The Crystal Cathedral – If You Build It They Will Come, But They May Not Stay

The Crystal Cathedral is considered by many to be the original mega church. Founded by Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, the church has grown from space rented from the Orange Drive-In Theatre into one of the most impressive all glass buildings in the world. Construction on the Crystal Cathedral began in 1977 and was completed in 1980, built at a cost of $18 million. Expansion continued unbated for the next two decades. In 1990 the Prayer Spire was completed. The Family Life Center was also added in 1990 and in 2003, the church campus was completed with the opening of the Richard Meier-designed Welcoming Center.

The main sanctuary building, which was constructed using over 10,000 rectangular panes of glass, seats 2,736 people. The rectangular panes of glass are not bolted to the structure; instead they are glued to it using a silicone-based glue. This and other measures are intended to allow the building to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 8.0.

During its hay days, the Crystal Cathedral would fill every single one of its 2,736 seats for all its services and its Hour of Power broadcast was the most-watched Christian program worldwide, with an estimated average of 20 million viewers tuning in each week. Today, the Crystal Cathedral serves as an example on how not to do a family succession.

The Cathedral filed for bankruptcy protection two months ago, citing debts of nearly $55 million. A spokesman for the church said the recession had greatly affected its operation and donation levels. However, the Cathedral’s problems started long before the recession kicked in. Siblings struggling for control plus a founder’s unwillingness to give up control resulted in a lost of focus, an inability to keep and attract new followers and evaporating TV ratings.

When we visited the Crystal Cathedral for Sunday service, it was like a ghost town. I estimated attendance at around 500, which is great for a normal church but in a church the size of the Crystal Cathedral, the place looked dead. I really hope the Crystal Cathedral will be able to turn things around. With its current weekly attendance level, the Crystal Cathedral qualifies as a mega church in building size only.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, you should check out the Crystal Cathedral if you’re ever in the Orange Country area. It just might give you a religious experience.

Crystal Cathedral

Crystal Cathedral

Crystal Cathedral

Crystal Cathedral

Crystal Cathedral

Crystal Cathedral

37 thoughts on “The Crystal Cathedral – If You Build It They Will Come, But They May Not Stay”

  1. One word –


    1. Bill … are you reading this.

      Now send a donation cheque from your foundation to church.

    2. dotCOMreport says:

      You’ve summed it up.

    3. PPC Ian says:

      Amazing indeed! I hope more people attend and they get the donations they need.

    4. Rahul says:

      Ill check it out

    5. Abhik says:


      1. Hey John,

        Good post relating several points. First of all anything mega and especially a church building can be impressive.

        It’s always good to have a sound foundation and not stray from it. In this case it looks like they missed that point.

        Finally, a religious experience that is brought about by just a building may be an illusion.

        1. rebecca says:

          I wonder what it looks like on the inside

  2. Dave Starr says:

    Your Message

    Hi John, Happy New Year to you and yours, and thanks a lot for the out-of-the-ordinary, yet very appropriate write-up. There’s actually a heck of a blogging lesson here, which many I suspect will chose to skip over, focussing only on religious viewpoints.

    Years ago I was a big fan of Dr. Schuller. Not so much becuase of his religious teachings, but becuase of his personality and his openness. He spoke directly to _me_ … he found my points where I needed support and got right in there and buoyed me up … no matter how many others were also being attended to, he was “there” for me … and hundreds of thousands of other followers around the world.

    Without delving into anyhting nasty, the son comes of as a CEO type … a lot like a modern CEO of a money-losing corporation … find reasons for failures from external causes and press to continue the status quo … and executive-level perqs, too.

    The “economy” had mush less to do with any shortcomings than did the loss of person-to-person caring that disappeared as Dr. Schuller Sr. aged and had to take a less and less active role.

    I don’t want to be a ‘stockholder” in a religious corporation, no matter how impressive the administration building.

    There’s a real lesson here for anyone who blogs or seeks to gain ground in a people-to-people business.

    It’s not about religion, it’s about being on the level of the folks you want to help … on their level always … not talking down to them.

    Best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous New year to all.

  3. Where is Orange Country? Would that be in Florida? Sounds similar to Orange County in California!

    1. Kirk Taylor says:

      The Crystal Cathedral is in Orange County, CA and is visible from the Garden Grove Expressway.

      1. I know where it is I am from California and have lived in LA and San Francisco I was just poking fun at john for his constant typos.

  4. Kirk Taylor says:

    John, Very interesting post and surprised me to see it here.

    I too have been to the Crystal Cathedral when it was packed, of course, I came out with my friend to go to CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) that weekend and I’m sure that upped attendance.

    The Convention was at the Anaheim Convention Center.

    Great post….

  5. RevMark says:

    Peas there in 2003. There are two ginormous doors directly behind the pulpit. Basically floor to ceiling. They open for certain service to let the sun in.

  6. This is a pretty interesting post i have to admit. The cathedral is amazing. I should try to visit it when i come to California the upcoming Summer.

  7. Churches just don’t look like that down here in the south John..that looks like an office build..but its an beautiful place.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    1. rebecca says:

      No same here up in canada,there really small

  8. Mathew Day says:

    Awesome pictures! Would be great to see it in person one day. 🙂

  9. fas says:

    That is some church, wooooow.

  10. Looks amazing, I think I have to visit it next year during my 4 week holiday trip in usa.

  11. SEO Netlink says:

    That’s pretty impressive.

  12. Nick says:

    Wow this is a very interesting article. This is my first time visiting your site and everything looks very informative. It’s terrible to see a place of worship in such troubles. I have not seen or heard of The Crystal Cathedral but the place seems incredible. I just hope they can straighten things out and the economy turns around for them.

    MOS Creative

    1. Agreed I want to visit the Crystal Cathedral now.

      1. rebecca says:

        I wish i could get out there it looks awsome

  13. Zach says:

    Yes the place is in OC, CA and I have to say John’s pictures don’t really do much justice to how huge the place is.

    1. John Chow says:

      I need a much wider angle lens to really capture the scale of the structure.

      1. A DSLR would give you the best options for good lenses for this type of photography.

        1. Abhik says:

          That’s right..
          And, I am sure John can afford one 🙂

  14. Pretty cool pictures John

    1. rebecca says:

      ya totally cool

  15. Mark says:

    Just 500 people in a building that size. That’s incredible. It’s sad to see how the church’s membership has plummeted.

  16. I think it’s Amazing to see it, but scary to be in !
    Anyway it is the great example pf advanced engineering.

  17. rebecca says:

    Church memberships plummeting wow,i always thought with tough times they would be going up..

  18. ikki says:

    nice Crystal Cathedral

  19. Mitch says:

    I remember reading about this and saying in my own way how greed and jealousy will mess up a family. One of the few times I was happy to be an only child. I’m not a church goer but my dad had bought Rev. Shuller’s book and I remember reading it decades ago. It had so many good points about it, but you know, it proves that parents need to shore up their own lives and homes before working on the lives of others.

  20. Domain Nitro says:

    Agree with the post, but maybe it could be summed up by saying:

    They built a great brand with “iconic”, memorable, lasting impressions, but failed to continue building their brand and innovating.

    Also, as a parable to websites, it is all about the content and I think their content started declining and thus their membership. And, as we all know, the money is in the list – membership list that is…

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