Spiritual Bankruptcy

The Crystal Cathedral

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.

3 responses to “Spiritual Bankruptcy

  1. Thank you for posting the LA Times article. I related it to what I observed on a trip to Philadelphia recently, where, block after block, we drove past huge architectural masterpieces erected by congregations over a century ago. Some of them were nearly empty of activity; others had been sold to other private or public organizations; few were still operating as churches. At the time I wondered if most mega-churches of today would end up in the same state . . . and here is proof that at least one has. Only God knows the ultimate truism governing this phenomenon, but I believe it has to do with keeping one’s relationship to Him anchored securely in our heart, not in a building or religious procedures.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Nancy. Those churches were not just great buildings, they were are also symbols of God’s presence in their communities. What do they symbolize now, when they’re empty?

    Remember those grand movie theatres built in the 30’s and 40’s that reflected the culture’s worship of stardom? Most of those are gone now. But people are still watching movies–in different ways.

    Your comment about Philadelphia made me think of Hebrews 11: “Abraham…looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

  3. Pingback: Learning to Love Volatility | Gail Irwin

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