Robert Schuller turned drive-in movie ministry to megachurch

Published 8:56 am Friday, April 3, 2015

ARTESIA, Calif. — The Rev. Robert H. Schuller didn’t wait for the faithful to flock to his upstart church in Southern California — he took his message to them.

As the car culture flourished in post-World War II California, the brash Iowa-born pastor began preaching from the roof of a concession stand at a drive-in movie theater, displaying a passion — and a marketing genius — that established him as a father of the megachurch movement that would soon sweep the nation.

But Schuller didn’t stop there. In 1970, he reached out to the masses beyond his home base in the Los Angeles suburbs with his “Hour of Power” television program, which was broadcast into millions of homes every Sunday over the next two decades. He also constructed the soaring, glass-paned Crystal Cathedral that became the touchstone of his storied ministry.

Email newsletter signup

The world-famous televangelist and author memorialized in decades of recorded sermons and books died early Thursday at a care facility in Artesia, daughter Carol Schuller Milner said. He was 88.

Schuller was diagnosed in 2013 with terminal esophageal cancer.

Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton said they were saddened by the passing of a man who offered them “unfailing kindness and wise counsel” during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

“From the people who filled the pews of the Crystal Cathedral to the millions who embraced his ministry on television and through his books, Robert Schuller was a beacon of faith, hope, and love,” the Clintons said in a joint statement.

A charismatic presence on the televangelist circuit, Schuller faded from view over the past decade after watching his church collapse amid a disastrous leadership transition and sharp declines in viewership that ultimately bankrupted the ministry.

The landmark Crystal Cathedral was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011 and Schuller lost a legal battle the following year to collect more than $5 million from his former ministry for claims of copyright infringement and breach of contract.

Schuller, who preached in a flowing purple robe and outsized aviator glasses, suffered a mild heart attack in 1997. But he was quickly back on the pulpit, saying “the positive person” is not afraid of life’s surprises.

Schuller’s evangelical Protestant ministry, part of the Reformed Church in America, was a product of modern technology.