I’ve always considered the Rev. Schuller to be a gambling man. In the 60’s he had a pretty good sized church, but it wasn’t enough. He decided to roll the dice in an attempt to win the big pot. His church went into debt and built the Crystal Cathedral, on the idea that if you build something totally magnificent, the people will come. He rolled lucky 7’s and won big. However, in the 90’s his church growth was stagnant, and he needed to do something big again. He should have retired and let a new generation move the church into the new century. Instead he rolled the dice again. His church went into debt, to the tune of 20 million dollars, and he built a Southern California Visitor/Cultural Center. His reasoning was the same as last time, if it is magnificent enough, the people will come. However, this time he rolled snake eyes.
This week the Diocese of Orange as officially taken over ownership of the Crystal Cathedral. The deal will pay off the debts of the church, but they are losing their home. In three years it will become a catholic cathedral. It will be interesting to see if Schuller’s church will survive the transition. The church has been run by a board of trustees for many years. The membership has been shut out of the decision making process. I would think that many long time members would demand that the board of trustees dissolve and hand over power to the membership. If not, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the members walk away from this debacle.
Most Mega-Churches are run by small groups of trustees, with a powerful minister pulling the strings. I feel that the story of the Crystal Cathedral is a lesson to large churches. The power of the leadership needs to be balanced by power placed into the hands of the membership. Too much power in the hands of a few can allow a church to spin out of control.
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