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Gerardo Martí: What Pastors Need to Learn From the Collapse of Robert H. Schuller’s Megachurch

Gerardo Martí

Dr. Gerardo Martí is a professor of sociology at Davidson College and president-elect of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. His research and teaching focus on race, religion, and social change. Gerardo is the author of several books, including “The Glass Church: Robert H. Schuller, the Crystal Cathedral, and the Strain of Megachurch Ministry” (with Mark Mulder), Latino Protestants in America: Growing and Diverse” (with Mark Mulder and Aida Ramos), and “The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity” (with Gladys Ganiel).

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Key Questions for Dr. Gerardo Martí

-What modern church leaders are influenced by Robert Schuller?

-How did Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral church collapse, and what lessons can church leaders take from this story?

-Is the megachurch model inherently problematic? Are smaller churches better?

-How do you measure success in ministry?

Key Quotes From Dr. Gerardo Martí

“Robert H. Schuller was one of the most prominent leaders who not only built his own church but provided a paradigm for how to have a successful church. And what Robert Schuller seemed to have solved was how to have a stable and strong church that you would be able to count on being there for generations. And the surprising aspect of this ministry that influenced thousands of other church leaders is how quickly it imploded.”

“Schuller thought that you should manage your church like a firm. And he had no problem calling himself the president, not the pastor, of the Crystal Cathedral.”

“You’ve got to have constituents, charisma and capital. But if any of those go out of whack, then that out of whack can create a spiral, you see. That’s really what happened over time with Robert Schuller.”

“I think that Schuller never really believed that anybody else could carry the ministry in the same way because they wouldn’t be able to attract the funding in the same way that he had for many years. So he believed that the constituents were faithful to him, not necessarily the church, that the charisma was unique to him and could not be easily shared with anybody else, and therefore that the capital was also tied to his person.”

“We moved into the 2000s, post-9/11, you have the bankruptcies and the financial crises that happen in 2008-2009—those are all things that affected Robert Schuller’s ministry. So then when Robert Schuller said, ‘You know, we just need one more project’ and created yet another project, built another building, made another architectural marvel, the price tag was just too high.”