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Tumult at Crystal Cathedral megachurch rooted in perils of succession

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.

This photo shows the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif.

Jae C. Hong/AP/File

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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.


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