March 27, 2008

700 Club

Stupid Question ™
Dec. 3, 1998
By John Ruch
© 1998

Q: What does the “700” in Pat Robertson’s 700 Club represent?
—Deron J. Husak

A: Seeing as how “The 700 Club” is a bastion of televangelism, you won’t be surprised that the “700” has to do with money.

The Pat Robertson-hosted news and talk show runs on cable’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).

Robertson, then a Southern Baptist minister, founded CBN in 1960 on WYAH-TV in Portsmouth, Virginia, as a simple TV pulpit. Since Robertson didn’t want to air commercials, by fall 1963 he had to conduct a telethon to raise the $7,000 a month needed for the following year’s budget.

Robertson’s craft sales pitch, according to CBN corporate history: “A ‘club’ of 700 supporters, each donating $10 a month, would enable CBN to meet its expenses.”

Robertson exhorted viewers to pray for this phantom 700 and called it “The 700 Club Telethon.”

It was a catchy plan, but it didn’t work. Apparently, there were a lot fewer than 700 in the club, and the next two years plunged CBN further into the red.

In the “final minutes” of 1965’s annual telethon, however, funds suddenly poured in—thanks mostly to a tearful plea from Robertson’s sidekick at the time, the now-disgraced Jim Bakker.

Impressed and grateful, Robertson decided to hold a regular show hosted by himself and Bakker that would continue the telethon’s phone-call-taking format. In tribute to his mythical supporters—who apparently never existed but were getting credit anyway—he called it “The 700 Club.”

Now a daily show hosted by Robertson and two ex-beauty queens, “The 700 Club” took on its new format during the late-’70s rise of the Moral Majority.

It’s interesting that Robertson stuck with the “700” number even when his income made it clear there was no 700 Club. Fact is, “700” looks and sounds good even if you don’t know its sentimental history. And the number 7 is used hundreds of times in the Bible to symbolize divinity.

In this vein, it’s also interesting that CBN lore says he started the network with only $70. And CBN secured “1-800-759-0700” as its prayer hotline.
You can actually join a new 700 Club of donors if you’d like, though it’ll now cost you $20 a month.

And that’s not the only sign of inflation. Today, there’s also a 1000 Club ($84 a month, or $1,008 a year) and a 2500 Club ($209 a month).

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