As I looked through the books on my shelf today I came across a Bible I purchased a number of years ago. I still remember the situation of how I bought it. I was watching the television one Sunday morning before going to church and Robert Schuller said. . . “I have a new bible I would like for you to buy from me. (He went on to explain what make his bible different because of all the additional resources he had put along with the text.) Then he said the words that got me to buy two and give one away.
“I invested 15 dollars in each one of these Bibles but I want you to send me $50 dollars so I can pay for the airtime to stay on TV.
Robert Schuller founder and pastor of the Crystal Cathedral and one of America’s first televangelists, died Thursday, April 2, 2015 at the age of 88 after a battle with esophageal cancer.
While some may only remember Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral for its infamous bankruptcy and failed succes-sion, that’s not the lesson I believe we should take from his legacy.
Schuller was the forerunner of the church growth movement of the 1980s and 1990s. He had a profound influence on today’s pastors like me and many others who studied his church growth strategies. Schuller’s spiritual sons and daughters have planted churches that have redefined the landscape of evangelical Christianity in the United States and have impacted the world forever.
As America continues to see a rise of those who claim “none” as their spiritual affiliation, churches would do well to contemplate Schuller’s legacy and the three lessons we can learn from it.
1. Create nonthreatening space where people feel comfortable.
From a small farm in Iowa, Schuller started his church literally by knocking on doors. He later opened a church in a drive-in movie theater so that people could come to church without being noticed and literally drive away if they felt uncomfortable. This was the dawn of creating church environments that are welcoming to those who do not normally go to church.
Churches who create a safe space where people who might otherwise feel threatened can feel comfortable are churches who build trust, create lasting relationships, and make an enduring impact.
2. Dream bigger than you’ve ever dared to dream.
Schuller was a pioneer of television on the airwaves. With the advent of the new medium, Schuller rightly spotted that as a significant communication breakthrough. In the history of Christendom, every breakthrough in church growth was preceded by a communication breakthrough: the Apostle Paul planted churches after Rome built roads, and Gutenberg’s printing press advanced the widespread manufacture and spread of the Bible.
Schuller recognized that he was living during a communication breakthrough, and he dreamt bigger than anyone else during that time. He leveraged the introduction of the household TV set to become the most watched preacher in the world. Long before there was a Joel Osteen, there was an Hour of Power. Schuller dreamed of a cathedral that would be like none other. He dreamt of a ministry that would reach across nations.
Churches should look to Schuller’s legacy of dreaming past the conventional and thinking past what’s possible, and
they should be encouraged to believe that there is more in them than they’ve ever dared to discover.
3. Provide hope in a world that needs it.
Many critics of Schuller point out that he was all about positivity, blue-sky thinking, his infamous “possibility thinking”
always looking on the bright side of life in a world that can be pretty gloomy.
But the very hallmark of Christianity is that hope has overcome despair, and Schuller made that hallmark the cornerstone
of a ministry he built that reached farther than anyone who had come before him. In a world filled with terrorism,
discrimination, hatred, bigotry, and oppression, there is more room than ever for hopeful voices that think about
possibilities of success and not probabilities of failure.
Are we going to be a church of hope and possibilities?