The Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy recently with $48 million in unpaid debts. I wonder if this will be a wake-up call for mega-churches that based their ministry format on the needs and desires of the Boomer generation.
I grew up in Orange County. Before it was the Crystal Cathedral, we called Rev. Robert Schuller’s church the Drive-In Church, because he started his ministry in a drive-in movie theatre and it was said you could worship in your car (My parents never let us worship there no matter how much I begged. I was just sure they served popcorn instead of communion wafers!).
The 55 year old ministry grew astronomically during my lifetime. A leadership crisis involving Rev. Schuller’s son, Robert Anthony, who stepped down in 2008, appeared to be the catalyst for the recent setback. On closer examination, questions surfaced about the Schuller family’s financial management of the ministry and the closed circle of staff leadership that resisted the younger Schuller’s attempts to make the organization more open and transparent.
It’s ironic to think of a church that started in such a novel way now dealing with the same issues the rest of us confront: resistance to change!
But the big surprise in this story is that new ministry is emerging out of the “old” (for California) model. I’ve been following this story in the L.A. Times (thanks, Susie!) and was fascinated to learn that the Schuller family has a third generation pastor (yes, his name is “Bobby”) who has started a new church development down the street from his grandfather’s mega-church.
Click the link below and read this L.A. Times story. It will give you a feel for the ways churches continue to adapt to a changing culture, reaching out with spiritual nurture in new ways.