Family discord and financial shortfalls have plagued the opulent but bankrupt Crystal Cathedral, an operation some see as outdated. Bobby Schuller — the founder’s grandson — has established his own, more intimate church, seeking to evolve with the times.
Bobby ‘s church, The Gathering, takes a low-key approach to worship. Sunday’s services aren’t in an opulent church. Young band members open the service, and it’s intimate — people don paper name tags and shake hands.
All of these elements represent a “post-boomer” style of worship popular with 20- to 40-year-old Christians, said Richard Flory, a sociologist of religion at USC.June, 2009
The cathedral, on the other hand, is known for grand productions, robed pastors and traditional hymns. The age of its average congregant is 53.
“They are totally outdated,” Flory said. “They are so committed to a plot of land and a building, and they’ve got a problem.”
Crystal Cathedral officials say their financial woes were brought on by the recession. More than 550 creditors are owed $50 to $100 million, according to bankruptcy documents filed last month.
But insiders and religious experts say the situation is more complicated, and stems from how to best preserve founder Robert H. [Schuller]’s legacy.
The Crystal Cathedral has been battered in recent years as attendance has declined along with donations. That has brought cuts that some believe have reduced the quality of the church’s programming and productions.
At the same time, the church has been roiled by family discord that included the very public firing of Robert Anthony Schuller, who had long been seen as the founder’s successor, and the ascension of Robert H.’s eldest daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, to the top job.
Bobby, who also ran a ministry at the cathedral and occasionally appeared on the “Hour of Power,” took his church to the legion hall in Orange last year. His attendance has doubled.
“There’s not one right way to do church,” said Bobby, Robert Anthony’s son. “I looked at a culture and formed a church that fit my generation.”
Bobby Schuller is an innovator like his grandfather, but the way he delivers his message of Christianity is drastically different. The stereotypical church, he said, is about a perfect building filled with perfect people, music and a perfect preacher.
“In other words, it’s not like life,” he said.
He ponders his vision in his office — located in his garage. A bookshelf lines one wall, and a large jug of home-brewed beer (inspired by Harry Potter’s butter beer) sits in the corner. Parked on the street, there’s his gold Toyota Camry, which has clocked more than 200,000 miles.
He wants his church to be about community — and something “messy people with messy lives” can relate to.
Volunteers set up for the service each Sunday and take down the chairs and tables that afternoon. When the work is done, they all go out for pizza. More than 90% of church funds go toward social justice issues such as homelessness and domestic violence.
“Our goal is to make big Christians, not big churches,” he said.
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Note that Crystal Cathedral founder Robert H. Schuller has at times been referred to as the “evangelist without a gospel” due his unorthodox, un-biblical theology.