The Rev. Robert H. Schuller's very public split with the
megachurch he founded, along with all family members, points to the
perils involved in handing over the reins to the next generation,
say analysts. Crystal Cathedral fits that pattern.
In the end, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the founder of a famous
southern California megachurch and the inspiration behind
television's "Hour of Power" worship service, encountered the same
hurdle many such leaders do: succession.
The Rev. Mr. Schuller, his wife, and his children who were still
part of Crystal Cathedral Ministries all split with the church he
founded during the past 10 days, in a very public feud with the
church's board over matters both theological and financial. It's the
"end of an era," proclaimed a Los Angeles Times headline.
It definitely is the end of an era for Crystal Cathedral
Ministries, which Schuller built over four decades from a lowly
beginning, using the snack-shop rooftop at a drive-in movie theater
as a pulpit, into a religious and media empire. Sociologists who
study religion and church historians debate whether the troubles of
Crystal Cathedral portend anything for the megachurch phenomenon as
a whole, but they largely agree that Schuller is not the only
dynamic religious leader who proved unable to steer the future of
his own church upon relinquishing the reins.
The problems at Crystal Cathedral speak to the difficulty many
religious leaders - especially Protestant evangelical leaders - have
had planning beyond themselves. In this sense, they fit a pattern
seen at Oral Roberts University, the Billy Graham Association, and
at CBN ministries with Pat Robertson.
"In all of these cases, the founders of these organizations found
it impossible to hand over leadership to someone else who had the
spiritual and practical skills that were required for leadership,
and leadership subsequently devolved to their relatively untalented
children," says Douglas Jacobsen, distinguished professor of church
history and theology at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., via e-
This is "not to say that the children of these leaders are
totally incompetent," he hastens to add, "but that they lack the
extraordinary talents or charisma of their fathers and simply cannot
keep the organization going in the same way. What is happening at
the Crystal Cathedral is a heightened version of this general
Schuller retired in 2006, passing the baton to his son, Robert
Schuller Jr., and then falling out with him over the church's
direction. The church's income has fallen dramatically since the
elder Schuller stepped back, and in February the church sold its
Crystal Cathedral campus in Garden Grove, Calif., to the Roman
Catholic Diocese of Orange for $57.5 million, to avoid bankruptcy.
Then, a weekend ago, Schuller and his wife, Arviella, resigned from
the church board, citing "a negative environment" after a dispute
about the timing of payments to church creditors. Last weekend,
daughter Sheila Schuller Coleman announced she was departing as
well, stating her intention to start a breakaway church and leaving
no Schuller family member on the ministries' board for the first
time in the church's history.
"One reason why people beyond the immediate membership of the
Crystal Cathedral should take notice of its demise is because of the
trend of the last several decades to pattern large congregations on
charismatically led mega-churches associated with television
ministries," says James Hudnut-Beumler, dean of the Vanderbilt
Divinity School and author of "In Pursuit of the Almighty's Dollar:
A History of Money and American Protestantism. …