The Fall of the House of Glass

Comments: Not much time to comment on this but these articles with quoted sections basically say it all. Summary from me: prosperity gospel is false gospel!

Crystal Cathedral megachurch files for bankruptcy


Crystal Cathedral Ministries, an Orange County landmark and megachurch founded by television evangelist Robert H. Schuller, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Monday morning.

The cathedral owes about about $7.5 million to unsecured creditors. The bankruptcy filing seeks court protection from its creditors.

In a statement issued Monday, Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman said the bankruptcy filing was a necessity because a "small number of creditors chose to file lawsuits and obtained writ of attachment."

She said the cathedral also had no choice because a committee of creditors decided not to extend a moratorium to allow continued talks about a payment plan.

"For these reasons, the Ministry now finds it necessary to seek the protection of a Chapter 11," she said.

The Cathedral, which has been a landmark and a tourist attraction with its glistening glass tower, is now faced with $55 million in debt because of the economy and dwindling contributions.

Wall Street Journal: Crystal Cathedral's Cracks Show in Bankruptcy Filing


The church's debt underscores the elaborate style that came to define the Crystal Cathedral, often cited as progenitor of the American mega church. For example, holiday pageants featured live animals, hundreds of performers and live music.

"They had the top choreographers come in and work with the dancers, the top make-up artists too," said Joe Branam, owner of Branam Enterprises in Compton, Calif., which builds stages for rock concerts and movies and did work for the church. "I'd say the Christmas show in many ways could be more elaborate than a KISS concert."


In 2009, Crystal Cathedral saw its revenue fall 29% to $18.8 million from $26.6 million in 2008, according to court documents. Church leaders note that giving has increased in 2010, but expenses still exceed revenue.

NY Times: Dispute Over Succession Clouds Megachurch


Mr. Schuller [son of the founder] said that when he came on board, a meticulous effort to straighten out the membership rolls found only 900 to 1,100 regular congregants at Crystal Cathedral — which would mean that it was about 1,500 people short of even qualifying as a megachurch.


Things fell apart when the younger Mr. Schuller tried to institute basic good governance rules used by many nonprofit organizations. He wanted to remove anyone with a conflict of interest from the board. That meant unseating some of his sisters and their husbands as well as his parents, who were also employees.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.: Bankruptcy in the Cathedral


Though ordained in the Reformed Church in America, Schuller minimized historic Christian orthodoxy and stressed instead the message of positive thinking. In his 1982 book, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, Schuller explicitly replaced the message of salvation from sin with a message of rescue from low self-esteem. In his 2001 autobiography, My Journey, Schuller told of the massive influence of Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale on his thinking and theology. He told of his decision early in his ministry to replace theology with therapy. “I realized that every sermon I preached (whether formally from the pulpit or casually at a coffee shop) should be designed, not to ‘teach’ or ‘convert’ people, but rather to encourage them, to give them a lift. I decided to adopt the spirit, style, strategy, and substance of a ‘therapist’ in the pulpit.”


In his 1986 book, Your Church Has a Fantastic Future, Schuller provided what he called “A Possibility Thinker’s Guide to a Successful Church.” The book is a manual for a ministry built on pure pragmatism, sensationalistic promotion, a therapeutic message, and a constant and incessant focus on thinking positively.

His message about money was simple: “No church has a money problem; churches only have idea problems,” he asserted.

In an odd and upside-down way, the news of bankruptcy at the Crystal Cathedral makes that point emphatically. The most significant problem at the Crystal Cathedral is not financial, but theological. The issue is not money, but this ministry’s message. The “gospel of success” is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, therapy is no substitute for theology, and “Possibility Thinking” is not the message of the Bible.

It turns out that Robert Schuller offers the best analysis of this crisis with his own words. “No church has a money problem; churches only have idea problems.” The theological crisis in Garden Grove is far more significant than the financial crisis.

List: Crystal Cathedral vendors and what they're owed

Final comments: This story has it all: poor governance, sloppy membership, ministry excesses, debt, false gospel, etc. Lessons abound even for the smallest church!


  1. Advice for them (all from Robert H. Schuller's book titles):

    Remember that Tough Times Never Last but Tough People Do

    Please Move Ahead With Possibility Thinking

    Remember: Success is never ending,failure is never final

    In this crisis: Liv[e] Positively One Day At A Time

  2. Update: Crystal Cathedral founder asks for help

    Schuller's voice choked up with emotion as he told worshippers that his church has faced several challenges over the last 60 years.

    "I need more help from you," he said. "If you are a tither, become a double-tither. If you are not a tither, become a tither. This ministry has earned your trust. This ministry has earned your help."

    His daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, who heads the ministry with her father, explained to congregants why the church is in debt and why they had to file for bankruptcy protection.

    "Our debt, including our $36-million mortgage, is close to $50 million," she said.


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