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1955 to Today
The Rev. Robert H. Schuller and his wife Arvella founded the Garden Grove Community Church in 1955 under the auspices of Schuller's denomination, the Reformed Church in America, which provided the young couple with $500 to start the ministry.
While en route to California on historic Route 66, on a napkin, Schuller listed ten possible venues in which to hold services. Upon learning that the first nine locations were already in use, he embraced the tenth possibility - the Orange Drive-in Theatre. From atop the snack bar's tar-papered roof, he would lead weekly services, with Arvella providing music from a trailer-mounted electronic organ. He encouraged all to "Come as you are in the family car."
Preaching from this unusual pulpit, Schuller faced ridicule - accused by many of conducting services in a "passion pit." Nevertheless, his services gained in popularity, and in 1957, when Dr. Norman Vincent Peale visited to deliver the morning message, the drive-in theater was filled to capacity. Schuller noted that morning that every word Peale spoke was one of encouragement and hope, just as Jesus Christ had spoken. It was a defining moment for Schuller; from then onward, he would frame his messages positively to instill Christ-centered hope and healing in the hearts of hurting persons, encouraging and equipping them to live at their God-given potential.
Soon a chapel was built three miles from the drive-in, with the intention that the drive-in services would cease. However, the husband of one woman, Rosie Gray, in rapidly declining health, told Schuller that the drive-in services were the only services that Rosie could attend. Schuller promised to continue the drive-in services until Rosie passed away, rushing there after the chapel services. Astoundingly, Gray's health would improve over the next few years.
With his congregation outgrowing the chapel and recognizing the need for drive-in services to continue, Schuller enlisted the services of renowned mid-century modern architect Richard Neutra to design a structure in which Schuller could preach simultaneously to both an in-church and also a drive-in congregation. For this walk-in/drive-in church, Schuller envisioned a glass wall that would open to the outdoors, allowing him to be seen in an elevated pulpit by persons in parked cars. Neutra's resulting design would shatter ecclesiastical architecture norms, to much acclaim.
From this sanctuary, the church grew to a congregation of thousands as Schuller's emphasis on "possibility thinking" resonated within the community. In 1968, the 13-story Richard Neutra-designed Tower of Hope opened, housing the world's first church-sponsored, 24-hour suicide and crisis prevention hotline (714-NEW-HOPE). With a 90-feet-tall neon-lit cross as its crown, the Tower of Hope would be Orange County's tallest building for more than a decade.
Hearing from pastors eager to replicate the church's success, Schuller, in 1969, began the first-ever series of training sessions for pastors in church growth. Schuller and his Institute for Successful Church Leadership are regarded consistently, most recently by The New Yorker magazine in 2008, as the catalyst of the megachurch movement.
Aware of Schuller's thriving congregation and his welcoming services, the Rev. Billy Graham suggested to Schuller that he take his popular Sunday services to the television airwaves. "Call it an 'Hour of Power,'" Graham said. Schuller launched the weekly "Hour of Power" in February 1970 on Los Angeles' KTLA-5, naming his wife Arvella executive producer, a rarely achieved role for a woman at that time.
By the mid 1970s, the "Hour of Power" was reaching all 50 U.S. states, and the local church was bursting at the seams. Thus, Schuller approached famed architect Philip Johnson to design a larger structure to accommodate the growing congregation. Because Schuller missed the serenity of the drive-in theater's clear blue sky, he enthusiastically told Johnson, "Make it all glass!" It was a design feat never before attempted in an earthquake zone.
Dedicated in 1980 as the Crystal Cathedral, the 10,000-window structure seats 2,800 worshipers and its marble chancel accommodates up to 1,000 musicians. Years ahead of its time in conservation design, the Cathedral employs no air-conditioning, relying instead upon natural air currents that enter via staggered rows of louvered windows, controlled thermostatically. Also part of this cooling system are two dramatic 90-foot-tall doors that open at the right of the chancel, a feature carried over from the Neutra sanctuary.
Not only is the Crystal Cathedral a worship space, but over the years it has also housed the acclaimed "The Glory of Christmas" and "The Glory of Easter" musical stage productions, and other large-scale musical and dramatic productions.
Additionally, as many as 20 million persons per week have watched the "Hour of Power," still the fourth longest-running weekly television program in history. Airing in the U.S. on local and cable channels, the "Hour of Power" also reaches, via satellite and cable systems, all seven of the world's continents, including 50 countries, 13 of which house "Hour of Power" offices.
In Russia, following Mikhail Gorbachev's invitation in 1989 to Dr. Schuller to deliver the first televised Christian message to the then-Soviet Union, in 1992, the "Hour of Power" received the country's first license to broadcast a Christian-themed program on national television.
In this spirit, the "Hour of Power" is nurturing important relationships inside Hong Kong and China, in order to reach this vast, unchurched continent of billions of persons with the positive redeeming message of Christ via TV.
Additionally, the ministry is constantly evaluating new and relevant technologies seeking to communicate the positive message of Christ in the most effective and cost-efficient methods possible.
Now retired from the ministry, Dr. Schuller continues to communicate in various media and venues, carrying on his life-changing ministry to the world, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In 2011, the Crystal Cathedral campus was purchased by the Orange County, CA, Diocese of the Roman Catholic church, which renamed the sanctuary Christ Cathedral. The Crystal Cathedral congregation moves in mid-2012 to a campus nearby. The “Hour of Power” continues to be broadcast nationally and internationally, reaching millions of homes and hearts worldwide.