Schuller, founder and pastor of the Crystal Cathedral and one of America’s first televangelists, died April 2nd at age 88 after a battle with esophageal cancer.
One of America’s largest and best-known churches, Saddleback Church, celebrates its 35th anniversary this week. As we contemplate the legacy of Saddleback founder Rick Warren, many people don’t realize that it was another pastor from Southern California who schooled Warren in key lessons.
Warren has told me about this man he learned from, and others — including Willow Creek Community Church founder Bill Hybels — have said the same. The man they learned from? Robert Schuller.
While some may only remember Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral for its infamous bankruptcy and failed succession, 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 ’90s. He had a profound influence on today’s megachurch pastors such as Warren and Hybels 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, church leaders — and leaders everywhere — would do well to contemplate Schuller’s legacy and the three lessons we can learn from it.
1. Create a 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.
Leaders who create a safe space where people who might otherwise feel threatened can feel comfortable are leaders who build trust, create lasting relationships, and make an enduring impact.