The Crystal Cathedral, once one of the most prominent megachurches in America, is now facing numeric decline in the wake of leadership struggles, Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the retirement of its well-known pastor, Robert Schuller. But on Sunday afternoons—after the Cathedral's graying English-speaking congregation has long since headed home for lunch—a Hispanic congregation packs out the cavernous sanctuary.
Since Argentine Assemblies of God pastor Dante Gebel arrived two years ago, the Crystal Cathedral's Hispanic ministry has grown from 300 to 3,000 people, and is now larger than its parent congregation, the traditional ministry led by Robert Schuller's daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman.
A June 19 article in The Los Angeles Times noted that "the brash, shaggy-haired Gebel is seen on television in some 70 countries and his Facebook page is 'liked' by more than 800,000 people."
While the English congregation has faced resistance in updating its musical style to appeal to a younger generation, no one complains about the bass guitars, drums, raised hands and ushers dancing in the aisles during Hispanic services at the Crystal Cathedral.
Even the success of the Cathedral's Hispanic ministry is unlikely to financially rescue the faltering megachurch. According to Coleman, donations to Gebel's services are about $500,000 a year, while the cathedral's budget is more than $30 million—an operation that has long benefited from funds raised by the Hour of Power television broadcasts.
Although the Cathedral stands to lose its building, Gebel is not worried about a future home for his growing flock and hopes to have 10,000 attending Hispanic services by January.
"I haven't been called to save the Crystal Cathedral, so that isn't my goal," he said, noting that his primary concern is "preaching to the Hispanic people."
"What we might be seeing," said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, "is the cutting edge of Protestantism. It's an exciting thing."
— The Los Angeles Times
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