In The Glass Church: Robert H. Schuller, the Crystal Cathedral, and the Strain of Megachurch Ministry (Rutgers UP, 2020), Mark Mulder and Gerardo Marti offer a compelling look at the rise and fall of one of the most popular and influential Christian evangelists of the twentieth century, Robert H. Schuller. From Midwestern beginnings in the Reformed Church of America, Schuller was sent to California where he started a "drive-in" church that immediately appealed to the car-crazy, white, middle class Protestant culture that dominated Orange County and the Los Angeles suburbs of the mid-twentieth century. Schuller soon built the "Crystal Cathedral," a landmark church building and, by the 1970s and 80s, was broadcast weekly into millions of homes through the "Hour of Power" television program. Schuller would directly influence some of the twenty-first centuries most successful megachurch pastors, including Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Joel Osteen.
Using archival research and sociological insights, Mulder and Marti argue that Schuller's ministry was built upon a unique dynamic of constituency, charisma, and capital. Using the dynamics of late twentieth-century capitalism, Schuller's ministry continually expanded to meet the needs of its growing constituency until, by 2008, the growth outpaced the ability of Schuller's personal charisma. This fascinating story of growth and decline will appeal to scholars and students in a variety of disciplines, from sociology, to American religious history, to scholars of Christian ministry and theology.
Lane Davis is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Program in Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University where he studies American religious history. Find him on Twitter @TheeLaneDavis