On January 26th, 1994, the Internal Revenue Service granted Greater Ministries tax-exempt status. Payne wrote in the application to the IRS that the organization was founded in August 1991 “as an unorganized ministry to the homeless.”
Greater Ministries International was now offering what it called a “Double Your Money” gift exchange. It was a straight promise: Someone would invest or “gift” Greater Ministries money in $250 increments, and in 17 months that money was promised to double.
“Gifting”sign-up sheets clearly stated money sent in was a gift to the ministry with no guarantee of return. But a 100% “Double Your Money” return was explicitly verbally promised, nonetheless.
Despite the written disclaimer, the temptation of great profits with the Lord’s blessing was too much for many of Greater Ministries’ followers.
“Give and it shall be given unto you” from Luke 6:38 became Greater Ministries’ mantra. It didn’t matter that, in context, the Biblical passage and surrounding ones seem to refer to compassion and mercy, not wealth.
As more people got into the program, Payne and his colleagues took to the road. And the money came fast.
Greater Ministries mixed religious services – held in churches, hotels, private homes, restaurants — with money talk. The pitch for the “Double Your Money” program combined gospel singing and southern-style charismatic preaching, with some hard sell investment pitching.
In 1995, Florida securities regulators sought an injunction against the Double Your Money program for selling unlicensed securities. The state action didn’t phase Payne, who changed the “Double Your Money” program, to the “Double Your Blessings” program. The name was changed a final time to the “Faith Promises Program.”
Whichever name Greater Ministries used, the gifting program was essentially the same. Investors would “gift” money to Greater Ministries, and within 17 months the “giftors” would receive double the original investment in “giftbacks” from Greater Ministries.
The money returned to the investors was remitted in ten equal installments. By the tenth payment, the original principal had doubled or more.
During the money pitches in their traveling roadshow, Greater Ministries leaders spoke of investments in gold, silver, diamond, platinum mining operations globally, and of international deals that could generate 30 percent and 40 percent returns.
“$40 billion reserve just 15 feet under the ground,” said one Greater Ministries “Elder” at one of these sales events. “It’s going to bring us $1 billion a year in profits.”
Payne told audiences that Greater Ministries bought “the tallest building in Africa” for $15 million.
Payne said that God’s will, and shrewd investments in precious metals, diamonds, and international money market trading, are what allowed Greater Ministries to make its money and return it double to its investors.
“The quicker you get two people in the program, the quicker you get paid through program bonuses,” Payne would tell his followers.
“It’s not our doing,” he said of the great return on investment. “It’s God’s doing.”
That wasn’t quite true. It was Payne’s doing, and he had some help.