This article first appeared in Forward (now renamed the Christian Research Journal) volume 8, number 1 (1985). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal, click here.
Born in 1926 to an Iowan family of Dutch descent, Robert Schuller was reared in the Reformed Church in America. He decided to become a minister at the age of five, and after graduating from high school he received the necessary training at Hope College and Western Theological Seminary.
The newly ordained Rev.Schuller entered the pastorate in 1951 at Hope Church in Chicago, which over the next four years grew from 38 to 400 members.
In 1955 his denomination sent him to Orange County, California to establish a new church there. After trying unsuccessfully to rent numerous facilities, the 28-year-old Schuller finally rented the Orange County Drive-In Theater for Sunday mornings. A congregation in cars slowly grew, until by the second year they could afford to build a small chapel. Rev.Schuller (he did not receive his honorary doctorate until many years later) also continued to preach at the drive-in theater, because many people preferred to worship in their cars.
During these first two years, Rev.Schuller went from door to door inviting people to come to his church, and asking them what type of church they would like to attend.
According to his intimate friend Michael Nason,
To his surprise he found that most people didn’t even know the difference between the Old and New Testaments and couldn’t care less …. That’s when he realized that giving Bible studies on Sunday morning during a worship service would turn off most of the unchurched people entirely… Then he asked the people what sort of a church they would want to attend. They wanted light, beauty, tranquility, beautiful music, friendly people, programs that suited their needs, sermons that weren’t boring, better yet, sermons that weren’t even sermons! They wanted a place where they could feel comfortable..:. He decided at that point that he would never again use his pulpit as a teaching platform.1
It was at this time that he began to see his church as a mission, a place where non-Christians would feel comfortable enough to come in and then later accept Jesus. How would he do this? By preaching only positive things! Dr.Schuller credits close friend and fellow Reformed Church in America minister Dr.Norman Vincent Peale “with fine tuning his own positive faith and laying the foundation for his own Possibility Thinking that was to come.” 2
In September of 1959 groundbreaking ceremonies were held at the location of the present church property in Garden Grove, California. The next fall the congregation, with a membership of 700 people, moved into its new church building. Rev.Schuller’s two churches were now combined into one. In July of 1966 construction began, on a 14-story “tower of hope” which was completed the following year. A 90-foot high cross that would light up at night was placed at the top of the 162-foot tower.
In 1970 Dr. Schuller began what has become the most widely watched televised church service in the nation, Hour of Power. In 1975 construction began on a new sanctuary, and on September14,1980, the world famous Crystal Cathedral was officially opened for worship.
All in all, Dr.Schuller’s many accomplishments are remarkable. From preaching to 50 cars from the roof of a drive-in snack bar, he has built up a congregation of over ten thousand members in a church that cost over 20 million dollars. Hour of Power is seen in over 175 cities with an audience of two to four million people. He receives between thirty and forty thousand letters a week and has a mailing list of over one million people. He has authored 19 books, several of them national best sellers. Since 1970 more than twenty thousand church leaders have attended Dr. Schuller’s “Institute for Successful Church Leadership.” Indeed, few people in the church today have had an impact comparable to that of Dr.Schuller.
— Joseph P. Gudel
- Michael Nason and Donna Nason, Robert Schuller: The Inside Story (Waco: Word Books, 1983), p. 21.
- Ibid., p. 61.