Robert H. Schuller’s ministry—including the architectural wonder of the Crystal Cathedral and the polished television broadcast of Hour of Power—cast a broad shadow over American Christianity. Pastors flocked to Southern California to learn Schuller’s techniques. The President of United States invited him sit prominently next to the First Lady at the State of the Union Address. Muhammad Ali asked for the pastor’s autograph. It seemed as if Schuller may have started a second Reformation. And then it all went away. As Schuller’s ministry wrestled with internal turmoil and bankruptcy, his emulators—including Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Joel Osteen— nurtured megachurches that seemed to sweep away the Crystal Cathedral as a relic of the twentieth century. How did it come to this?
Certainly, all churches depend on a mix of constituents, charisma, and capital, yet the size and ambition of large churches like Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral exert enormous organizational pressures to continue the flow of people committed to the congregation, to reinforce the spark of charismatic excitement generated by high-profile pastors, and to develop fresh flows of capital funding for maintenance of old projects and launching new initiatives. The constant attention to expand constituencies, boost charisma, and stimulate capital among megachurches produces an especially burdensome strain on their leaders. By orienting an approach to the collapse of the Crystal Cathedral on these three core elements—constituency, charisma, and capital—The Glass Church demonstrates how congregational fragility is greatly accentuated in larger churches, a notion we label megachurch strain, such that the threat of implosion is significantly accentuated by any failures to properly calibrate the inter-relationship among these elements.
About the Author
MARK T. MULDER is a professor of sociology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mulder’s scholarship focuses around urban congregations and changing racial-ethnic demographics. He is the author of Shades of White Flight: Evangelical Congregations and Urban Departure (Rutgers University Press) and coauthor of Latino Protestants in America: Growing and Diverse. Mulder has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in academic journals, including Social Problems and The Journal of Urban History. He has also published pieces for church audiences and won awards from the Evangelical Press Association and the Associated Church Press for his writing.
GERARDO MARTÍ is the L. Richardson King Professor of Sociology at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. He is the author of A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church, Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church (Rutgers University Press), Worship across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation (Oxford University Press, 2012), and coauthor of The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity and Latino Protestants in America: Growing and Diverse (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). Among several research collaborations and professional roles, he served for many years as the Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed journal Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review.
"The Glass Church is an excellent example of what can be gained from exercising the sociological imagination, and tells an engaging story about the changing fortunes of one of America’s most entrepreneurial pastors. Martí and Mulder capably weave together analytical perspectives and empirical insights, exploring the very useful alliterative framework of constituency, charisma, and capital as well as the problems resulting from rapid religious growth." — John P. Bartkowski
"The Glass Church offers a riveting account of the rise and fall of Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral. The story contains lessons for churches large and small. I couldn’t put it down." — Mark Chaves