partners (haven’t they always been, though?).

    I wonder that no one has asked the original BigChurch owners why they sold their site to Penthouse in the first place … and we’re back to my previous paragraph.  They didn’t care enough to dig deep enough and find out who their end buyer was and/or they just wanted their money, let their members sink or swim on their own.

    Que Sera, Sera.

  • http://www.ankhangelsapocalypse.com/index.html Guest

    There is no place for porn in the minds of the church going faithfull.


  • klunk

    "Is this exploiting the faithful or just business as usual?"

    it’s both… exploiting the faithful IS just business as usual…



  • http://gafcon.blogspot.com Father Christian

    Any true Bible Believer would have nothing to do with an ‘online dating service’  in the first place, so this is simply another case of the sinful taking money from sinners – money which could be put to better use by supporting ministries such as mine.

    What did anyone expect?

  • http://www.cashonthnet.net Pavel K

    So, you are surprised and outraged at the fact that church might be associated with business and money-making? Wasn’t that always the case?

    Catholic church in medieval Europe was wealthier then some of the states through business dealings, and could therefore influence politics in those states. In modern world, a lot of smaller churches and christian sects often indirectly charge their members or brainwash them into donating large parts of their income to the church.

    Now someone else has jumped on the bandwagon and everyone is disgusted? I say thisi is pathetic.

  • http://sassman.wordpress.com the SASS Man

    "In the beginning" God created the world.  And he told Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply."  The Bible has, and will always support healthy human sexuality.  If you don’t believe me, read the Son of Solomon. 

    Why else would the Church of Rome, the power behind the Catholic church, and ultimately the parent of MILLIONS of false doctrines held by Protestant and Catholic congregations world wide, why else would that unholy body fight so hard to poison the concept of sex in the minds of those who believe in Jesus Christ?  The whole idea that "Sex is Sin" uncategorically beaten into the minds of Americans is nothing less than the work of the Devil in the body of the church of Jesus Christ. 

    Christ himself supported normal, healthy sex, and most of his disciples (and possibly Christ himself) were married.  (No, the Bible does NOT say Christ was unmarried, and lends itself to the possibility that He was…when He turned the water into wine, why not research whose marriage was taking place…)

    Now all this has a definitive point, you see…I would give far more creedence to a religious intitution owned by a pornographer than I would give to ANY ORGANIZATION, for example, owned in this day and age…by a Catholic Priest.

    It’s a sign of the times, people.  God is NOT in the lofty heights of the Moral Majority, and He never was.  God is down here in the sewers with the rest of us…hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors, just like Jesus did.

    SASS has Spoken.

    — the SASS Man

  • http://www.flowersbypost.com flowers guy

    dating markets are simply where it is currently. Whether thats by religion or even by disease, such as ‘albino’ dating which seems to have worked for some websites.

    Anything and everything goes these days!

  • Guest

    It’s not much different from secular institutions owning Christian publishing houses, and serves as a testimony against the faithfulness of our age.

    No one can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)

    But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who secretly will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their pernicious ways, and because of them the way of truth will be evil spoken of. And through covetousness they will use you for gain with well-turned words; for whom judgment from of old does not linger, and their destruction does not sleep.
    (2 Peter 2:1-3)

  • http://www.pixelpalaces.com Richard Pearman

    I think a big part of the problem is that you can’t do much without money so ever person and every organisation, including religious groups needs money.  OK some have huge amounts and some supposedly religious groups seem to have making money as the main objective.  However there are some, hopefully the majority, where getting money is a means to some end, hopefully serving God in some way.  You can’t really get upset just because religious organisations want money.  I think BigChurch will be harmfull to Christianity, just because it takes money from Christrians for a big and morally bankrupt business but there may be other problems.

    I seriously wonder if the people who run BigChurch understand or care about Christianity.  They have hororscopes on the site!  This is contrary to the Bible!  They have homosexual groups under the same umbrella, also contrary to the Bible (some so-called Christians try to get round this but have to use convoluted black-is-white arguments which make most people’s logic circuits throw critical error warnings).  How does BigChurch define Christian?  Will they allow wolves in rather thin sheep’s clothing (you can’t really blame them for the hard to detect ones) to pray on the real sheep?

    I’ve nothing particularly against on-line dating.  I’d probably have tried it, if it had been around when I was single.  Most people have got to find partners somehow.  Sure, if you’re a Christian you should go to church but maybe Mr. or Ms Right doesn’t go to the same one or even live near you.

  • Rand Armbrester

    "It’s just business"–Judas probably said the same thing when he took the thirty pieces of silver.

  • http://www.thekingsmall.com Sheri

    someone said something about christians shouldn’t be using dating sites….  there is a christian dating site called www.equallyyoked.com  but it is not owned by non-believers I am sure.  and of course they charge a lot more money for membership.

  • http://winnersincome.com Daniel Pyle

    This is radical and some would say heritical concept, but if Christians really wanted to capitalize on the whole religion thing then why not open up a retail chain called Jesus Saves…..the advertising is all over bathrooms..overpasses…your bumper… As long as people believe that they are dealing with "Christians" they will spend the money….I don’t care what it is.  People have taken advantage of religious and ethnic identifications for centuries.  When will it stop?  NEVER.  Believe scripture, be able to quote it, wear a cross around your neck…..I don’t care…No one does unless they are trying to make a buck off your beliefs either positive or negative.  Don’t disassociate yourself from your beliefs, but don’t be so sensitive to the Truth about business……Enjoy the savings….

  • Guest

    The fact of the matter is…in this day and age, times are changing, how do you reach people now?  As an owner of several social networking sites, from african americans to christian social mediums…but first and foremost a marketer; I don’t see this being any different than a site adding a "designed by" for advertisements.  We as Christians canNOT say whom God will used, He did use a Murderer…perhaps if we spent more time on our own lives and our personal set of morals…we would have a lot less time being judgemental…ohh dang, doesn’t the bible speak against that as well. 



    • http://gracehost.net Jeff Honeyager

      God doesn’t want us to judge a person’s spiritual gifts or position. He does want us to discern right and wrong. Sometimes judgment means discernment – can we tell the difference.

      If we don’t judge (discern) then there is no right or wrong. That leads to modern baal worship and humanism (self worship without regard to others).

  • Guest

    In addition, I met my Christian husband on a dating site, we have been married for 8 years…



  • http://www.realchristiansingles.com Lee

    Well, RealChristianSingles.com is NOT owned by PentHouse. There’s no way that the company that OWNS a website doesn’t have some influence on it–whether that’s bad or good!

  • John Q

    Hi All,

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  • http://www.FreePersonalClassifieds.com Guest

    www.FreePersonalClassifieds.com is an independently owned and operated online dating website that is not only a clean, family oriented website, but it’s also completely 100% FREE…

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