The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, who founded one of the world’s first megachurches only to see it fall apart, died Thursday morning.
Schuller founded the Garden Grove Community Church in Orange County, California in 1955, inviting people to attend services at a drive-in movie theater. He later built the iconic Crystal Cathedral campus (pictured). Schuller also reached millions through the “Hour of Power” broadcasts.
“His strength was to read the culture and to do his ministry within that,” Richard Flory, research director at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, told NPR’s All Things Considered.
NPR asked Flory to describe Schuller’s faith.
“He had what I would call a quintessentially American version of Evangelicalism,” Flory said. “Sort of in the Norman Vincent Peale tradition, he talked about possibility thinking, and overcoming obstacles, and recovering from problems in your life through the help of God to become the person you wanted to be and who you thought God wanted you to be.”
Financial issues and a family dispute, however, led to the collapse of Crystal Cathedral Ministries. The campus was sold to the Catholic diocese of Orange County, and the aging congregation moved to a smaller church.
“Robert Schuller was one of the original pioneers of the megachurch movement,” Donald E. Miller, executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, told the LA Times. “However, his message of positive thinking became frozen in time — appealing to an aging audience of adults, but never really connected to the post-boomer generation.”
Even though he was unable to adapt to changing norms, Schuller’s legacy rests in his ability to innovate, Flory said on KPCC’s Take Two. He was able to make Christianity vital in the culture and make church a destination beyond Sunday, paving the way for many megachurch pastors today.
Watch this space for more comments from Richard Flory, who has written extensively about Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral. He was also interviewed by NBC News, Fox News Radio, and the Orange County Register.
Update 4/4/15: Flory is quoted in the OC Register: Crystal Cathedral Founder Robert Schuller achieved his vision, but couldn’t sustain it.
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