Many theological discussions of the Elephant Room conference held in January 2012 have been flying around the Internet. What I have not seen is an economic analysis. I had never heard of this conference, but the eye-popping admission fee (aren't we in an economic crisis?) made me run the numbers.
To get into this conference, you must pay $100. Actually, $99, but let's use even numbers. A student can get in for $40. The conference itself has limited seating, but there are 64 "simulcast" locations around the country.
I have been unable to determine how many seats are available in the simulcast venues. Let's underestimate the number of seats at 500 per venue. This underestimation will add a correction for the student discounts (and group discounts and so on).
So if they sell 500 tickets at $100 each, that's $50,000. Across 64 locations, that's $3.2 million dollars. Divided seven ways, that's over $450,000 per person on the panel. And I'm probably underestimating.
There are obviously overhead costs which need to be taken out of this total. The 64 venues seem to be churches, however, so the overhead probably isn't as high as you'd think.
Each of the seven participants has a realistic chance to make over $100k just for showing up and speaking off the cuff for a few hours.
This is nothing but a money-making venture. These guys are being paid the salary a professional would make in a year or two just to show up and talk to each other. From the reports I have read, the content in these sessions is not worth paying to hear. The participants on the panel affirmed the Bible is the final word of God, but at least some also believe God speaks to them. One participant, TD Jakes, seemed to have confused himself with his own sophistry and rationalization concerning the doctrine of the trinity, and (if the quotes are accurate) basically admitted he believes no known historical position, orthodox or heterodox.
Like I always say, it's nice work if you can get it.
Full disclosure: I have never liked James MacDonald, who is the main person running the Elephant Room. I encountered his radio program in the 1990s, and didn't like him then. This isn't something personal against MacDonald, however, because I had run these numbers before I remembered the guy running the Elephant Room was the guy I didn't like in the 1990s.